Frank Answers Fridays: June 13, 2014
Today’s good question comes from Jay O’Donnell, from FRC Team 1058, PVC Pirates, out of Londonderry, New Hampshire, USA:
I was part of the New England District this past year and I have to say overall it was a very positive experience. However, the one thing I did not like was the timing between when teams were announced for NE champs and the event, and the timing between teams being invited to world championships and the actual event. I know that there were teams invited to NE Champs the afternoon before load-in night, and teams invited to world champs less than a week before the event. My question is does FIRST have anything in mind to improve this situation so that teams don't find out they can go to one of these great competitions the day of the event?
Jay, thanks for the question. At FIRST HQ, we don’t like these short periods between notifications to teams that they have earned a slot at Championships and the events themselves either. It stresses teams, raises their costs in many cases, and can cause some teams to have to say ‘no’ to a slot they’ve earned. It makes things harder for us here, also. We need to scramble to make sure the teams are properly registered, and for the FIRST Championship, we need to make sure the robots arrive at the event on time.
From a Championship prep standpoint, it would be great if Districts could have all their District events in Weeks 1-4, take one week off from competitions, then have their Championship in Week 6. However, there are many challenges with this. As an example, for the 2014 season, Michigan needed to run 15 District events to ensure there were enough spots for every team to get in their two plays. You could imagine the difficulties just with resource availability if Michigan were to try to run 4 events simultaneously for most of their competition weeks. Also, the shorter District schedule would mean less flexibility for teams with respect to event choice. I haven’t met a team yet that could participate in two events hundreds of miles apart simultaneously with a single robot. Not even Simbotics could do that. (Well, OK, maybe, I haven’t asked them…)
Districts, for the most part, set their own schedules. We keep track of their plans here at HQ, and provide feedback if we identify any challenges from our perspective. I understand that several Districts, recognizing the stress Week 7 District Championships put on teams, had considered moving their Championships to Week 6 for 2015. However, there are some holidays that fall during Week 6 of 2015 that have raised concerns regarding the desirability of that week, and for larger districts, with the number of events they must squeeze in, it may not be practical at all. The District schedules have not been finalized, though. I would suggest District teams share their feedback on schedules with the Districts directly. This is a great way to have your voices heard.
With respect to late notifications to teams - you had mentioned teams getting notified the afternoon before load-in night – with our current schedules this is driven primarily by offer declines earlier in the process. Offer declines affect both teams going to District Championships and teams going to the FIRST Championship. As an example, for the FIRST Championship Waitlist, we go down the list team by team in the order in which a team joined the list (based both on date and time) to make offers to attend the Championship for the number of slots we are sure we have available.* Generally, teams are given 24 hours to make their decision. In the event a team declines an offer, we immediately offer the spot to the next team in line who has not yet been offered a slot, and keep making offers in this way until we find a team who accepts. Offer dates will vary because of this – we only offer the number of slots we are sure we have available, and a team declining an offer does make a slot available for the next team in line, but we may need to repeat this process several times to fill all openings, which can take several days.
We have considered different ways to extend the season to help ease this overall problem, but they have their own challenges.
Of course, we’re open to suggestions on how to make this better. Please let us know what you think!
*There are some very unusual individual team cases in which this ‘first come, first served’ process is not followed, but this is rare, and there were no exceptions to this approach in 2014.