Frank Answers Fridays: June 13, 2014

Blog Date: 
Friday, June 13, 2014 - 13:18

Today’s good question comes from Jay O’Donnell, from FRC Team 1058, PVC Pirates, out of Londonderry, New Hampshire, USA:

Question:

Hey Frank,

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?

Thanks

Answer:

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!

Frank

*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.

Comments

Thanks Frank for the feedback on this but you only go into why the problem exists and don't really offer any solutions to the problem. Moving the District Championship to be one week earlier isn't going to make a huge difference, although it would be appreciated.

Trying to book transportation to St. Louis in under two or three weeks adds an extra cost to teams. It is often too late to get a bus since most bus companies already have booked their buses and flying on short notice is extremely expensive. Either build season needs to start earlier or the Championships have to be weeks later.

Nick suggests that Championships move into May. But, that is no easier answer for FRC Team 1038. We couldn't find an open weekend in May for our yearly banquet and award ceremony. In the end, we had to compromise and select a date that had the least impact on students, mentors and sponsors being able to attend. Missing a banquet is one thing but missing Championship because you had to stay home for graduation is another thing altogether. I personally would not like to see FIRST push Championships past the end of April.

Nick, you're right that I didn't really offer any solutions to this. With our current competition season, I think this is a situation in which we can tweak things here and there to make it better, but we're unlikely to hit any home runs. The nature of a points-based qualification system with a set number of Championship slots available is that there is uncertainty in results until all play is completed. Regarding season length, see this blog from October: http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/blog-frank-answers-fridays-1...

I will agree that getting airfare out to St. Louis from the Philadelphia area was extremely hard because flights were already pretty full in week 5. We ended up splitting up our team into a couple of groups on different flights, which made it harder for the mentors traveling with the team.
This is a 'crazy' idea, but could FIRST work with airlines to reserve entire planes (or possibly add additional flights) from airports on the east coast? (NY/Philly/DC/Atlanta/etc.) Southwest was the easiest with the kids and luggage.

Not having practice matches on Thurs was stressful because of the flight schedules and trying to get into St. Louis. "Availability" of seats aside, a lot of the flights from the east coast got into St. Louis in the afternoon, especially after connections/delays. If we flew in Tuesday, then we were hanging around Wednesday morning with nothing to do until late afternoon. If there were practice matches all day Wed, teams could fly in Tues afternoon & have practice matches Wed morning. This would leave more slots for teams that are driving into town Wed to have practice matches in the afternoon.

Does the registration system allow a team to decline a regional or championship invitation before it's offered? If a team knows in advance that they would be declining an invitation, they could remove themselves from the list. Rather than waiting up to 24 hours for a response, the system could immediately offer the invitation to the next team.

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