District vs Regional

I was addressing the 4-day scramble for a district championship. I really doubt airline flights would enter into that.

School districts can be uncooperative relating to missing school on short notice.

Thus my advice to plan farther in advance, so the notice isn’t so short.

Our school doesn’t like it when we try to add one more student to our list of kids attending the trip. It would be far worse to ask them to excuse our students’ absences and then ask them to not do it after not qualifying.

We had to work through this with our school system too… It took awhile and several meetings. It ended up that they would rather we apply early and then cancel rather than applying late.

It did take some meetings and work. You have to start early (like the fall) and ask them how they would want this handled…

Like many schools… it does not fit so nicely into there little way of doing things.
We have found, though, that if you give them time and opportunities… they will come around.

It is really no different than some of the qualifying students do for athletic events…

Do a lot of smiling and nodding and working things out… be patient…
they will come around… if they don’t … move up the chain of command…

Somehow I doubt it would be a huge issue if you explain everything to them first.

The other option is to go an volunteer or spectate, even if you don’t qualify for DCMP.

You have not factored in any travel expenses. Our team is located 5+ hours from ANY FIRST event. We don’t have an option of picking a closer event. The woes of living in Southern Oregon!

I was referring to minimum registration costs to go to CMP. My championship registration cost was $4000, I realize now it’s $5000. So 1 regional+CMP = $5000+$5000=$10000. 2 districts+DCMP+CMP = $5000+$4000+$5000 = $14000. Now, I realize that plenty of teams (671 in 2013) go to multiple regionals, and for them that district scenario is the same or more than they pay in registration fees every year. But that was not the majority: in the same year, 1541 teams only went to 1 regional.

The difference is it happens for sports teams no questions asked. In my experience, if a sports team at a high school qualifies for a higher level of competition, they go. End of story. At my old school, if the soccer coach went to the school board and said that the team qualified for the New England Championship, and needed to miss 2 days of school the next week, the school would get them a bus, excuse the absences, and make sure everyone in the school knew that our team was going to the New England Championship. If our robotics adviser did the same, the absences may or may not have been excused, we wouldn’t have had a bus, and everything would have been a hassle. Other places might have it better, but it wasn’t “no different” for us.

You have basically identified one of the stigmas of the public school system (and maybe private, as well). FIRST is all about changing a culture. It will not happen over night, and it will take years of work. I would ask that you convince your administrators to go to your regularly scheduled team meetings, or go to local FIRST events. Allow them to see what your team really does, and the whole “no excused absences, no bus, etc.” will gradually change.

Are you surprised that going to four events costs more than going to two? The regional model of qualification for championship simply wasn’t scalable. A change had to be made eventually, and the model they’re changing to allows for more plays for less money. Aside of a few fringe cases, I really don’t get the teams that are complaining about cost on this one.

I’m not complaining. I simply stated some facts, and was clarifying my post from earlier because I thought some people misunderstood it. I was just trying to highlight the fact that districts are more difficult than the previous system for some teams. I totally agree that they had to make the change, and am totally in favor of it.

I’ll address some of the issues that people have brought up.

FIRST absolutely sells the district system on the premise that it reduces costs. This is somewhat misleading, while it certainly reduces FIRST’s costs it does not reduce costs across the board and in some cases it results in increased costs.

For many of the teams in the PNW district that have traditionally qualified for CMP it does not change their registration cost, as many of those teams regularly attended two events in the past, those that qualify via RAS excluded. For many teams that traditionally attended 2 or more events but never or rarely moved on to CMP it reduces their cost or keeps it the same if they move on to DCMP but not CMP. For many other teams it certainly does increase their registration costs to make it to CMP as it goes up from $10K to $14K.

For teams that are in the metropolitan areas and do not move on to DCMP or beyond it usually reduces their travel cost since they can stay at home and if they do travel to one of their events it is usually for fewer nights.

As Bob pointed out with the traditional regional system the RD was expected to raise the funds necessary for paying for the facility, registration fees are not used to cover that expense. FIRST was responsible for the field, trucking it to the event, all consumables for the event, contracting with Show Ready Events for the AV production and other outside vendors for things such as pipe and drape.

With the switch to the District system the district has to purchase the basic field perimeter, take over the cost of transporting the fields, some of the consumables (the carpet) and the AV production. Districts do keep the 3rd event registration fees and FIRST does share a portion of the initial event registration fee with the district.

In the PNW Washington FIRST Robotics decided that the best long term solution was to make a serious one time capital investment in the equipment to run the events rather than rent items or pay an outside contractor for services. This means that WFR made purchases of AV equipment, floor coverings, pipe and drape along with the materials to build road cases to insure that all of those items made it to the event and in good condition. That significant capital investment meant that the costs actually increased over previous years. However the vast majority of that equipment will be able to be used for many years.*** If*** WFR is able to continue to raise funds at current levels they may be able to provide grants for travel and/or DCMP registration fees to teams in need*** in the future***. Note just because it is Washington FIRST Robotics does not mean that it will exclude OR teams from any of those funds if they are available in the future. WFR is the organization that administers the PNW FRC district since it was a pre-existing non-profit organization with some of the resources needed to make it happen already in place.

Regarding the timing of DCMP being so close to learning if you qualify to attend or not WFR has already notified teams who have already mathematically secured a position and the vast majority of those teams have already registered for the event. For those “on the bubble” it is not so easy. As Bob mentioned for next season it is a good idea to gain approval from your school ahead of time letting them know that it is not definite, just a possibility. Most school districts would rather have you make the arrangements and then cancel rather than try and rush through the approval process on short notice.

For the PNW District the original hope was to have DCMP in week 6 but scheduling of the events did not support that as the OSU event would only work for them in week 6. Hopefully next season WFR will be able to schedule DCMP for week 6. Long term WFR would like to purchase the equipment necessary to support 3 events per week and hold all district events weeks 1-4 and schedule DCMP week 6 to allow teams more time to prepare for DCMP and CMP. Of course that would require even more volunteers and as it was it was a struggle to insure that all positions were filled for all of the events with only 4 weeks of 2 events per week. However note that unlike some other districts there was no requirement for teams to provide a minimum number of volunteers. That is not to say that teams did not step up to the challenge, just that it was not a requirement and it is hoped that it does not become a requirement.

Concerning my personal opinions of the district system overall I’m quite satisfied with the outcome.

One of the things that rookie teams have said to me in the past is after finishing their first event is that they really wished it would be possible to attend more than one event. Many less than well funded teams have also expressed this. Going to a second event more than doubles what a teams gets out of their competition season and the build season in general as it allows teams to get what I consider the full engineering experience. When the game is released everyone has an idea of how the game will play, while in reality that is just a theory. We also test our robots before we go to the events but do not know how they will really perform on the field. Going to the event is “the real world” test of the 45 day build season. Having every team have a second event allows them to finish the engineering problem and apply the lessons learned at the first event to optimize their solution to better fit “the real world”. Without that second chance teams are left wondering “what if?” To fully realize the full engineering experience once all areas are in the district system I’d love to see teams given a week to work on their robot between district events. Of course the risk of that is that by the end of the season we could see a lot of clones of the robots that were most successful in the early weeks.

Two events where teams get a guaranteed 12 matches and have a much higher likelihood of more in the elimination rounds means that most teams will play ~3x as many matches they could if they were only able to make it to one traditional regional. Teams are also more likely to win a judged award at a district event or win more judged awards per season. In short there is a better balance of the “rewards” portion of the season vs the “work” portion of the season which according to many of the people I’ve talked with increases the students satisfaction.

On the other hand I see a number of downsides but I consider most of them minor in comparison.

  1. I don’t get to see my friends I’ve made through FIRST as much or maybe even at all as they were either excluded like those teams from ID, MT, Turkey and Mexico or they simply were attending different events. Hopefully his will change thanks to the standardized district points system that will allow for inter-district play in the hopefully not too distant future.

  2. No or limited room for mosh pits, excuse me I mean spirit alleys, where teams can fully express their spirit, enthusiasm and DANCE. Not sure what can be done about this.

  3. The disproportionate financial effect on teams where it reduces the cost to some teams, many times those who are the best funded, while increasing the costs on other teams many times on those who are not well funded. Which is the most concerning thing to me. Hopefully the reduced cost to FIRST will eventually be passed on to teams via lower registration costs and the long term lower cost of producing the events on a local level will allow the districts to provide assistance to those teams with the greatest need. It is certainly not the goal of FIRST, Oregon FIRST Robotics or WFR to “weed out” the rural teams. On the contrary each organization’s ultimate goal is to have FIRST programs accessible to every student in our country or state(s).

The dirty little secret of the district system really shouldn’t be a secret at all. For the first 3 years, smaller programs and programs further away from population centers will have to roll with the punches of the new system including increased travel time and increases in travel and registration costs. Even in Michigan UPers were stuck closer to the Wisconsin regional but needing to make the long haul to the other part of the state for their 2-3 events. In MAR, keeping the organization financially efficient has resulted in some odd occurences (like the DCMP venue being the Pennsylvania equivalent of Field of Dreams). Hearing rural teams in PNW having struggles isn’t surprising to me. That is one of the half dozen concerns that has delayed a rollout in the National Capital Region. NE has been mostly problem free (at least on the surface) because they’ve been running what most now see as district sized events for years (The WPI District had 40 teams, The WPI Regional in 2012 had 34) and there was not a lot to improve on at the events, especially the Boston Regional/New England Champs.

Also, it took a few years but Michigan does have a district in the UP. They stuck through the growth phase and now that part of the state is startign to grow as well!

Where does all the registration money go toward, since not toward running the competitions themselves?

A kind comment from a team (177 Bobcats) with an exceptional record that has a difficult time coordinating field trips for competitions with their school (from what I have heard from your mentors). Also, see WPI 2013 snowstorm.

Most permanent change is gradual.

In Connecticut, Robotics is now recognized as a varsity sport by the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference)
This is good and we should all seek this recognition in each of our states.

One significant difference between our sport and other high school sports is that the nature of the competitions is collective, rather than dyadic. We get together in groups of 40+ and round robin, then bracket, and resolve with three winners, runners-up, etc…
Now, with districts, we emulate the High School track team model with it’s state and regional competitions where the cream of the crop rises to the top.

The town mouse vs. country mouse analogy will always be an issue. Convincing a rural school board that Robotics may be a better expenditure than new bleachers for the football team is tough. Engaging rural businesses and industries in supporting their local education system is asking a lot, but in the long run, worth it.

Here in New England, the districts are less discriminatory than they are in, oh say, Klamath Falls Oregon, or Wyoming, unless you are from rural Maine.

Personally, I am loving the districts and appreciate how FIRST is evolving to make a Robotics team a viable endeavor for any school district.
More matches for less money, intimate (though sometimes claustrophobic) arenas, and Saturday/Sunday competitions (no time off of work or out of school, though my weekend chores are suffering for it).

What I miss? Brazilians, Mexicans, Britons, Pink Team, Coyotes, Funky Monkeys, Robonauts…

FIRST HQ in Manchester. I don’t know what it’s spent on specifically, but FRC is a very expensive program for them as well.

To everyone who has questions about finances, I suggest you read the FIRST Annual Report

In this report you can see the basic financial math:
Program Registration Fees =$19M
Contribution and Grants = $18M
FIRST Robotics Competition = $33M

So, the high registration fees we all pay DO NOT cover all of FIRST’s costs of running the program. Additional grants and donation are required. Also, the $19M is for all registration fees for all 4 FIRST programs, not just FRC.

In a nutshell, if we ever what to get FIRST to reduce our registration costs, there are only 2 things we can really do:

  1. Work to evolve the league to a more decentralized operating model so that the FIRST NH expenses per team will go down, (AKA Districts or similar)
  2. Work to identify and engage new donors and benefactors in industry and government.

In Michigan we have been actively working on these two fronts for years.
Other regions are now joining these efforts which is great to see.
When evaluating your teams’ financial situation, evaluate what percentage of your annual team budget goes towards registration fees.
Now imagine if this number became $0. This would be a huge change for almost every team.
We have made this a reality here. It can be done everywhere!
**Write a letter to your State Governor and ask him/her to call our Governor, Rick Snyder. ** Rick is one of the most outspoken FRC advocates I have ever met. I am certain he would give a convincing conversation to any politician who approaches him on this topic. He will be at the Michigan State Championship again next weekend and I expect he will reaffirm the state level commitment to the future of our sport…

I was talking with my former coach about districts a few weeks ago.

Fortunately the team is smack dab in the Capital Region, so DC isn’t far away at all.

I think my larger question about districts is how would a place like VA be split into districts? Looking at the state you’ve got at least 3 very distinct parts and there are ways to make it work somewhat nicely, and then there are others to make it a hassle for teams who aren’t benefitted from being in a geographically favorable location.

Just a correction on the New England part of your post. Here are the 2012(before districts were announced) NE Regional sizes: Granite State-50 teams, WPI-34, Boston-53, and Connecticut-64. I would only call WPI “district size”. We sort of had a buffer year in 2013 where we added a 5th regional in Maine and most other events downsized a bit, but Boston and Connecticut were still over 50 teams.

Fair enough, but with the exception of NUCR, those regionals are all smaller events than what you traditionally see on the East and West Coast.