Expanding Districts... without making new districts?

I’m not interested in starting another debate why [state or locale] doesn’t have district and when it will go to districts. I’m curious about making districts open in a way that doesn’t stress out planning committees and helps alleviate some of the border-team woes.

I was thinking about the regional problem (not enough spots for the increasing number of teams who want two plays) and how districts seem to not be experiencing the same growing pains coupled with complaints of team near districts but not physically in them. I was wondering, why can’t we just let them play?

The first reason brought to my attention was the issue of funding - if the Katie district is funded by Katie’s state in some way, it might make sense that Katie’s state doesn’t want to support out-of-state teams. This feels nullified by the success of multiple inter-state districts.

The second thing that came to mind is “This will take away teams from the regional model” to which I remembered “you mean the model that can’t keep up with demand?” so that’s not really an issue.

Another issue brought to light is that district planning committees have a pretty good sense of how much their district is growing, and so letting teams opt-in year by year could cause huge shifts in district population that could be difficult to plan for.

So here is my proposal - districts start allocating “guest spots.”

How I envision it works:
The Katie district is thinking about allowing guest spots. For my pilot year, I’m confident I have 10 teams interested in being guests, so I’ll allocate 5 guest spots. I can be pretty confident that all the spots will fill and it’s not so many new teams that it’s going to overwhelm my system. At some point in the early season, I open up my waitlist. Teams can sign up for the waitlist. By lottery (or something else), teams are assigned to my guest spots. They are part of my district for this year.

The following year, I can look at my prior waitlist and see that I had 50 teams sign up. I can confidently grow my guest spots some reasonable number. The growth of the district is entirely in my control and I have the waitlist as a good indicator of demand. Maybe last years teams are grandfathered in, maybe after enough years I assume they naturalized as a Katie team. If my waitlist is shrinking, I can adjust for that too. And when My Local State goes to districts, I’ll have at least a year or two heads up and can plan for a significant drop in population (or my district expands so much that My Local State joins the Katie district and becomes another multi-state district).

District planning committees can work with HQ to update the champs allotments per district and the growth is completely within their control.

Issues I foresee:

  • Another registration deadline and system. This requires IT. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t a real issue.
  • How are teams being picked for guest spots if not lottery? Will this turn into a politics game?
  • Teams backing out of the guest list - I think this can be neutralized by requiring teams to commit to being in the district shortly after winning the lottery, making sure teams have paid registration before being allowed a spot, etc.
  • “Outsiders are stealing our banners/champs tickets”/ “Teams with a huge budget will travel to a weak district” - So it’s okay if other teams get stomped year in and year out? This argument feels weak. I also competed in both TX (pre-districts) and CA, so I’m not full of sympathy.
  • “But this is not how things are done” - this was probably said of districts too, and that has widely been regarded as the best thing since sliced bread.

Issues I feel like this solves:

  • Borders - arbitrary lines in the sand are no longer an issue as teams can opt in or out based on what they think is best for them.
  • Regional strain - as teams opt in to districts, there will be more regional spots left for those who are not yet under the district roof.
  • Planned Growth - Districts can grow at a pace that they pick based on reasonable data. Didn’t get enough rookies? Open up some more guest spots! Not able to accommodate another event? Then don’t expand your guest spots!
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The cost to register for these guest spots would likely have to be a lot higher to offset the loss of funding from the district’s state for that spot.

Basically, adding a Michigan team to FIM there is government money that helps offset the cost of running events, adding an Illinois team to FIM someone would have to cover that.

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I’m not sure this solves regional strain. Districts adopting more teams will decrease the number of teams looking for slots, but when a regional drops down to 27 teams, suddenly 27 more teams need slots. I think part of the issue is needing more regional slots in specific locations and picking teams to get to go to districts based off their proximity to popular regionals seems problematic.

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There are teams near districts (e.g. on the borders of upstate NY close to Vermont or Pennsylvania) that may be better served if they went to districts.

After all, if you need to drive 2.5 hours minimum to pretty much all your events (like a team near Binghamton NY would), why not drive in the direction that gives you more plays and a DCMP?

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I think I like this idea. My current team and former team wouldn’t participate but I’m sure some teams closer to districts would definitely consider it.

I think a good intermediary step to this would be to allow regional teams to attend districts during open registration / as 3rd district events. Last year NE had to cancel an event due to lack of teams and this year CHS is paying teams to attend a lightly attended event. Why not let regional teams help fill these events and give district teams new teams to compete with/against? If a regional teams qualifies from one of these districts, they don’t auto-qualify but would be placed on the priority waitlist with regional 3rd robot and RAS so they would at least have a shot at qualifying.

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Love the novel approach to solving the many problems with the current registration/qualification systems.

I think my preferred short term approach would be a universal points system with teams compared against others in their region for qualifying criteria. Long term I would hope the district format continues growing and ideas like this make it possible for floating teams to find a place without a need for Regionals to be a thing at all.

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That sounds like it might work for a lot of places but definitely not FiM right now. We are struggling to get all our teams 2 plays with the season shortened on us. 5 events a week for 5 weeks then DCMP.

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I think universal points are the long term system - this feels like a step towards that direction.

Hard agree. This system is unlikely to relieve the strain in places like CA and MN outside of the oddball team willing to travel. I was largely thinking of how this would give certain teams some options (eg New York, British Columbia)

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I think the option to have open slots at all would have to be determined by each district. FIM might have issues with state support if they allow teams from other states in, but FIT supposedly wouldn’t, given that they already do so with New Mexico while still maintaining a relationship with the Texas state government. Other multi-state districts also shouldn’t have this issue, but none of them are primarily aligned with one state as far as I know.

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As the lead mentor of the team you are talking about, yeah it sucks.

No home event means the cost of attending our first event is effectively doubled taking into account bussing and rooms for students. 11k for literally 10 matches is an abysmal rate of return.

However allowing us to compete in MAR allows us to drive 2 hrs saving money and getting to go to 2 events instead of 1 for 6k.

I would love to see a kind of system like this in place

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A big point is this allows for district events which are in danger of not running because of lackluster attendance to be sure there will be enough teams, potentially helping counteract the negative growth some districts are experiencing.

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I really like your idea, and I would propose the addition of a buy-in fee; say, $1,500 “membership fees” to a district in which a team does not geographically exist. The Katiebux paid go directly to the district itself, not Manchester.

A paradox I can’t wrap my head around is the flexibility in event locations, and the difficulties in timing that produces.

There are two hypothetical and completely imaginary bordering states, let’s call them Michiglove and Indycar. Michiglove is north of Indycar, and both states are much taller than they are wide. For each state, there are dozens of teams within 50 miles of the border that would benefit from playing cross-district events, and in the last two years, there were sufficient events near the border in both cases that they would mutually benefit. In July, these dozens of teams ‘sign the paperwork’ to play across the border.

In September, the event locations are released, and it turns out that each state was only able to secure one event within 50 miles of the border, and every team is worse off for it. They would have been better to have stayed with their home district, even though recent data suggested the opposite.

On the other hand, if teams are allowed to ‘switch allegiance’ after event locations are publicized, then the districts won’t know how many events to offer in a given year. Even if the pilot season allows 10 teams from each district to migrate, that’s a possible delta of 20 teams - that’s over half an event’s worth of teams, and for the Indycar district, a third of their population.

Figuring out this chicken-and-egg seems like the key to making the Katiemodel fully functional.

But maybe I’m making too much of it - Michiglove is not Indycar’s only bordering state, and maybe the regional teams from the other Indycar-adjacent states would happily jump in and fill that void.

Either way, total team counts would need to be known in order to properly place the event sites, and event sites would need to be known in order to influence teams to join.

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Doesn’t every district allow teams from other districts to fill slots so shouldn’t it not matter if they are coming from a state that is a regional vs a district?

I know we are talking about them being members of the district in full not for a single event but since out of state teams are already allowed to go to events, so long as any grants or such that are given directly to teams go to said teams in the state not district it should be fine.

But these two hypothetical states are already district states. It would be the imaginary state of Obux buying in.

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I personally love the idea of allowing teams near the borders of districts to opt-in OR out, as their are a number of teams on the borders of PNW, NE, MAR, Peachtree, etc… that might jump at the chance to move into the district.

For implementation, would make two requirements. First the districts would have to opt into the system, as some districts like FIM are struggling to field enough events or a district might have an agreement on how it’s funded with it’s state/province/country. Second a team would have to choose to opt-in or out by the end of August(maybe even July) to give the districts enough time to figure out how many events it need and get administration worked out.

As for funding, unless a district gets enough opt-ins to push them to make more events, funding should stay the same. Funding may even slightly increase if they get another slot in their DCMP.

As for Taylor’s worry, I would say that teams opt into a district should expect events to be where they always have been, instead of joining a district and expecting that they will make a new event appear near the border in that season.

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So, this is a difficult idea to make work in our current system. While giving teams the ability to join districts from outside their current boundaries is probably fine as long as that is a long-term commitment (i.e., not a season-by-season thing that hampers a district’s ability to plan), that’s a very limited solution. Many districts do not have events that would be any easier for outside teams to participate in as proper district members, necessitating long travel times that are no better than going to regionals. For FNC, for instance, the nearest teams not in another district (now that SC teams are part of Peachtree) would be six or seven hours away from all but one district event. If we do, at some point in the future, move to a universal point system, that might also be fine and not disrupt the districts.

But to try and have what is being proposed work now is not a solution that any district is going to like. The presence of non-district teams at district qualifying events means that district teams have their ability to accumulate points and advance in district standings (and thus to their DCMP) potentially hampered by teams that cannot actually use those points for their intended purpose. It undercuts the whole point of the district system. I sympathize with teams that must compete in the regional system, but making the district system work less well is not the answer.

The intent is the opt-in teams would join the district and would collect points like any other team.

Also don’t think anyone in this thread thinks a system like this would help ALL teams.

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Inter-district play is exceptionally rare, and many districts end up having very limited slots for either 3rd plays or inter-district teams. In practice, the districts that are close to capacity will end up adjusting events to be waitlist only after the second round of event registration, which means that all inter-district plays will be decided via waitlist. Those districts can essentially close out out-of-state teams from ever coming to one of their events.

So while I’m not sure I was the first to do something related to what this topic is about, I did do something as close as you can get.

For reference in 2018 Georgia was already the Peachtree District and South Carolina was still a regional state. My team is on the border of GA / SC and we are the only team over here for 60 miles in either direction. I was a newly appointed head coach of the team and I had by this point in my life come to understand the value of being able to compete more than once.

1102 had been doing single event seasons for years both during my time as a student and after. We were very average only just making QF generally each year. Granted the bag rules and Palmetto always being week 1 did not help us at all.

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Now when I became lead mentor I decided something that would help us was a two fold approach. I wanted to compete more often, but driving 6+ hours to events was not going to be in the the best for us. EG events in FL, AL, TN.

I had a lot of relationships with folks at a makerspace in downtown Augusta Georgia our neighboring city so I made the choice that we were going to meet there once a week so I could officially declare us as a PCH team moving forward. Additionally I wanted to offer our program to as many kids as possible as we never were only an Aiken Public School team. In reality I would have liked to not have to do all this reaching/maneuvering just to get our team into the district. SC teams had a joke that I just made a PO box in Augusta so we could register, and some of them wanted to do the same.

I didn’t just register the team in Augusta without asking the stakeholders first. I talked with Connie the PCH President and even at the time talked on the phone with Frank about it. I never received much negative feedback form any PCH team about us joining the district and it just so happed that we did well and became one of their stronger representative teams. I like to think that our team joining had some positive influence over the eventual merge of SC/GA into one district, but in reality I had nearly nothing to do with it other than being a coach of a team that hopefully had a positive impact at the events we attended.

I agree with you that first should let teams decide if they want to join a neighboring district, but if you make that choice. It should be permanent more than likely in order to not throw chaos into the system. I also wouldn’t be opposed to paying more, but I think that the situation with state funding probably doesn’t apply to every district like it does FiM.

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Disclaimer: I’m not well-versed in the funding side of districts.

You’re correct in this, but it’s worth noting that registration-wise, inter-district plays are essentially the same as third plays in terms of priority and timing. Payment, I’m not sure; I believe third play registration fees actually go to the district, but it’s been a long time since I heard that and I’m not sure where to verify it (though it’d certainly explain the discrepancy in third play registration costs). I’m not certain where inter-district registration money goes. If it goes to the district, that kind of answers your question, as all out-of-district teams have to pay the district to be there.

Honestly, I assumed this was a response to the pandemic, at least in FMA. Third plays were somewhat common before; it felt like there were always several teams at our second event competing for the third time back before 2022. I see 16 three-FMA-event teams in both 2019 and 2020’s registration data, compared to just 4 in 2022 and 6 last season (albeit with a visit from 125 as an additional ‘slot’).

2022 was interesting in that the number of three-event teams was the same as the one-event teams. But it makes sense due to all of the precautions being taken at that time. Still, your point stands that inter-district plays aren’t (and never were) common. 125 is the only team I remember visiting us. We did have four FMA teams participate in inter-district play in 2019 though, and four registered in 2020 (two of which were week 1 and actually happened).