FRC Blogged - Frank Answers Fridays: October 4, 2013

Posted on the FRC Blog, 10/4/13: http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/blog-frank-answers-fridays-10042013

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Frank Answers Fridays: October 4, 2013

Blog Date: Friday, October 4, 2013 - 12:35

We received two related questions recently. One was from Nate Laverdure, Team 122, NASA Knights, from Newport News, Virginia, USA:

Question:

*Frank,

With the announcement of the FIRST Championship dates and location through 2017, we’ve learned that the Championship will conflict with the VEX Robotics Competition World Championship in both 2014 and 2015. What actions did FIRST take to attempt to avoid these conflicts?

There’s a risk that these date conflicts may add to latent speculation that FIRST engages in empire-building by encouraging participants to choose between FIRST and other programs. Unfair or not, this perspective portrays FIRST as acting counter to its stated goals. What efforts are being made to discourage people from taking this viewpoint?*

The other was from Nick Lawrence, Team 610, The Coyotes, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada:

Question:

*Hi Frank,

A question on many of our minds is the collision of the FIRST Championship Event and the VEX Robotics World Championships. Several people on Chief Delphi have expressed the concern that this is a snipe at Innovation First, Inc. Could you please clarify the process and considerations for choosing the date for the FIRST Championship?
*

Answer:

Thanks for these questions. I’ve seen some of the chatter on this topic, and I think it’s important for me to address it.

There are several elements we must consider when making decisions regarding *FIRST *Championship timing.

Our pre-Championship competition season has grown to be seven weeks long. It’s been this way since 2012. This includes District Championships that take place on that final weekend of pre-Championship competition. Attempting to squeeze the 100 or more events we will likely have in 2015 and beyond within six weeks of competition would be very difficult. It would significantly strain our equipment resources, our volunteers, and the teams themselves. It’s important to keep in mind that district teams – which will comprise about 25% of all teams in 2014, a percentage that will continue to grow as the years go by - need to fit in two district events during the competition period. Teams making it to District Championships must fit that in as well.

In addition, a gap of at least one full week is required between the end of the pre-Championship competition and the start of the *FIRST *Championship to give teams earning their Championship slots in that final week some time to make travel and hotel arrangements for themselves. Without this gap, many teams – more as the district model grows - would find themselves being awarded a *FIRST *Championship slot on Saturday, with the requirement that they show up Wednesday in St Louis. This is an unrealistic demand.

Moving the entire competition season back one or two weeks also would be a challenge. Either we would need to schedule kickoff before New Year’s Day, effectively asking teams to work over the holidays, or shorten the build season to five or fewer weeks. My sense is neither of these approaches would be very popular. On the other side of the calendar, pushing the FIRST Championship to May would interfere with AP and other testing, and with FIRST’s dedication to supporting the work of our college-bound students, this is a direction we don’t want to go.

Taking these elements in to account, that final weekend in April is clearly the ideal time for us to schedule Championship. I’m sure the folks at VEX have similar considerations, and similar reasons for selecting that weekend as well.

I’m sorry that this puts some teams and individuals in the position of having to make the choice of either attending the VEX Championship or the *FIRST *Championship in 2014 and 2015. I can assure you that was not the goal or intention of anyone at FIRST, but rather a by-product of the schedule I described above.

I’ll blog again soon.

(Note: There will be no Frank Answers Fridays feature next week)

Frank Answers Fridays is a weekly-ish blog feature where I’ll be answering ‘good questions’ from the FRC community. You can e-mail your questions to [email protected]. Please include your name, team number and where you’re from, which will be shared, if selected.

Great questions, but I wish there was more opening towards somehow working with VEX to avoid the overlap after 2015…

Thanks Frank for addressing this issue though!

I completely agree and I have been known to be hard on FIRST in the past for not discussing this problem more in public. However the FRC calendar is far more restrictive than the VEX calendar. The only other weekend for 2015 that is even remotely available to FIRST would be Apr 29th - May 3rd and that would require students to return from St. Louis and immediately start taking AP tests. At this point it’s really hard for both programs to avoid this conflict. If VEX can’t reserve their venue for the gap weekend between week 7 and FRC championships, it’s pretty much impossible for their not to be a conflict. It’s possible to have VEX Worlds during Week 7 but more and more FRC teams have to compete then. Another option would be week 6 but that shortens the VRC season by almost a full month which isn’t fair to the teams that don’t also compete in FRC; which is a huge majority of them.

I have been attending both championships for the past two seasons and they have been two of my favorite weekends both years. However, I understand the problems with the calendar and I can only hope that VEX is able to move back a week in the future. (2014 isn’t possible due to the Easter Holiday.)

All this time I thought Frank Merrick was personally trying to curbstomp VEX just to prove a point! Glad it’s been officially explained by FIRST to an extent.

Can’t tell if serious.

I thought this was addressed previously with a virtually identical answer. Maybe it was Vex that addressed this issue before?

Jason Morrella of the RECF replied in this thread. That’s one of the few times I have seen the issue officially addressed.

I applaud Frank for addressing the issue.

I still think the two programs should be cooperating to do everything in their power to avoid this problem in 2016 and beyond. I don’t know what that solution looks like.

I don’t see why one competition can’t exist in the fall? I realize personally for our team that we wish VEX was during the fall, so that our small crew could participate in even more robotics competitions… We currently participate in BEST robotics, but we really wish that a more involved program such as VEX was in place during this time.

What about FTC, we’re doing FTC and FRC and the continuity of programs is great

I used this tool here to search for VEX events in Texas and by my count there eight VRC events that take place before the winter break. VRC is “active” year-around as an inherent part of the program. Part of the appeal of VRC is that it’s easy to implement in a classroom setting because it isn’t locked in to a particular season. The longer season allows for more design iteration, plentiful competition opportunities for teams, and a less breakneck, soul-sucking pace for students and mentors. Additionally, there are (by my count using the aforementioned map search tool) 4,369 VRC teams (not counting VEX U or VEX IQ) and 412 VRC events. I imagine that trying to compact those numbers into a span of only a few months would compromise the quality of the experience.

FIRST also has constraints, as Jr. FLL, FLL, and FTC already take place in the fall and it’s unreasonable to expect any of those seasons to change (for a number of reasons).

Edit: VRC also appears to be still growing. In the 3ish hours since I originally posted this, 20 more teams have registered for a total of 4,389 teams.

Allison - I think what he’s suggesting is the VEX competition still be year-round, just having the championship in November/December instead of April. The number of events would remain unchanged, they’d just be shifted by five months. No loss in design, construction, or competition time.
I would prefer this type of calendar - our team uses VEX to ‘set the hook’ with our incoming rookies. They design and build robots to play the VRC game in the fall, then those robots lay dormant the next three months while FRC season goes on. If the championship was to be in late November/early December, then both robotics’ seasons would make much more sense to the students.

That would be an interesting shift.

With my limited outsider understanding it seems like VEX has two primary populations, each with two sub-populations.

  • 1a) FRC teams that use VRC as a primer program to prepare students for FRC
  • 1b) FRC teams that use VRC as an overflow program to reduce numbers on the FRC team/expand their target market/appeal to students who aren’t enticed by the breakneck FRC pace
  • 2a) Schools with VRC integrated as a part of their curriculum
  • 2b) Schools with VRC as an extracurricular activity, but not part of the curriculum

I’m not sure the relative proportions of those populations within the VRC community, but I wonder if 2a/2b are significantly more represented that 1a/1b? I think for schools (at least those based in North America) shifting the season would be an unpopular change (“unpopular” is probably an understatement), especially for the 2a teams where students enrolled in the course one year probably aren’t the following year.

That is my question as well. Relative to the number of FRC teams, how many of them are also doing VEX. I realize this may be denser in some areas, ie Canada (Currently doesn’t support FTC) and Texas (Vex Headquarters in Greenville). Determining whether this conflict affects 10% of FRC teams or 90% of teams puts it into perspective better for me.

Moving VEX Worlds before January would be really difficult for a lot of teams. We help run 6 events in the Houston area and a huge portion of those teams don’t do FRC, so they need something to do during the spring as well. Many of the teams aren’t as well organized and don’t start building their robot till October. Also one of the big advantages of a long season is that teams get to iterate more on their designs.

With the new State/Region Championship model that is being introduced into VEX it would be even harder to fit these events before a pre-January World Championships.

We have many teams that do VEX and FRC in our area and most of the people that run the VEX events down here also run FRC teams so our calendar is pushed mostly into the fall. However our South Texas Championship will be held on Feb 22nd (The Saturday between stop build and week 1 regionals) to make it open to the most teams. We also hold one event during FRC build season that is run by a non-FRC team.

Another reason it’s difficult to move VEX Worlds before January is that it’s harder to travel during that time frame. With the winter holidays, Thanksgiving, and semester exams you might have to have it in the middle of November to keep clear of everything that’s only a few months from the start of the school year.