In 2019, 48% of FRC Team 299’s expenses were registration (2 regionals + champs, not including travel). I can’t help but think that most of that $14,000 could be better applied elsewhere to accomplish our (and FIRST’s) stated missions.
One of the solutions I came up with seemed so jarringly simple that I felt it must be too good to be true, so here I am on CD asking for opinions on this hypothetical: Why not only compete in the off-season?
I know this sounds weird, but hear me out: I hypothesize that only competing in off-seasons would be a more efficient way of accomplishing FIRST’s mission for a large chunk of FRC teams in regionals (>33%) than registering for in-season events. I believe this is the case because of the cost savings and added flexibility.
First, the cost savings between off-seasons and regionals is drastic. In California our typical off-season event costs roughly $350 / robot. Some are higher, some are lower, and while I don’t know too much about the average registration for all off-season events, most numbers I’ve seen are around this figure. Compare this to the $5,000 registration fee for a team’s first regional. That’s a $4,650 difference, which I would bet is more than most teams have to spend on their robot. Let’s add a second regional for $4,000 on there for a total registration of $9,000. Two $350 off-season events is $700, which gives a savings of $8,300 in registration fees alone. In theory, a team could attend 14 off-season events at $350 each for roughly the same amount of money as a single $5000 regional registration. Of course no team would compete in 14 events, but the excess in money saved would likely do wonders being reinvested into the team’s competitive robotics program. I struggle to see what value is added to the program that is worth that much money that cannot be obtained elsewhere.
Secondly is the flexibility. Operating outside of the limitations set by FRC would allow programs more freedom to run the way they’d like and to pursue goals outside of FRC limitations. With the game being released in January each year, but off-seasons not starting until early summer at the earliest and continuing into early winter, programs will have greater flexibility in their operating schedule. Those who want to keep the same four-month season can shift their season to start and end whenever they’d like (ie. August - November), and those who would like to change the standard season length can expand or retract their seasons as they see fit. Regardless of what season length programs choose, there is still the same amount of time between official kickoff and each event’s starting point, so no team has the advantage of more possible time over another team (just like no-bag FRC rules), and given the larger time span between kickoff and off-season competitions and the typical lull in summer, teams who do both in-season and off-season events won’t be at an overwhelming large advantage to those who just do off-seasons. Programs will have more freedom in choosing how often they meet, how long their season is, and how much prior exposure to the game they have, how it’s played, and other robots built for the game they see before they start their own season. Alongside this, I have personally found that most off-season events tend to be more lenient with rules that define how the robot is to be constructed and what can be used on it, which opens up the possibility of utilizing technologies and resources that would normally be deemed illegal in FRC. Team 299 has a lot of cool engineering concepts we want to teach our students that we don’t get around to doing because those technologies do not provide a competitive advantage in FRC due to limitations from the program or due to time limitations of the FRC season making the technology the less efficient method of solving a problem compared to more black-boxed solutions. I would be willing to bet this is not a problem unique to us.
Of course there are cons to this, and they are definitely worth considering. These are the ones I’ve thought of, but I am interested in hearing more.
- Off-season events are not FIRST-Official
Off-season events are not official or sanctioned by FIRST, and while that doesn’t matter to me personally, I understand that some people place a lot of value on the credibility and namesake of the organization running the event, and as a byproduct off-season events do not hold as much value to them.
- No official world championship event
I believe this is the biggest downside. Not competing in in-season events disqualifies teams from competing at any world championship events, and despite there being off-season events such as Chezy Champs and IRI that do a good job of bringing in teams from all around and creating a highly competitive atmosphere, there is no real replacement in the off-season for the FIRST world championship experience.
- No access to FRC-specific grants (EDIT:) or scholarships
Pretty self explanatory. Even though most of those grants go to FRC registration, the lack of FRC grant opportunities is notable. @Mike_Schreiber also pointed out that this removes students’ eligibility from FIRST scholarships, which are another downside.
There can be more downsides, these are just the main three I can think of.
So yeah, this is my hypothesis. To me it seems like the resources put into competing in official FRC events can be better used elsewhere in robotics programs to get kids inspired about STEM and give them more hands-on experience with engineering. I don’t know if I’d do anything about it just yet, but it’s a thought experiment that I’ve yet to be able to disprove. I could be entirely wrong - I often am. I’m sure I’ve missed things, so I’m interested in hearing what people think. It’s definitely a weird idea, but it kinda makes sense?