The whole argument about how older teams have an unfair advantage in FIRST (or any sport) is nothing new. Younger teams are at a competitive disadvantage due to not having as much time to find resources (human, financial, etc.) or to build institutional knowledge and experience. To be fair, a lot of older teams help mitigate these disparities by assisting and mentoring newer teams. That is awesome and should be encouraged!

However, there is one peculiarity about FIRST that gives older teams another advantage: the team numbering system. Due to the way team numbers are assigned, older teams may have numbers with only one, two, or three digits. Whatâ€™s the big deal you ask? How about bumpers? The rules state that â€śteam numbers must be displayed and positioned on the BUMPERS such that an observer walking around the perimeter of the ROBOT can unambiguously tell the teamâ€™s number from any point of viewâ€¦â€ť This means that for standard square bumpers, you will have to put numbers on all four sides. If you are an older team with a singular digit, you will only need to put eight numbers on your bumpers (one number for each of the four sides times two sets of bumpers). For any team founded in 2003 or later, you will need 32 numbers! If you buy the vinyl adhesive numbers on AndyMark, each one costs $1.625 (not including tax or shipping). This results in a cost of $13.00 each season for one digit teams and a staggering $52 for four digit teams! This problem will only get worse in the next couple years when we start to see our first five digit teams. Do you have to buy vinyl numbers for bumpers? No. But no matter what method you use to put numbers on your bumpers (iron-ons, paint, etc.), teams with more numbers on their bumpers will need to spend more moneyâ€¦and time! The less time you spend on adding bumper numbers, the more time you have for testing, driver practice, etc.

Now, Iâ€™m not one to complain about an issue without providing a solution. Fortunately, there are a number of really simple ways to address this inequity. One is to require teams to include leading zeros such that all team numbers have the same number of digits. Team 2, guess what? Youâ€™re now team â€ś0002.â€ť When we get to five digit numbers, we just have older teams add another zero. Or, what if teams are required to express their team numbers in a number system with a base other than 10? For example, if we used base 1000, every team could be expressed by two numbersâ€¦we would just need to make 1000 unique symbols for the numbers. Easy. The FIRST community is pretty creative, I think we could make it happen, especially since it would help make FIRST more equitable to newer teams. It could even be fun. Team 994, you are now team number â€śzero, Batman symbol.â€ť

What are some other inequities caused by the current team numbering system? Do you all have any alternative solutions? Iâ€™d love to hear what you all think regarding this issue. Also, Happy April 1st!