A lot of the conversations surrounding the Bill of Materials and the Cost Accounting rules in FRC end up “in the weeds,” so to speak. In reality, there are a few different parallel conversations that make up the BoM discussions, and it may be useful to attempt to separate them out into their own topics. One of the most fundamental of those conversations is a question of Cost Limits.
There are weight limits, size limits, and (ever morphing) time limits in FRC. Should there be cost limits as well?
Let’s attempt to leave aside the conversation of how to enforce cost limits for the time being (there are plenty of threads already dealing with that, and I’m sure more to come in the future). For the purposes of this discussion, I’d also like to attempt to focus on the total cost limits. Individual part cost limits is also an important topic, but has slightly different factors to consider.
The vast majority of teams already operate under cost and budget restraints in some fashion or another, but that may not end up applying directly to the robot and those restraints are dramatically unequal across the field of all teams. Codifying total cost requirements would, theoretically, serve as a tool for helping create parity across teams. This is something we see playing out in the realm of professional sports, and often starting and being updated within the lifetime or recent FIRST alumni.
The concepts of spending limits in competitions is not a topic that every competition or every league agrees upon. There’s a range of different approaches across professional sports and other competitive formats. Among North America professional team sports, the National Hockey League has the strictest salary cap (a “hard cap”) of the major leagues, while Major League Baseball is currently uncapped but does employ a luxury tax. These leagues have to balance maintaining appropriate amounts of competitive parity to keep league interest high across all markets with allowing their larger markets to flourish enough to generate revenue. Granted, they also have other systems of helping foster competitive parity (namely prospect drafts that give priority to the teams struggling most). Additionally, they also have organized players unions to deal with collectively, and salary caps (and floors) become a labor interest in that fashion. In part because of the lack of organized players unions, eSports have yet to adapt salary caps in their leagues (to the best of my knowledge). eSports also have differing financial models (many being prize pool based and teams are left on their own to determine regular payment for players).
I’d also be curious to learn more from knowledgeable fans of autosports how costs limits and competitive parity are implemented in Formula 1, NASCAR, etc. This may be a more direct parallel to FRC.