The Sad truth

unfortunently im not the best author so some of my points may sound a little bit gramatically off… but i think my point is clear…

More and more today I am seeing once great teams falling out of the FIRST Program because they just can’t keep up with the rising cost. In the past seven years that i have praticipated in first I have seen a dramatic change in the way first is run.
The sad reality is that first isnt about kids anymore, its about makeing money for teams and trying to get the rest of the world interested in what we do. It is not a bad thing to promte engineering to kids, but they should be promoting what the kids have built, not who sponsors them or the fact that we can go to the georgia dome to compete. In the first years of first, the idea was for the kids to build a robot with the guidence of local engineers. But now it is the team with the bigger sponsor wins. There isnt even a true national Championship anymore. To get to a championship event you should qualify by being the best in a region not paying the entry fee.
Im not trying to bash FIRST, if it wasent for FIRST i would not have persued an engineering carrer. All i am trying to say is that instead of worrying about getting bigger and bigger, they should get back to their roots and see the reel reason we all are a part of first. TO LEARN about engineering.

The sad truth is life is like an onion. You peel away layers to get to the center of it. The more you peel away the more it stinks and makes you cry.
Any organization suffers from warts. From our government, to organized religion to your local PTA or any robotics team. So why is that? Well mainly due to the human element. Not everyone is going to seek the same thing from any given element. There are people who are in FIRST to make a difference and there are people who are in FIRST for personal glory and people who joined FIRST just to pick up girls.
So FIRST isn’t the rosy perfection that we FIRST thought it to be. Is anything in this world? Before all of you go flying off the handle and start talking craziness like outright quitting the program or something like that you find me something in this mad mad world that is perfect through and through and I’ll follow you right out that door.

Im talking about quite the opposite of quiting, im talking about the teams that have to miss out because the school board is cutting the major donations or even the program becasue it is just too much money. all im saying is trying that first to grow too fast and forgeting about what is most important… Teaching kids about engineering

There is more to it than just strictly financial reason.
Teams die out due to teacher support issues or lack of interest from the student body.
What exactly would be considered an acceptable rate of growth for FIRST because one complaint I have heard over the years on CD is how FIRST has grown so much and how it isn’t like how it used to be.
How is FIRST going to change the culture if it’s only limited to a few hundred school? Or even a few thousand?

As an engineering major I am told that numbers don’t lie. I would like to see numbers on how many FIRST teams are started vs. how many existing teams don’t register for any competitions. I have thought about this issue a lot and I actually heard Andy and Mark talking to a 1251 mentor about this. Bottom line starting a teams is great but lets make sure we keep the existing ones.


Things grow, you can’t go back to a small cozy number of teams. However, teams don’t have to have a major sponser to do well at an event, nor to be picked by someone who did.

If teams are finding it difficult to raise the necessary cash levels to compete in FRC, there are alternatives that provide (IMHO) nearly* as much inspiration for engineering as FRC. These include:

FIRST Tech Challenge (cost: $300 + competition entry fees)
Savage Soccer (free!)
Bridge Battle (free!)
Trinity Firefighting Robot Competition
Marble Madness (up to $75)
Rah Cha Cha Ruckus Vex Game (cost: $10)
MATE (Underwater) ROV Competition
BEST Robotics, Inc.
Battlebots IQ

…and the list goes on and on. :wink:

This is the million dollar question.

FRC will never meet Dean’s goal of being in every school in America. It’s simply too expensive. Much of the country is already saturated with teams. There isn’t enough money to support more than a few teams per school district (or even that many, in some cases).

The average FRC team probably costs in excess of $10,000 per year. That’s an astronomically high price for an after school activity. Granted we all know it’s one of the most amazing programs a student can be a part of, but all that money has to come from somewhere.

VEX/FTC is a big step forward towards Dean’s vision. It could be plausible that sometime in the near(ish) future there could be a FTC team in most schools in the country. It’s much cheaper, yet it also gives students a taste of the experience they will receive in FRC. Once they move on from VEX, they can join a local FRC team, even if their school does not have it’s own.

I’ve thought for awhile that FIRST is growing too quickly in California. I don’t know about other states, but it seems like too many teams are being started, with no long term plan for funding, mentorship, etc (or a plan, but just falling short of being able to execute it). I’d much rather see no new teams be started, and every old team last at least 10 years than a ton of new teams popping up, but then being forced to quit after a few years when they can’t sustain their program.

Mentor turnover is a big issue too. Working (or going to school), mentoring a team, raising a family, having a life outside of FIRST, etc is very difficult with the current time commitment required by FRC mentors. It’s very easy to burn out, between the actual work with the students, and the strain of arranging travel, fundraising, paperwork, actual travel and supervision of the students, etc.

I know personally that last year I was spending over 65 hours a week physically at our team’s facility during the competition season. Combine that with attending school full time, missing 12 days of class (and even more time with friends/family/etc) due to attending competitions, and eventually something has to give.

Pretty soon there will be too many teams for anyone to attend the Championship, outside of regional winners, and chairman’s award winners. Presumably at some point there may not even be enough space for all those teams.

FRC will get too big for it’s own good. The only question is how soon will it be?

That’s not why I am part of FIRST.

I’m here to help inspire students in the fields of science and technology…and to have boatloads of fun in the process. I’m here to see my ideas get combined with the ideas of other people in order to make a finished product that does amazing things. I’m here to give students the opportunity to be part of a wonderful collaboration between community and business, between education and industry, between mentees and mentors, between parents and teachers and engineers and salesmen and custodians and carpenters and on and on…

Engineering is only one corner of the FIRST experience. The larger goal is nothing short of changing the culture of the planet to make technology – and those who work with it – something to celebrate. Growth is vital in order to make progress toward that goal.

Have you ever seen a high school football team budget?

Yes. But that price is absorbed by the school. Nearly every (is there any high school without a football team?) school has a football team. The students don’t have to come up with the money themselves. The football team will exist every year, regardless of how little money a school district has, because something else like FIRST will get cut before the budget for sports does. I can’t think of any student/parent/mentor fundraised activities that are as expensive as FIRST.

Doesn’t this come down to the priorities of the school and school district?

As much as I might enjoy football, I don’t think of it as a necessary activity that has a positive impact on society and our future. Yet, sports programs often thrive in schools where computer access for students is limited, laboratory equipment is archaic, arts and music departments face budget cuts. That’s just wrong!

When doing Dean’s homework, we need to clearly describe this situation in writing to our government officials. If FIRST becomes “curriculum” where the costs are borne through district budgets (derived from the tax base), then FIRST teams won’t have to struggle to do so much fund-raising or rely on fickle corporate sponsors in order to survive. I think doing some fund-raising and selling the FIRST program to sponsors is in itself a valuable, educational activity, but it shouldn’t become an overwhelming, all-consuming ordeal.

While we’re at it, students should look at their own spending habits: extravagant proms, expensive clothing/shoes, latest video/computer games, etc. before criticizing the cost of FIRST participation. Do the “cost-benefit” analysis and decide what the best use of your dollars is in the long run. Don’t you get more out of a trip to Atlanta than a night in a limo, tux and fancy dinner?

Priorities…it’s in Dean’s message.

FIRST teaches many things, and I think you are now just touching on one of the hidden lessons of FIRST.

In business, it’s not just about creating a better mousetrap. You need to be able to sell both your businss model and product. You can have the best mousetrap in the world, but if no one knows about it then your business will fail.

Also, unless business continuously grow, and continuously re-invent themselves, they will eventually die out as new and more innovative companies / products come along.

The above statements are also true about FIRST teams. If you cannot fundraise (sell the idea of the robotics team and FIRST) then even if you have the best team in the world … it will fail.

Teams need a business plan and strategy for securing funding and recruiting students / mentors. Teams need a clear understanding of where they are going and how much they can (and cannot) afford. In essence, teams need a business plan. And this plan needs to include all the possibilities, not just a rosy outlook.

I also disagree with those with the biggest sponsor wins. I believe that those who have a clear understanding of their capabilities, both physical and financial, and design and build within those capabilities are the teams that succeed.

I do agree that the championship should be only for those that have earned a spot at the championship event. Regional winners, Regional chairman award winners, Regional rookie all-star award winners, engineering inspiration award winners, and past championship chairman award winners only. Having money should not be a consideration.

Good thread.

Daniel’s and Alan’s comments are spot on I think.

Decades ago I met someone that started their own very successful engineering company. The one thing I remember that he said that it didn’t matter what you designed and made if you can’t sell it.

At all of our meetings I tell everyone, especially the newbies that at least half the time needs to be spent doing “marketing and sales”. Selling the program to the public, the faculty and administration, sponsors, media, etc.

Your business plan is one of the most important things you will design. It will help solve many problems. Funding/sponsorship and “business” continuity are some of them.

re: football and such. I know of plenty of marching bands that easily exceed $1,000 to $1,200 per person just in fees, not including all the other out of pocket expenses. Those are student fees and do not include contributions, direct or indirect from the school. There are other activities that meet or exceed that level of student contribution.

I believe both of those points are your opinion. I, for one, feel totally different. I don’t care if the students know the difference between an op-amp and a resistor… I just care that they have fun, pump that muscle in their head, and eventually get into college with a ton of scholarship money. These students have their entire college career to learn about engineering. Let’s try to let them have some fun while they can.

I’m pretty sure you’re not looking at the same budgets I am. A large part of the funding for most sports programs comes from tickets and concession sales, booster clubs provide another big chunk, and sponsorship is significant. In a few specific cases I know, parents are required to volunteer (yes, it’s an oxymoron) for a certain amount of concession duty, or to buy their way out of the obligation. The costs cannot be “absorbed” by the school; they must be covered by income from specific sources.

And in many schools, the students (or their parents) do pay to be part of the football team, sometimes on the order of several hundred dollars a season.

The biggest difference in funding models I see between football and FRC teams is that admission is free to watch FRC competitions. As long as FRC is cheap for the spectators, it will be expensive for the participants.

Basic economic theory tells us that if I give you something, I want something of value in return.

Sponsors have to see value in their support. If they perceive things as they pay money so someone else can have a hobby, or even an education, then that is a non-starter.

Sponsors have to be convinced that there is a value proposition here. ( FRC )is important to us but probably not to them. Substitute FRC for every other activity that happens at school and the community and you will see what I mean.

If you can persuade enough sponsors to see enough value to them and the community then you have a shot at getting 100, or 500 or 1,000 bucks or even more from each of them.

The persuading is the (relatively) easy part. The harder part is figuring out how to connect the dots on bringing value to the potential sponsor.

There is a reason Tyco supports FIRST and Yamaha supports Band and Nike supports sports, etc.

Another one of the hidden aspects/bonuses of FIRST is learning.
The students learn, the mentors learn, the sponsors learn, the school systems learn. Part of the business plan is to get the word out. What good is the word if no one is listening and starting to understand the scope of FIRST’s mission? If there is no learning, there is no chance of recognition and inspiration. It gets - really - fun when you enter our outstanding teachers into this mix. They are natural born educators. Yes, they want to inspire - but I guarantee you, when a teacher is involved, there is going to be a lot of learning involved as well. I see it every day on our team.

Boy Howdy !!

I’m really starting to see this one happening. We have some great teachers mentoring to some of our efforts and they really bring a whole new perspective to things. It really helps puts the capital ‘T’ in team.

Build a broad student team and mirror the mentors against that. Engineers, business types, communicator, educators…

In the Northeast many smaller schools do not have football teams and many middle class school systems are going increasingly to “pay to play” funding.

Back to the original topic: Maintaining the health of existing teams should be a part of the overall FIRST Growth plan. Teams need to find long term support from their school or sponsor to pay that difficult initial entry fee so the students only need to raise money for a trip and can focus on science and technology.