We received two related questions recently. One was from Nate Laverdure, Team 122, NASA Knights, from Newport News, Virginia, USA:
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:
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, team number and where you’re from, which will be shared, if selected.