Why do we have Penalties?

Every year there are teams that lose points on their score sheets; some of the points lost are called penalties. Every year there are teams who are very upset because they have been given a penalty.

I have always disliked the term ‘penalty’ because it sounds pejorative, like a punishment, but that is the term used in the problems sent by CCI. A better term might be ‘score adjustment.’ We use penalties most often to accommodate issues of Outside Assistance or rule breaking (intentional or not).

When a team has allowed someone else outside the team to make the wonderful ‘bird’ costume in violation of the Outside Assistance rules or one of the parents helped build the scenery, how do we deal with that fairly? Toss the team out?  No. We assess penalties. But how do we try to keep things fair for the teams who DID all the work themselves?  Sure a father can make a better device than a 5th grader but is it fair that it should be judged against the work of other 5th graders? We really try to keep the competition between kids in the same age range.

The Judges try to fairly determine the degree of Outside Assistance, to determine the advantage the team received.  If the scenery made by an adult is to be scored, it could incur a larger penalty than the team who admitted on their outside assistance form that a parent used the table saw in one instance for safety reasons. Remember the Odyssey suggestion is that if it is not safe for a team to use a certain tool, they should find another way to solve the problem. It is a matter of degree.

Consider a vehicle problem where the rules said that the team members could not touch the floor when making a turn in their vehicle. Touching the floor could make the turn tighter and more controlled thus providing an advantage.  Most would agree that this advantage isn’t fair when compared to the teams who followed the rules. So the judges determine how much of an advantage (with points) the team got when that rule was broken (intentionally or not)- thus the penalty.

Now sometimes the rules aren’t clear and this is why we encourage teams to submit clarifications to CCI if they have questions (bring your clarifications with you to tournament, in case there is a question.)  But sometimes a team will decide to take a risk – they may not want to share their cool idea. They may decide to go with a structure or vehicle that while creative, might or might not fit within the rules according to the judges. That’s why it’s called taking a RISK. Sometimes risks work and the team ends up with a Ranatra Fusca Award for Outstanding Creativity and sometimes they end up with a 100 point penalty or disqualified. That’s why they call it RISK. Risks are risky!! Should teams do it? It’s up to them. They know the risks, it’s their call.

Let me tell you a secret. What shows the true character of the team is how the team handles the penalty, should they get one. Teams that ask questions, who present their perspective clearly, thoughtfully and learn from the experience to come back stronger next year, are getting the most out of Odyssey. Our judges are all volunteers and sometimes they do make mistakes, too. Sometimes there is more going on than the team knows. Most of our judges are wonderful people who give generously of their valuable time to make our Tournament happen. None of them like to assess a penalty, but sometimes it’s necessary. Odyssey is not about winning, it’s about learning.