Participants often ask us why our Tournaments are scheduled as they are.

We receive questions like:

  • Why this date for the Tournament?
  • Why is our performance time so early / so late?
  • Why is there so much / little time between our Team Challenge (TC) and Instant Challenge (IC)?
  • Why can’t the awards ceremony be earlier?
  • Why can’t we have the tournament on multiple days?
  • Why is the tournament enrollment deadline so early?
  • Why can’t I change our performance time a week before the Tournament?

So let’s think about what is involved in scheduling a Tournament…


The Basics

What do we need to do?

  • Figure out the date of the Tournament
  • Figure out which teams need to be scheduled
  • Figure out what TC rooms we need.
  • Give each team a TC time.
  • Assign each team to an IC room.
  • Give each team an IC time.


Constraints on Date of the Tournament

  • Global Finals is almost always held the week before Memorial Day
  • We must allow at least 6 weeks (and preferably 8) between the Affiliate Tournament and Global Finals to allow teams to register for Global Finals, arrange transportation, and ship props. 
  • DI Inc. needs to know how many people will be attending Global Finals as early as possible so that the event can be planned.
  • We prefer at least 3 weeks between the last Regional Tournament and the Affiliate Tournament, so that all teams have time to enroll, arrange transportation and lodging, etc.
  • If the Tournament is scheduled too early (e.g. in February) we run a much greater risk of having to reschedule because of snow.
  • The Regional Tournaments from each Region of the Affiliate should be reasonably close in time to each other, so as to keep things fair across regions (teams often revise and improve their solutions between Tournaments).
  • Multiple Regional Tournaments must not be scheduled on the same weekend.
  • Major religious holidays like Easter and the the first two days of Passover must be avoided. 
  • Civil holiday weekends like Presidents Day weekend should be avoided because many people travel.
  • It is important to consider schools’ winter and spring breaks, again, because many people travel during the breaks.
  • Will the venue be available on the date that we desire?
  • Do SATs, ACTs, or other important tests conflict with our Tournament date?
  • Are there other tournaments scheduled on the same time that our participants may also be participating in?
  • Will other major events taking place in the same town interfere with the ability to reserve lodging? 

Constraints on Scheduling of Performances

  • All teams with the same Challenge and Level must…
    • …be appraised by the same exact set of Appraisers, and…
    • …be assigned to the same IC room and solve the same IC, and…
    • …present their solution under the same exact conditions (room, lighting, etc.).
  • The TC time must not be too close to the IC time (absolutely more than 60 minutes, and preferably more than 100 minutes) – so that teams have enough time for prep and check-in.
  • TC rooms need to be aligned by Challenge (and sometimes split by Level).
  • IC rooms should be aligned by Level as much as possible.
  • The tournament must fit into the space that we have available. 
  • The tournament must start at a reasonable hour (preferably 8am or later). 
  • The awards ceremony should start no later than about 5pm, but it cannot start until…
    • …all TC and IC performances are done, and…
    • …scores are tablulated, and…
    • …special awards decided upon, and…
    • …any DIalogues (scoring challenges) are resolved.
  • TC performances for each Level should be in contiguous time blocks; switching back and forth between Levels should be avoided except when absolutely necessary.
  • If multiple challenges use the same physical room, there must be enough time after the end of the first challenge before the second one begins.
  • There must be adequate breaks for Appraisers.
  • Teams that are solving multiple Challenges must be accommodated. They must solve a different IC for each TC that they have solved.
  • Team members that are on multiple teams must be accommodated. They must solve a different IC for each of the TC’s that their teams have solved.
  • We often need to work around the Challenge Masters’ time constraints.
  • Some individuals manage multiple teams – they usually need to be able to be at IC and TC performances for all of the teams that they are managing.
  • We must not exceed the available Tournament budget. The longer we use the venue, and the more space we use, the greater the cost.
  • We must be able to recruit enough appraisers for each Challenge.
  • Reasonable scheduling requests from teams must be honored.


  • Each team’s TC and IC should not be too far apart (not more than 3 hours) – as [most] TM’s are human and there is a limit to how long one can maintain focus.
  • TC room and IC room start and end times should be staggered in time so as to keep the load upon the tournament director and the score room manageable.
  • We try to schedule younger teams to perform later in the day, to ease the burden upon the adults who supervise them.
  • Teams which drew a very early performance time at the Regional Tournament should not also be given a very early performance time at the Affiliate Tournament (unless they want it).
  • It is poor form to schedule multiple teams from the same school to perform at the same time.
  • Some teams make unreasonable schedule requests (like asking to start “in the late morning” but finish by 1:30pm). It it nice to honor these when possible.

How We Usually Build the Tournament Schedule

We debated for a while whether to publish our actual process for scheduling Tournaments, but decided in the end that we should, in the name of transparency, to show how rigorous the process is, and to help teams understand why, in some cases, we might not be able to honor all of their requests, or why they might end up with less than preferable scheduling.

So, suppose you are the Tournament Director, and you need to schedule the Tournament. Here are the steps that you would usually take to schedule the Tournament:


  • This set of instructions is intended for Tournament Directors tasked with scheduling a Tournament.
  • This is not a set of instructions for Team Managers.
  • Rather, it is our guide for Tournament Directors, made public in the name of transparency, in the hope that teams will better understand the scheduling process.

Step 1: Figure out the Tournament Date

Try to balance all of the above Tournament date constraints to figure out a date that will work. This is usually an exercise in working backwards from the date of Global Finals taking into consideration the dates on which the venues are available.

Step 2: Know Your Venue

  • What spaces do we have to work with?
  • Are there enough rooms for Team Challenges, Instant Challenge, Awards Ceremony, Merchandising, Appraiser Break Areas, Score Room, Tournament Office, etc.?
  • What are the time constraints? How early will the building open? How late can it stay open?
  • How much does the space cost per hour?
  • When can we access the building to set up on the day before the Tournament?
  • How will appraisers be fed?

Step 3: Make sure you know who is coming

  • Assume that all of the eligible teams will come to tournament, even if they haven’t paid yet, or they told you they won’t come to tournament. We don’t want to have to schedule them at the last minute when they tell us that they have changed their minds and they are coming after all.
  • Try to force every team to tell us what Challenge they are doing, and what Level they are in, ASAP.
  • Touch base with team managers in late January to verify that our record of their Challenge / Level is correct, and that there aren’t any special requests that they didn’t include in their online tournament enrollment.
  • Don’t forget to mark teams that are very unlikely to actually show up at the Tournament as NON_COMP in the scoring program
  • Make sure that the Challenge Master knows about any teams that will not actually be presenting a solution.
  • Now is the time to figure out if you will need to split a Challenge into separate performance rooms by Level. There should not be more than 20 performances in a Room.

Step 4: Appraisers and Volunteers

We don’t go into this in detail here, but suffice to say that for a successful tournament, we must have:

  • A Challenge Master for each Challenge
  • A Head Appraiser for each Room of each Challenge
  • Enough Appraisers for each Room of each Challenge
  • Enough other full day Volunteers to ensure the smooth operation of the Tournament (Registration Captain, Merchandise Captain, etc.)
  • Enough 60 to 90 minute Volunteers to fill other smaller roles (Door Guard / Usher, Merchandise Clerk, Registration Receptionist 

All told, we find that our tournaments usually require about 150 Appraisers and about 100 other Volunteers.

Step 5: Check for team time constraints

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Team Members that are on multiple teams
  • Team Managers that are shared by multiple teams
  • Unusual circumstances (e.g. 11th grade team member with SATs on same day)
  • Special scheduling requests
  • Teams with mobility issues (may inform challenge room selection)
  • Teams traveling from far away (try to schedule them mid-day)
  • Teams with parents or team managers who for various reasons should have a shorter day [schedule them later in the day].
  • Teams that you know aren’t coming (see above)

Step 6: Get Your Tools Ready

  • The simplest tool is your dining room table and paper:
    • Use blue painters tape to create “rooms”
    • Print two strips of paper for each team, one for TC and one for IC
    • Schedule by placing the strips of paper into the tape “rooms” on your table
  • In the Eastern Region we do this using a super fancy spreadsheet that sucks in data from our registration system, calculates time between TC and IC, detects overlaps and time clashes, etc. It’s totally over-engineered, it’s tough to understand (even for its author), it’s slow, and in some ways it’s broken and doing things that are intuitive break it. We don’t really recommend that others use it. But you are welcome to peruse and ponder the sheer monstrosity of the thing.

Step 7: Team Challenge

First Guess

Do a general guess as to the possible start and end time for each Team Challenge (TC):
  • Assume 20 minutes per performance
  • If there are lots of teams, some Challenges might be compressible to 18 minutes per performance
  • Do your key appraisers have any time constraints?
  • Are you sharing any key appraisers across Challenges?
  • Should any of the challenges be split by level? (>20 teams)
  • Earliest / latest team time constraints for this TC – informs whether an entire challenge (or challenge / level, if you have split) should move earlier or later in the day.

Sort the Central Challenges into your rooms

  • See what rooms you have available
  • What are the requirements of the Challenge?
  • See how many teams you have in each challenge (or challenge / level, if you split)
  • See which challenges can co-habit in the same room

Order the levels within each Challenge / room:

  1. Sort the teams by level
  2. Figure out how much time you need for each level
  3. Appraisers prefer to see all of one level, then all of the next, etc.)
  4. Order the levels:
    • Honor Earliest / latests team time constraints for this level – informs whether the entire level should move earlier or later in the day.
    • We prefer to have secondary level early in the day, middle level at mid-day, elementary level later in the day. That’s because high school students want to hang out at the tournament with their friends, while elementary students (and their parents) tire easily, have short attention spans, and get irritated more easily.

Think about breaks! 

  • Allow a 20 minute break after every 4-6 teams
  • Allow a 60 minute lunch break, if possible
  • Between levels is a convenient (but not mandatory) time to schedule breaks
  • Try to stagger the breaks! If all of the rooms go on break at the same time, people will be bored, and the cafeteria will be overloaded…

Within each Level:

  1. Move teams around so as to honor their constraints.
  2. Hopefully the constraints within each challenge / level are compatible with one another!
  3. Avoid scheduling multiple teams from the same school back-to-back.
  4. If possible, avoid overlaps where teams from the same school or district are performing simultaneously (even if in different Challenges).
  5. Schedule your known “no show” teams immediately before breaks so as to extend the break, or at the beginning or end of day. Don’t schedule them as the first team after a break, or else spectators will be irritated.

Step 8: Instant Challenge

The key difference about IC is that it is organized primarily by Level, and then by Challenge (opposite of TC).

Important IC rules:

  1. All teams in the same Level / TC must solve the same IC.
  2. You can use different ICs for different levels within one TC
  3. If a team member is on multiple teams, solving multiple TCs, each of their teams must be assigned to different ICs!
  4. A TM managing multiple teams cannot be in the IC room if their (different) teams are both solving the same IC.
  5. Try to avoid scheduling teams from the same organization back-to-back in the same IC.
  6. There is no DIalogue for IC, and there are no scores to be returned. So it’s OK if IC starts later in the day, and ends later in the day.
  7. But don’t make it too much later – or else you will have bored people hanging around with nothing to do!

How Many Teams per Room?

Figure out how many teams you have at each level (RS, Elementary, Middle, Secondary)

  1. Rising Stars teams need their own room / IC
  2. Elementary and Middle can use the same IC if necessary
  3. Middle and Secondary can use the same IC if necessary
  4. Note there are ICs for RS, Entry, Advanced and Entry / Advanced. Some ICs have separate Entry and Advanced versions.
  5. Consult with your IC CM on how many rooms you need / want.

Sort the Teams into IC Rooms

From the process above for the Central Challenge, you should have blocks of teams that are organized by challenge and level, separated (often) by breaks:

  1. Sort the blocks into IC rooms:
    • Pay attention to team constraints
    • Same rules for breaks
    • Try to keep same ordering of teams within each block (it will make the next step easier)
  2. Pay attention to the gap time between TC and IC!
    • Best: IC start time about 100 minutes after TC start time
    • OK: IC start time about 120 minutes before TC start time
    • Allow more time before TC for Engineering (Drop Zone) teams (because structure check-in is 60 minutes before TC performance time).
    • Try to avoid gap time longer than 180 minutes. Teams get restless and lose focus.

Step 9: Check for Problems

OK! Now that you have done all of the above, go back and check for the following:

  • Are there any team members who must be in multiple places at the same time (because they are on multiple teams)?
  • Are there any TMs managing multiple teams who have been scheduled to be in two places at once?
  • Were all of the teams’ constraints honored?
  • Is there overlap of TC across teams from the same organization that could be avoided?
If there are problems:

  • Can the problem be solved by shifting the entire TC or IC room schedule earlier or later?
  • Try to swap team times. If you swap team’s TC times, it’s easiest to also swap their IC teams.
  • If you have to pick guidelines to violate, do it in this order (from most preferable to least preferable):
    • Long gap between TC / IC
    • Overlapping teams from same organization
    • Adjacent teams from same organization
    • Number of performances between breaks
    • Bouncing between levels

Step 10: Publication

  • Once you’ve resolved any problems, send a preliminary schedule to all of your Challenge Masters for their feedback. 
  • If the Challenge Masters are OK with the schedule, post it on the tournament web page as a preliminary schedule.
  • Announce it to Team Managers as a preliminary schedule

Step 11: The Aftermath

  • Once the schedule is posted teams WILL make last minute requests for schedule changes! Handle them just like in the “problems” section above – by swapping teams, etc.
  • About 3 weeks before tournament publish a final schedule.
  • If anyone comes forward after that with a requested change, tell them to handle it themselves by finding a team with whom they can swap times (TC and IC). It’s up to them to organize swaps, not up to the Tournament Director!
  • All time swaps must be approved by both of the teams involved and by the Tournament Director.

Step 12: Have a Great Tournament!

Sign Post Icon

Up for a fun challenge? Join us!