For the most part, Ateneo handled their first ACM Intercollegiate Programming Competition wonderfully. But there was one thing that perhaps could have been handled better, and that was the disqualification of 30-year-old Nix Garcia from iAcademy on the basis of his age.
Oh, I _hate_ it when my friends are on both sides of an issue. From one point of view, it's iAcademy's fault for not reading the fine print. According to the official ACM ICPC rules, Nix Garcia's coach should have petitioned the ICPC eligibility committee at least three weeks before the regional contest. From http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc/Regionals/About.htm :
- A student must be willing and able to compete in the World Finals.
- A student must be enrolled in a degree program at the sponsoring institution with at least a half-time load. This rule is not to be construed as disqualifying co-op students, exchange students, or students serving internships.
- A student may compete for only one institution during a contest year.
- A student who has competed in two World Finals is NOT eligible to compete.
- A student who has competed in five Regional Contests is NOT eligible to compete.
Period of Eligibility
- A student who meets the Basic Requirements and FIRST began post-secondary studies in 2001 or later is eligible to compete.
- A student who meets the Basic Requirements and was born in 1982 or later is eligible to compete. (emphasis mine)
Extending the Period of Eligibility
- A coach may petition the ICPC Eligibility Committee to extend the Period of Eligibility for a student whose full-time studies have been interrupted or extended. This includes military or civilian service, illness, work/studies, or personal reasons.
- The coach must demonstrate that such an extension would not provide an unfair advantage to the team.
- A petition will be approved routinely if the student meets the Basic Requirements and has not completed more than the equivalent of eight semesters of full-time study as of the date of the regional contest.
- To make such a request, the coach must petition the ICPC Eligibility Committee at least three weeks before the regional contest. The ICPC Eligibility Committee will render a decision within five business days.
I think Nix's extension would've been granted. He had dropped out of college to pursue writing for a while, and I don't think he gained an unfair advantage from that. But iAcademy didn't apply for it, and so Ateneo was right to disqualify them.
Ateneo officials probably noticed their oversight and corrected it, perhaps when someone else complained. It was probably a very, very tough call, and they must've thought, "Better late than never."
Again, it's probably too late _now_ (I _hate_ being on the sidelines!), but I hope that the coach of the iAcademy team read this part of the rules:
(Within 2 business day) The coach may file a complaint by sending an email containing a text message with no enclosures to the Regional Contest Director and copied to the Contest Manager.
The Appeals committee would probably not overturn the decision, but at least they'll know about it, and perhaps contests around the world will be better at double-checking eligibility before the final run. Coaches could be reminded about eligibility requirements, for example.
It wouldn't be the first time contest results were changed after the contest. During our first year of participating in the ACM, my team moved from 13th place to 12th because one team had been disqualified after the preliminary contest results were announced. A student on that team had been to the World Finals one too many times. You'd expect them to be very familiar with the fine print of these contests, but in the rush and excitement leading up to a contest, who was checking?
Yes, coaches are responsible for making sure they know the rules. Yes, iAcademy would've probably gotten the extension if they had appealed for it, but they relied on the contest organizers to verify their application—and contest organizers simply deal with too many teams to do that. But it hurts when something is taken away from you after you think you won it, even though the rules require disqualification. I wish Ateneo had handled that part of the contest gracefully. Perhaps they did. I know Dr. Rodrigo and the other Ateneans would've tried their best to make sure their decisions were reasonable and well-supported.
(Ateneo has been screwed by politicking at contests before, and I'd like to think that we don't scheme. We've hated it too when forces beyond our control or understanding muck about with the contest results. Anyone remember that Asia Students .NET contest? Doc Sarmenta's chagrin over winning a hastily-created "Most Creative" prize was balanced by his delight that the organizers had found such a wonderfully intricate solution to a delicate political situation. Or at least that's what we told ourselves... <laugh>)
ACM ICPC is a programming competition, yes, and so on the surface it's about finding the best programming team in the region and then in the world. But it's always been more than that for me. I think it's a fantastic opportunity to develop and maintain collegial respect for people in other schools. The ACM ICPC is not about just competing in that contest and then going home. I hope people realized the awesome opportunities ACM ICPC gives them—look, here are the people each school believes to be its best! The ACM ICPC should be more of a social event, like the way our high school International Software Competitions helped us get to know other people from different countries. That way, people go home with far more than just numeric results. They go home having met other _people._
I respect both Ateneo for the tough decisions it had to make and iAcademy for the challenges it went through. They may be disqualified according to the rules, but that in no way diminishes their accomplishments. I do not think that their performance depended on Nix Garcia's experience. iAcademy is relatively new to the contest scene, and I remember when they first competed and failed. They have gone far and done well.
Our Atenean teams are far guiltier of taking advantage of our experience. If you look at our performance in the past, we have never been unknowns. We have never been dark horses coming late to the race. Even the newcomers—and by newcomers we mean people who started competing in college instead of high school, the laggards ;)—were picked up early and trained along with people who had been competing since their high school days. Our success is probably more due to a constant stream of contest veterans than it's due to the strengths of our curriculum. I've been both a student and a teacher. I should know! <wry grin>
Congratulations, Nix Garcia and the other people at iAcademy. You might have been disqualified, but your performance is certainly not something to be ashamed of. Take what you've learned from the contest and help train the next generation. You'll get better and better, and I hope someday iAcademy will challenge Ateneo for the top spot. Until then, remember: there's more to contests than just the final results. Prove your worth by teaching the next generation. I look forward to next year's contest!