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Each rules manual contains the rules for the events in one division (B or C) in a specific season.
Through the 2017 season, the primary method of publication for the rules manuals was a physical booklet of around 35-40 pages. These were distributed to state organizations in late August, who mailed them to registered teams starting in early September. In addition, the rules manuals could be ordered directly online - typically they are released the day after Labor Day (although the national organization store website often updates a few hours before midnight on Labor Day). Ordering the rules manuals directly is almost always faster than waiting for them to be mailed by the state organization, however it involves additional cost (historically $8 plus shipping).
Since 2015, the rules manuals have also been released as mobile apps on the iTunes store and Google Play store. These are typically half the price of the printed rules, but are usually released in early October.
Rules Clarifications and FAQs
The national organization rules clarifications page is used to correct errors in the rules (for example, in 2016 the distance increments for Air Trajectory for the national level was 0.1 cm when it was actually supposed to be 0.1 m), or to make other changes to the rules that directly affect the text (for example, in 2016 the rules were amended to allow a Note Sheet to be used in Hydrogeology). Rules Clarifications are uncommon, with generally no more than 5-10 each year, and only a few that significantly change an event. Rules clarifications are rarely posted later than November.
The national organization operates a Frequently Asked Questions page, where individuals may submit questions about ambiguities in the rules. Typically only a small percentage of questions are answered on the FAQs page, usually if they are common or reflect legitimate ambiguity. There are usually in the range of 30-50 FAQs answered each year, though the exact number varies greatly. Usually a majority of the FAQ answers are for a small number of events, especially build events. FAQs typically stop being posted a few weeks prior to the national tournament.
While the majority of FAQs are minor, some can cause significant shifts in an event. For example, a series of FAQs posted during the 2015 season relating to Mission Possible repeatedly modified the definition of a jug, which meant that competitors had to change their device numerous times in order to comply with the prevailing definition.
Although rules clarifications and FAQs are sometimes considered binding at local tournaments unless otherwise specified, frequently event supervisors, and sometimes tournament directors, are unaware of their existence. In addition, many tournaments have a time-dependent policy for rules clarifications and FAQs, where only those posted at prior to a certain date are valid. For example, New York regional tournaments only honor those posted prior to a certain date, which is the same for all regionals. Invitational tournaments frequently set their own cutoff dates, usually 1-2 weeks before the tournament.
It is common for either the event slate or the rules for specific events to vary between different parts of the nation - most commonly different states, but also individual tournaments. State organizations have substantial leeway in how the operate, both with regard to events and other matters, and may make significant changes to the rules or event slate.
Frequently, state tournaments - and sometimes regional and invitational tournaments - run trial events. These are events not counted toward the team score. Usually these are events that are being tested in hopes/preparation of eventually being run as national events (see the national organization's trial events page), although sometimes they are just run for fun. In many cases alternates are allowed to compete in trial events.
Typically, trial event rules are posted online or sent directly to teams by the tournament organizers/state directors.
Event Slate Modification
Several states and tournaments run a modified slate of events. The following is a list of such modifications. Note that this is likely not a comprehensive list.
- North Carolina has historically replaced several events in each division, with the state-specific events typically being nonexistent outside of North Carolina. In recent years the number of events being replaced has decreased, especially in Division B.
- Texas runs a modified slate of 28 events - the 23 national events plus 5 other events - in which each individual team chooses 23 of the events to count toward their team score. The 5 added events are typically a mix of past national events (such as Fermi Questions), up and coming trial events (such as Roller Coaster), and events typically not run outside of Texas (such as We've Got Your Number). Most regional tournaments in Texas do not run all 28 events.
- New York typically runs two additional events as well as the 23 national events. Note that although these are commonly referred to as trial events, they do count toward the team score at the state tournament. Several of New York's state-specific events have gone on to become national events - examples include Geologic Mapping, Invasive Species, Green Generation, and Hovercraft - and New York is considered an important testing ground for new events that are likely to become national events. Very few New York regional tournaments run all 25 events, and most of them also exclude teams' lowest-placing events when calculating the team score - the exact numbers vary between regionals.
- Wisconsin Division C runs a modified slate of 28 events similar to Texas - however, the added events include one for each of the 5 content areas of Science Olympiad (example - each column is a content area), and the events that each team drops must include one from each of those content areas.
- Rarely, a state organization will make a specific modification to the national event slate due to local issues. For example, in 2017 Southern California replaced Game On with Fermi Questions in Division C.
- Many smaller states do not run all 23 national events at their state tournament.
- Regional tournaments in some areas do not run all of the events being run at their state tournament (e.g. Texas and New York), whereas in other areas they do (e.g. Illinois and Georgia)
- In some areas, invitational tournaments do not run all of the events being run at the state tournament (e.g. Arizona and Oklahoma) whereas in other areas they almost always do (e.g. Ohio and Pennsylvania). This is typically a result of the local Science Olympiad culture - for example, Ohio is a large state which is well known for having many nationally-competitive teams as well as a large number of high-quality invitationals, whereas Oklahoma is a very small state with recently-started invitationals, though it has a disproportionately large number of them.
- Most often, tournaments do not run all of the events either because of a site rule (for example, Yale Invitational does not run the lab portions of several chemistry events because of the university's lab usage policy barring minors), or because they are unable to find enough event supervisors.
Many states and individual tournaments make modifications to the rules for specific events based on local conditions. The following is an illustrative list. Since these modifications are very common and change frequently, this list may never be complete.
- Several events, typically those involving a list of objects/specimens/etc. that competitors must identify during competition, explicitly allow states to modify the list (e.g. Invasive Species) or add new specimens (e.g. Rocks and Minerals). Although state organizations and individual tournaments can do this regardless, the explicit note in the rules means that it is a rather common occurrence.
- Several states maintain formalized rules clarifications systems, such as Southern California. Some states, such as Virginia, do not honor national organization rules clarifications and FAQs, instead using their own clarifications system.
- In 2015, Georgia enacted a state-level rules change prohibiting the use of laptops in Astronomy. This has been sporadically enforced in recent years, and was explicitly not enforced at the 2017 state tournament.