A better way to handle fouls?

I want to start out by saying I realize this is a pretty radical proposal and is probably impractical/bad, but it’s something that I’ve had on my mind the past few days, and thought it was worth sharing.

There have been a handful of high profile posts about ‘unfair’ calls. We all know this happens, and many veterans have probably been on both the winning and losing side of some pretty tough calls more than once. No matter the cause, it’s tough to get knocked out during elims, and when penalty points make the difference between a win and a loss it’s only human nature to try to look for some way to overturn the decision.

This seems to be especially true this year (my only comparison is last year, so forgive any naivety), with some fairly subjective rules regarding pyramid contact, inconsequential contact, etc.

During elims in particular, what if the final ruling wasn’t given by the head ref alone, but the team/alliance the foul was against? In a regular competition, this would be ridiculous, but in FIRST it isn’t just about the win.

The team climbing while the pyramid got bumped (or whatever pretend scenario you want to choose) is probably the best person to ask whether or not the bump was consequential; and if they think the call is unfair as well (or possibly think the penalty should be less severe), then why not give them the opportunity to be gracious about it.

(For qualifiers, I think the proposed system would be too cumbersome and should not be employed)

One major implication of this is that it diverts a good portion of the malice that is normally reserved for the ref making the call to the team that stood behind the call, and put the deciding team in a potentially tough spot. There are plenty of teams that would always take the win, and there would be some cases where a team feels obligated to surrender the win even if they feel the penalty was legitimate; but the teams that step up and surrender the match when the penalty doesn’t fit the foul would really make such a system awesome.


Edit: Please limit the alternative proposals, particularly those that are discussed frequently (debated at length here: http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=114802 iirc), I proposed this idea as a way to expand the gracious nature of First in a way that is relevant to the game being a life lesson; rather than being an end-all way to perfect rule enforcement.

Sounds awful dependent on teams being of the “Its not about the robots” variety.

The only real solution is for the GDC to build games that don’t have subjective fouls. Something either is a foul, or isn’t a foul. If consequence or intent are taken out of the equation, so too is the subjectivity.

For the most frequent techfoul example this year: Touching an opponent ROBOT (with a DISC, your ROBOT, or anything else) while they are actively engaged in CLIMBing, or while they’re in contact with their PYRAMID = Foul, Techfoul + 30 CLIMB points if they’re CLIMBing. Touching the oppenent’s PYRAMID is not a foul, unless doing so causes an opponent to fail at their CLIMB attempt, in which case it is a techfoul + 30 CLIMB pts.

By explicitly defining the ‘consequence’ that is implied in “consequential contact” I’ve taken the subjectivity out of it. Did the opponent fail at their CLIMB? No? Then no foul was committed.

Although your idea is quite radical as you say, I believe that you do make a very valid point. In every competition where there is a team of people making decisions that can sway the outcome, those people always seem to get grief.

A lot of this has to do with the natural human behavior of denying responsibility for actions that may have had a negative outcome.

I think in the elimination rounds, it would not be a bad idea to necessarily ask an alliance if the other team actually screwed them up like you say, but the majority of the time the alliances would probably say yes, because a ref would only ask this sort of question if the call would change the outcome of who won the match. If the call would not change who won the match then the over all score would not matter, so time would not need to be wasted on asking this sort of question.

Another issue that I could see with this sort of system is that many people on the drive teams are pumped full of adrenalin. They usually do not have full control of their brains, emotions, or actions. If the students were given the chance to talk to the refs about calls as you suggest, I could see a lot of bad stuff happening.

For example, the students could go crazy if the ref decided to keep a call or take it away after speaking to them. There might be even more bad mojo put towards the refs for not agree or listening to the students.

I believe that you are on a good track, thinking of ways that the system could be improved. I am interested to see what others have to say about your idea.

Overall I think that this is an interesting idea with many pros and cons to it. It would be interesting to some how test this out.

In FTC and FLL the students had to check off the final score for the match and could ask why certain penalties were administered or not. I think that signing off on a match like this would be a more feasible solution, especially since it could be happening while the next match was being set up, not delaying the competition.

What do you think of using a system like that? Where both sides had to approve the final score of a match?

A slight clarification to my intent. The ref would make the decision on whether foul is valid per the rules, as they do now. If a team challenges the ruling; both the ref and the opponent have the ability to reverse (or lessen) the penalty.

If the ref called a technical foul against red for consequential contact, and red chose to challenge, blue would be given the opportunity to agree with red, and overturn or reduce the penalty points granted to blue.

Simply giving the team who benefits from the call the opportunity to overturn/reduce it if they see it as unfair to their opponent.

What do you think of using a system like that? Where both sides had to approve the final score of a match?

It sounds like another interesting system, although it seems more geared towards teaching the kids the rules and scoring rather than giving an opportunity to challenge and/or overturn them; I guess it would depend on the implementation.

I really think that FRC needs replay. It’s been implemented in sports, we can do it in robotics. Ignoring it as an option just seems a bit ridiculous. I understand that there are concerns about slowing things down, but it seems important especially when a foul call could totally change how a team does at a regional. The rule could be that if the foul can or did change the outcome of the match, that section of the match is reviewable.

I should say though that refs should still not be allowed to use footage provided by teams, I think that rule is fine.

What seems ridiculous to you seems like common sense to me.

The NFL has dozens of cameras placed with camera-people tracking every play. The have a trained technical staff, high speed video equipment, and a host of other expertise.

Your suggestion would add a huge cost to FRC competitions, not to mention the additional people and game-time it would require. This has been discussed at length in other posts, so I’m going to leave it at that.

While I think the original poster’s motives are sound (and his post very well written), I would absolutely hate to be in a position as a team mentor (or student) to make the call and say the other team deserves the penalty. Take a DSQ, for instance: suddenly blame starts being placed against teams rather than the refs, and bad blood is created.

I’d much rather have the ref’s be the bad guys. It saves a lot of friction in FIRST.

As both a coach and a ref, I completely agree with this. I’d rather continue catching the huge flack I do in the zebra shirt than create bad blood between students that should (and likely were) cooperating very well off the field.

That said, having a better way to determine if contact is ‘consequential’ is a good goal. However, I don’t know that asking the teams is the best way to do that, even on principle. Setting aside the potential animosity, it could well lead to punishing well-designed teams and rewarding those with less reliable systems. I’ve seen several 30 point climbers that could survive a serious and intentionally consequential pyramid hit. At the same time, I’ve seen even a few 10 pointers that can fall off even when their allies hang. In many cases, the better design and constructed a robot is, the higher their threshold of ‘consequential’. Is it really fair to put that burden of a decision on them?

To those interested, we’re examining the idea of more foul feedback here. Also, I’ve recently asked a follow-up Q&A to my initial ‘please define inconsequential’ request. Q576:
Does the term “the action” apply to the potentially illegal action, or to the act as a whole? Meaning, would one receive a foul for inconsequentially bushing the pyramid (G27 legal) while simultaneously preforming an otherwise legal but consequential action?

Video Replays: Get DreamWorks or the NFL to handle it for all events, then we’ll talk. There’s no way most places could pull it off comprehensively, quickly and reliably otherwise. I’ve been to events that struggle just with the standard live feed. We just plain don’t have the resources to do it well–like virtually all high school teams.

After playing this past weekend and seeing the game from behind the drivers wall (as a coach) it was wildly apparent that calls were missed and the game play was affected. G30 was the most missed call that we saw last weekend and setting this precedent invalidates 6 weeks worth of design/strategy work done by a bunch of Frisbee shooters. Many teams designed and optimized their machines to take shoots from the pyramid knowing it was a protected space.

Fouls like this and just about all seen on a FIRST field could be reviewed and corrected if the refs watched a top-down view of the field from a camera up in the rigging for the lights/projector. It only takes 2.25 minutes to re-watch a match and no field has ever been re-set and ready to go in that amount of time (they actually must give the teams 5 minutes). Reply would be harder in Qualifications but even there every match counts and every score matters.

I know FIRST is FIRST and the robot and wins/loses are a small part of the experience, but your typical high schooler hasn’t been in the game long enough to experience both winning and losing at the hands of the refs.


Amen! I would never ask my students to go up and take responsibility for a decision like that.

The refs are adults, they know what they are signing up for. They are emotionally capable of accepting the responsibility for their calls and the results of them.

Yes, G30 (and G27 by extension) are incredibly difficult to call this year. Contact obvious from the alliance station can be invisible from other places, and violations clear from the refs’ zones can look entirely legal from the drive teams’ perspective. This is largely due to the 3D structure of the pyramid.

Overhead cameras could help solve a lot of these problems. I see a few challenges with it, though:

  • Some events, particularly Districts, don’t have overhead rigging like this. There’s no cost-effective way to get the view, unfortunately.
  • Referees do many other things in that time. This year - checking climbs, belaying 30-pointers down, confirming with each other, checking the new alliances’ positions, contacts, discs, sometimes helping (particularly less-experienced) reset crews. At least when I ref, there’s no sitting and rarely standing still between matches (barring comm issues). While some events might be able to manage incorporating this, others would be slowed down significantly. Even an extra minute per match can equate to fewer quals per team, so it’s a trade-off. (The other trade-off would be getting more certified volunteers, which is no small task.)
  • You are incorrect about the match turnaround time; the 5 minute guideline is only for teams in back-to-back matches. 7-minute turnarounds are not uncommon (less than 5min between matches). The average
    of all events’ averages was 7:31 (2011, last available), and the fastest event average was 6:25. Minimum turnarounds hit around 4 minutes: essentially too short to re-watch at all. This year takes somewhat longer in general, but much of that reason employs the referees.

Honestly, I think the G30 & G27 misses are a game flaw. It’s much worse than other recent games, and it’s a product of the Pyramids’ geometry. I realized it when we mocked up the field, but it’s even worse that I’d guessed. There’s just no way to see some of these things correctly (particularly when they happen in succession), and I already spend many matches I ref and coach running back and forth to try. The only solution may be for the GDC to put this in their list of specs, or test it better if it already is.

To add to this post, I think FIRST should implement a system similar to pro football’s where a team can challenge a call once per elims, and if they are right the call gets overturned, but if they are wrong then they lose their timeout.