Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any team. I have not mentored a team in three years. All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinion of any team. I was not in attendance in Houston, I watched the stream from home. I have talked with people that were at the event, and some of descriptions below are from eyewitnesses at the event. I hold no animosity towards any team involved, and I respect all of them. I am a former mentor of 1771, so accusations of bias are expected.
OK, first of all, I want to congratulate the 6th seed alliance on Roebling, and team 1771 in particular for a brilliant strategy. 1771 seeded 6th by having a very strong cargo game, a mediocre hatch game, a fast strong climb and excellent strategic thinking (not to mention an awesome driver). They were able to win matches by adjusting their strategy as the situation changed. They had an ace in the hole that they did not show during quals at championships, but developed in several matches in district play. That secret was the best defense I have ever seen played by a robotics team.
I have made it public knowledge that I am not a fan of defense if that is all you plan to do. I always told my kids that the goal of the game is to score more points than anyone else, not just go out there and beat on other robots. The way the rules were written, it was obvious early on that that would not be possible this year. Defense would be crucial to winning because there are no protected zones. 1771 has a beast of a drive train (I don’t want to hear any more complaints about wood chassis, I still believe it to be the best material for a FRC robot). In district play they discovered that their driver had a knack for stopping the offense of other bots without getting penalties. They didn’t use it often, but when they did, they were a juggernaut.
During alliance selections, 1771 picked two high powered scoring robots instead of a defense bot. They knew that 231 and 2557 could score plenty by themselves, and they knew they could shut down the offense of any bot. I was amazed that both were overlooked and available. After the selections were over, I realized that this had the potential to be special.
They went through quarterfinals with no hiccups, but the biggest test by far was the semifinal matchup. They had to go up against 148 and the second seed alliance. They ended up beating them three times… well only twice. Allow me to explain. In the first match, alliance 6 outscored alliance two. They had the match won. A slight miscalculation and they hit a red bot on the hab during the endgame and drew a penalty and a 12 point climb. The call was legit, so they lost that match by 4 points. Match two went as planned and they won by 28 points. That takes us to the real gist of my complaints, match three and unequal treatment / non consistent reffing.
At the beginning of the season, it was made clear that they were going to be very strict with timeouts this year. If you are not on the field when the timer reaches zero, you won’t be allowed on the field for the match. I saw at least one match during eliminations at a district event where the team was not on the field but walking towards it with their robot at T=0. The gate was closed, they were not allowed to play, and their alliance was eliminated. I have no problem with this as it was explained beforehand that this was the policy.
Then we have Roebling SF 2-3. A timeout was called. A six minute timer was displayed. The entire field was in view on the stream the whole time. As the timer approached zero, I was shocked that no red robots were in view. All the blue robots were on the field. When the timer reached zero, and no red robots were visible, I was thinking that either they had just forfeited, or FIRST had change the rules. Apparently neither is the case. Almost a full minute elapsed AFTER THE TIMER REACHED ZERO before any red robot approached the field. They were allowed to place their robots on the field as though they had been there on time. Was there another secret rule change that no one was told about? Or do some teams get a 7 minute timeout because of who they are? I don’t know. I would hate to have a match settled for that reason, but rules are rules and should be assessed fairly regardless of who you are or what rule is being applied (meaning tournament rules are as important as match / gameplay) rules.
So they played the match. Again, alliance 6 outscored alliance 2 by a wide margin. The scores were displayed for all to see. It was clear that alliance 6 had won. As 1771 was heading back towards their side of the field, one ref left her position and followed 1771 pointing and raising a penalty flag about 6 times in about 4 seconds. When the results were posted, a magic 27 points in penalties were assigned to alliance 6, and they lost by 6 points. No ref could or would give a reasonable explanation of what the penalties were for. There is an entire thread dedicated to that discussion elsewhere on CD, so I won’t discuss that further.
So, that brings us to the point of this post: are teams treated differently because of who they are? For instance, do hall of fame teams get special treatment and different rules? Do popular team get special benefits? I don’t know. I talked to people from other divisions that had to replay (due to lag) two matches that they had won, and lost both replays. When they lost a match due to lag and asked for a replay, they were told that there wasn’t time. Were they not as valuable as the other teams that had lag? Why were they treated differently?
I still think FIRST is an awesome experience and a great way to reach and inspire kids to become interested in STEM. I have been vocal in the past about bad ref calls and poor rule application. I think it’s time for FIRST to make a change if they want to be taken seriously as a sport or as they like to say, “a varsity sport of the mind”. Is video replay the answer? Maybe. How about professional, paid refs? Maybe. But what is really needed is for all rules to be applied equally and consistently to all teams. There should be no secret rules that refs are told, but are not allowed to tell teams about, but with which teams are expected to comply.