I want to lead off by saying that there are a lot of things FIRST did right this year, including the design of the game. This was an excellent game, the rules were mostly fine, post-Kickoff changes were minimal, and design constraints were interesting and challenging. 2016 was a great year. Lots of great COTS products.
The overarching theme of this post is an idea that sadly isn’t new at all - FIRST has other objectives that compete with the team experience for their focus, and all too often FIRST lets the team experience suffer in the name of other objectives. This idea perpetuates itself from the rules of the game to the attitudes of volunteers to the format and schedule of the Championship.
The tournament and game rules have some particularly troubling clauses in them. Let’s all stop for a moment and reflect on how the World Championship was decided by a tiebreaker, foul points. The same rules do not require referees to explain who got those foul points, or for what. Both of these things are completely ridiculous and need to stop - they are hurting the team experience in order to have the event run faster and with an easier way to shut down teams who want to challenge things. Tiebreakers have been absurd and unnecessary since 2010 - a giant overreaction to a problem unique to the 2010 game. Just get rid of them! They are awful. No one wants to win like that. Certainly nobody wants to lose like that. Not explaining fouls means teams never learn what behavior to stop doing. Not explaining fouls means referees can prevent teams from challenging calls. Both of these things need to change for 2017.
I made a post very similar to this in the 2014 Lessons Learned thread, and it’s kind of shocking how similar some of these issues are. Some things FIRST has just failed to improve on in two years, and I’m not sure why.
To make matters worse, the way refereeing was handled was poor at best. This is not to say anything bad about the referees themselves; they did a fine job with what they had to work with in my experience. FIRST just did not think about how the jobs would actually work. In my opinion, what FIRST should have done is had one referee dedicated to tracking the ball of each alliance, recording possessions and zones. The other referees would then be able to completely focus on the other interactions in the game (ideally one interaction ref for each zone plus a head ref). In practice, you had four referees doing double duty as scorekeeper as well as rules arbiter, and consistency of possessions and penalties both suffered as a result.
Just replace “ball” with “defenses” and “possessions and zones” with crossings… Maybe two per set of defenses? Or some way to input crossings without looking away from the field? Point being, way too many missed crossings this year. I saw missed crossings on Einstein, even. If a portion of the game is scored by a human visually watching an event happen, there need to be humans dedicated to solely completing those tasks and nothing else.
Here’s another portion of my post in 2014 that still applies today:
One problem I do want to touch on, but may have difficulty putting into words well. This is not intended as a call out of any specific person or event, and I’m thankful to not have much if any first hand experience with this sort of thing. This year, there’s been an alarming number of reports of teams and volunteers at odds with each other. Among the things I’ve heard: inspectors telling teams “I’m not the guy you want to p**s off” when asking simple rules questions, referees and event staff routinely making un-challengeable calls without even consulting the teams affected to get their side of the story, judges accusing teams of being “mentor built” when a specific student can’t instantly answer a specific question… The list sadly goes on. I don’t know how to fix this, or if I just happened to see and hear of it a lot more this year than others, but a lot of volunteers seem to be treating the teams as sneaky enemies looking for any way to game the system. This is bad - we all need to remember that we volunteers are all here to serve these teams, and to make the experience of everyone collectively as high quality and fair as possible.
This hasn’t gotten better; this has gotten worse. Below are a few of several situations I have had first hand experience with this year.
At one of our district events, FRC judges came in and asked our team, a few dozen times, in a few different ways, who built the robot. Before entering our pit, I happened to overhear that they were trying to figure out “who the mentor built robots are”. The questions they asked my team were “gotcha” questions, all phrasing essentially the same question in different ways until the kids referred to a sponsor or mentor as having helped with some portion of the robot, at which point the judges would harp on that point. I believe these were the culture judges, not the technical judges, and they simply would not ask about anything other than different ways to phrase the question “did your mentors build and program the robot”. We were not asked about our STEM outreach, our business plan, our team spirit, and ultimately I can’t help but fear we were disqualified from those awards at that district because our kids’ answers to the “mentor built” questions didn’t pass the judges’ standards.
At the Championship, we did not immediately return to the inspection station after our final match on Friday. This was our mistake - most of our veteran pit mentors were not there and this was my first event without Saturday qual matches that I had ever attended, so I simply wasn’t thinking about it. About ten minutes after we returned to our pit, an inspector came up to us and yelled “228 you need to return to the inspection booth!”. What followed was a series of FIVE different inspectors yelling and screaming at our team for not having done so. “We repeatedly told your team throughout the day to come back after the last qualification match!” I asked my team and not one of them recalls ever being told this at the event. “You’re an 18 year team, you should know better!” This is the second event in FIRST history where your reinspection is the day before eliminations. “The inspector at the field even told you to return to the inspection station!” I am the drive coach; there was no inspector at the field who told us any such thing. Did I mention all of these things were repeatedly shouted at us, while we were in the process of complying with their instructions? It was absolutely demeaning and quite frankly, rude.
Later in the same re-inspection, we were 3 pounds under due to a motor we were asked to remove during the initial inspection (the motor was blocking some gauges, and we weren’t powering it anyway). We were yelled at for not coming to the inspectors after making this change, as they would have told us to be re-weighed. When I informed them that we were told to make this change by an inspector, during an inspection, it didn’t matter. We continued to be chastized for this action for another minute or two. Were we supposed to immediately begin a second inspection following our first inspection? Why is this simple mistake and confusion cause for yelling and chastizing the team repeatedly? Any team could have made this mistake. We weren’t trying to cheat or anything. Why the hostility? This wasn’t a case of a single bad volunteer - five different inspectors were involved in these reinspection incidents. I can’t believe this is the attitude FIRST wants inspectors to have with their teams. As someone who occasionally inspects myself, I found myself in disbelief.
There were some other issues with rules enforced by volunteers who were trying their best and acting in very good faith, but led to some difficultuies. Just a lack of knowledge of the rules, I guess? In Carver eliminations, we were given until two minutes after our previous match ended to declare what teams would be playing. This was not enough time for us to even walk back to our pit and figure out if our robot had burned a motor out. The rules say we have until two minutes following the match prior to ours, if I remember correctly, and being forced to make this decision before you can evaluate if your robot is broken or not put us at a potential disadvantage. We are fortunate that for the match we were considering playing in (match 3), the alliance’s other robot did a fantastic job, but we wanted time to debate the merits of putting us in versus them, and we didn’t get that time at all. We also had an issue with defenses, where for part of the day, defense coordinators were enforcing defenses needing to be turned in 3 matches in advance instead of 2 matches. When the defense coordinator found out about the rule, he was extremely gracious and apologetic, but he could not change the defenses from the random selection, and neither alliance was allowed to pick defenses. (On another note, randomized defenses are awful).
My point with all of these posts isnt to call out specific people at all.
Ultimately, my last complaint is with the death of the single Championship event. A 195 mentor said at the town hall in 2015 that separating Champs is like a divorce, cutting the FIRST family in half, and ultimately that is my biggest issue with the decision. A smaller Championship for everyone, great. Two World Champions, whatever. But splitting the FIRST family in half, forever? Realizing Saturday that I’ll never see half of my network of FIRST friends again? This is absolutely heartbreaking. FIRST is about the people; FIRST has so many great people, FIRST has fostered so many incredible connections across geographic boundaries… and FIRST has now constructed a giant wall between the two halves of this country, and the world. Think of all the alliances on Einstein that will never be reunited. 987 and 195. 330 and 2481. 3476 and 217. I can’t believe this is happening. The single Championship is a special, magical event, it’s a family reunion, and we’ll never see one again.