Older Teams Have an Unfair Advantage (And How to Fix It)

The whole argument about how older teams have an unfair advantage in FIRST (or any sport) is nothing new. Younger teams are at a competitive disadvantage due to not having as much time to find resources (human, financial, etc.) or to build institutional knowledge and experience. To be fair, a lot of older teams help mitigate these disparities by assisting and mentoring newer teams. That is awesome and should be encouraged!

However, there is one peculiarity about FIRST that gives older teams another advantage: the team numbering system. Due to the way team numbers are assigned, older teams may have numbers with only one, two, or three digits. What’s the big deal you ask? How about bumpers? The rules state that “team numbers must be displayed and positioned on the BUMPERS such that an observer walking around the perimeter of the ROBOT can unambiguously tell the team’s number from any point of view…” This means that for standard square bumpers, you will have to put numbers on all four sides. If you are an older team with a singular digit, you will only need to put eight numbers on your bumpers (one number for each of the four sides times two sets of bumpers). For any team founded in 2003 or later, you will need 32 numbers! If you buy the vinyl adhesive numbers on AndyMark, each one costs $1.625 (not including tax or shipping). This results in a cost of $13.00 each season for one digit teams and a staggering $52 for four digit teams! This problem will only get worse in the next couple years when we start to see our first five digit teams. Do you have to buy vinyl numbers for bumpers? No. But no matter what method you use to put numbers on your bumpers (iron-ons, paint, etc.), teams with more numbers on their bumpers will need to spend more money…and time! The less time you spend on adding bumper numbers, the more time you have for testing, driver practice, etc.

Now, I’m not one to complain about an issue without providing a solution. Fortunately, there are a number of really simple ways to address this inequity. One is to require teams to include leading zeros such that all team numbers have the same number of digits. Team 2, guess what? You’re now team “0002.” When we get to five digit numbers, we just have older teams add another zero. Or, what if teams are required to express their team numbers in a number system with a base other than 10? For example, if we used base 1000, every team could be expressed by two numbers…we would just need to make 1000 unique symbols for the numbers. Easy. The FIRST community is pretty creative, I think we could make it happen, especially since it would help make FIRST more equitable to newer teams. It could even be fun. Team 994, you are now team number “zero, Batman symbol.”

What are some other inequities caused by the current team numbering system? Do you all have any alternative solutions? I’d love to hear what you all think regarding this issue. Also, Happy April 1st!


I think that teams with narrow numbers should be required to make them wider to compensate. Teams line 11 (MORT) and 111 (Wildstang) can have 3" bumpers and still fit all their digits. Instead, they should have to space their digits by the 3" a round number needs.



A better solution in my opinion is requiring said teams prefix their number with an appropriate number of zeros. 0254, 0004, etc.


A solution that doesn’t mess with how teams currently make their bumpers would be to sell numbers at equal cost regardless of digit quantity on AndyMark. ie Team 2 and Team 9999 pay the same amount to get the set of vinyl digits they need for both sets of bumpers. This would allow teams to still make their bumpers the way that they usually do, but take away the cost inequality. Another option might be trying to find a corporate partner willing to put some number of kits on FIRST Choice that provide a team with up to 8 vinyl digits to form their team number for their bumpers.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that this is a case where it matters as $40 is less than 1% of registration cost and the cost would be even lower if you paint or use your own vinyl (although younger teams would also be less likely to own a vinyl cutter. Perhaps FIRST could reach out to teams and compile a list of teams willing to cut numbers at the cost of materials and then direct anyone looking for vinyl numbers to those teams?)

@DonRotolo I think the 6 inch minimum bumper length makes this point relatively moot.

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My 3" frame perimeter side says “What minimum bumper length?”

(Note, I don’t actually have a side that short, but if I did it would need a full-length bumper.)


This is a non issue and should not even be a posted thread.

I believe this should be tagged a troll alert.:crazy_face:


I think you might be on to something with the symbols, what if we get rid of team numbers altogether and teams have to write their full team name on their bumpers?


It is April 1st…


Proposed solution: all teams move to a standard UUID numbering generated by an MD5 hash.

You use two key phrases (the team name and the original number). It then generates something like this:

Fit that on your bumper! All teams will have the same length of digits no matter how many teams we add in perpetuity!

“Did you see 95bcb170-d0f8-11ed-afa1-0242ac120002’s intake? That design is amazing”

I can see it now! A glorious future of unintelligible scouting forms


Let’s just get rid of bumpers




To remove the ambiguity of random symbols on bumpers, I think it would be easier to use a barcode system, where the barcode spans the entire length of the bumper.

It also has the advantage of being easily readable when a robot is tipped over!


I agree. Let’s just surround all robots in the inflatable hamster balls things.


ooo, how about KarTrak? The field could include scanners!


April tags on every corner of the bumpers! Using your teams number as the tag number ID. All field tags start at 10 or higher. You only use single digit tags for team numbers. Ie teams still need 1-4 digits of tags but we get way more data this way!


I was thinking more along the lines of resistor color codes


I was hoping this was an April Fools joke…

I still am…


How about we remove the bumper numbers entirely, and give each team a unique bumper color? There are over 16 million of those!


Every inspection team and queueing volunteer needs an approved calibrated color picker under special laboratory conditions to figure out who is who. Imagine the refs trying to assign fouls to rgb(125,216,113) or FFA0B2

I live for the chaos


As an alumni of MORT Team 11 I can confirm that over our team’s history we have saved millions of dollars and hours of investment due to our number. This money has then been invested into our team endowment which now funds both 11 and 193 as well as many other FRC teams in New Jersey. Thanks to our low number we have truly been blessed with immeasurable savings. Our endowment is large enough due to these investments that if we were a state, we would be the 11th largest economy in the US.