On Rules, Referees, and Rewards (aka Penalties)

In previous years, I have been dismayed by what I saw as an apparent lack of consistency when interpreting and enforcing rules. I think clarity and consistency is good in general, but with FIRST, I felt that the lack of these attributes had hurt the performance of my team, so I took the offensive and created quite the stir. But I’m over that now.

When this year’s rules were released, I thought for sure that FIRST would continue its slide downward - the direction I had seen it go since I became involved in 2001, when all four teams were on the same side. I thought this because this year’s rules specifically allowed aggressive game play, tipping (as long as not pushing high), and other “defensive” strategies. I thought that this year would be another step for FIRST down the road towards battle bots, which I felt that despite all the talk, FIRST was slowly headed to, in the name of “excitement” or something like that.

Fortunately, I seem to have been completely wrong. Penalties, or “rewards to the opposition for good behavior” as I like to call them, have put this year’s game squarely back into the on-field strategizing and problem-solving that I think makes it considerably more interesting.

I have heard that at many regionals penalties seemed to be out of control - as in, most games were decided by penalties rather than other aspects of the game play. This seems amazing to me, because at the only regional I saw, the Pacific Northwest Regional, penalties played almost no role. Certainly, some were assessed (not as may as at other regionals it would seem), but in general, it didn’t seem that matches were decided by penalties.

And why not, you may ask? I believe it is because at the Pacific Northwest Regional, rules were enforced (almost) uniformly, consistently, and clearly. The way the rules are written this year makes enables this in ways I didn’t realize until I saw the games played out. Instead of “intentional” tipping, we have tipping “by pushing high”. Certainly, this is still subjective, but it is much less subjective. Less subjectivity makes consistent enforcement much easier. Likewise, there is no worry about “intentionally” hitting somebody in a loading zone. Its much simpler: if you hit somebody in a loading zone, its over: You loose. Please come again.

Rather than getting mad at all these penalties, like a few people on these forums have done, I think they are wonderful. It is very clear what you can and cannot do. If you are on your opponent’s turf, stay away from their loading zones. Don’t even think about going there. If you do that, you will be fine. Its really not that difficult. Our team had zero - read it ZERO - penalties in 17 matches played. We even played defense quite a few times near the end of matches.

Our success was straightforward - we adhered to a simple rule: stay away from their loading zones. We let them pick up tetras. Then we engaged the tetra, blocking it however we could. Defense for our team was very effective. I don’t think anyone ever scored when we were trying to prevent them. So I don’t understand these “penalties destroy defensive strategies” posts either. It simply isn’t true. Certainly, penalties stop you from randomly bouncing round the field causing havoc and destroying robots, but thats not defense. Thats just dumb.

While the Pacific Northwest Regional was well-refereed, in general, I think we can still do a little more to make it more consistent. Once, my team should have been penalized, for (very lightly) touching a tetra on the auto-loader before we were in the zone. This only happened once, but we should have been penalized. I don’t know why we were not. The second inconsistency I saw was a team’s robot getting whalloped in the human loading zone while a human was loading the robot. The referee watching the play didn’t throw any flags. I was amazed. This was exactly what the penalties were meant to prevent, and it was not assessed. An otherwise exceptional referee-ing team simply ignored us when my team went to tell them what had happened. I tried to explain that we were not involved in the match and didn’t care how it turned out, only that the rules be enforced. But we were ignored.

While those two instances were unfortunate, they were definitely the exception in Oregon. Overall, the referees did an excellent job.

Now, here’s to hoping that after the Championship, I will be able to say the same thing. All that it takes is making the calls consistently. This year’s rules seem to effectively (although unexpectedly) hold off the bullies. Its really an amazing set of rules, and FIRST should build on the successes that rewarding teams that play cleanly (aka penalties) provide. They are the best tool for molding on-field behavior towards good game play and away from robot-bashing, without eliminating robot interaction altogether.

Long live good rules, good referees, and good rewards!

Don’t you think your poll is a little uneven? Polls are meant to be a way to fairly measure public opinion.

I agree that penalties are necessary, but there are many who don’t think they are The Very Bestest! Referees are not perfect. They are volunteers who try their best at a very difficult job. It is very difficult for referees to be consistent across different regionals because they are different refs with different interpretations.

FIRST has a new game every year so almost no way to develop precedents for rule enforcement. To make matters worse, the rules keep changing as Team Updates come out. The updates too are necessary, but they add more confusion to the mess.

This is no way to start a thread. ChiefDelphi is meant to be an “Open Forum” where people in the FIRST Community can share opinions (hopefully in a civilized manner). You set this thread up like a political rally, where those with differing opinions are not allowed within a 10-mile radius. You started this thread already on your soapbox and that is never good.

**No good can come of this thread, it will just spark irrational heated arguments. I would recommend this thread be closed.
gets down off own soapbox

I’ll second that; but, at the same time, renege to get my $0.02 in.

FIRST is not about “the game”, nor the rules that govern, nor how they impact how you want the game to go. It’s about giving us the opportunity to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in order that we persevere when it’s something more than just a game.

Does anyone think the six-week build is there just because Kamen and Flowers think it’s cool? Do you think the spare parts rule – now Fix-It window - was put in place for any other reason than to teach us how to git-er-done on Thursday? Do you think the 30 point penalties are there for “safety”; or are they there to teach you that you are responsible for your actions? Do you think the only winners are the ones who walk away with medals? Well, they’re not! The real winners are the ones who missed the deadline, or went out limping, or lost in the semi-finals on a technicality, and didn’t moan about it.

Why can’t you respond to the actual content of the post? Instead you focus on the delivery. So what if I’m not a politician? Does that mean the idea is flawed? I say no. The idea is good. In case you missed it, let me paraphrase myself:

I invite you back any time to respond to that content. As a bonus, you don’t even have to vote in the poll!

I vote more for the second.

Sure, robots being bashed while a human is nearby is a safety hazard, but if they were that worried about it, the humans wouldn’t be there in the first place. Rather, the penalties are so huge this year (ie, one penalty wipes out the average match score) because the game designers (bless their hearts) wanted to guide teams in the “right direction,” where the right direction is robots that play the game, not robots that destroy six weeks of blood, sweat, and tears.

What kind of “open forum” would we have if we closed any thread started by someone with an opinion?

…back on topic…

I agree that it’s good that the rules are being enforced consistently. The 30 pointers seem excessive, but they are having the desired effect on play. Basically, I’d like for the penalties to be less serious, but when it comes right down to it, that would make the game what I wanted it to be, and not what it is.

I do take issue with the characterization of rough play as something inherently bad. FIRST has the same problem that the NFL has - it’s a fact that hard hits are more exciting, and make more people want to watch. It’s also a fact that hard hits make for broken robots, and neither broken robots nor broken quarterbacks can play the game.

It is, however, entirely possible to make a rough game that is both interesting and not battlebots, and FIRST did that in 2002 and 2003. They have also moved as far as possible away from a rough game, in 2001, and you’ll be hard pressed to find people that liked the 2001 game better than either of the years that followed it.


Interesting point. I do have to admit that the number of games that end 0-0 is a bit high (we even had one).

I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that PNW was boring, but apparently a lot of other regionals really were boring (just what I heard, can’t say either way myself). However, as to your other point, I think rough play is being discouraged in FIRST, because its not supposed to be just about who can push the other robot around, its supposed to be more about who can accomplish the game better. The engineering challenge is the fact that the game changes each year. If “defensive” robots had free reign, then one robot design could conceivably win year after year with minimal modifications. I don’t think thats what any of us want.

Well, 2001 was my first year, and I can’t help but have good feelings about that diabolical teeter-totter…

And as for this game, I don’t think that it disallows rough play, just restricts it to a certain role in the game that makes it so that a purely defensive robot can not adequately play the game. I think that is a wonderful effect, but there will of course be different opinions on this. As I stated in the original post, some games had a lot of defense. The final game of the final match, where presumably the two best alliances faced off, the loosing alliance had only 6 points, I believe. The winning alliance not only stacked their own tetras, but played defense and effectively prevented their opponents from stacking more than two tetras as well. For these reasons, I believe that defense is alive and well, but it along can not win a game.

Thanks for the interesting discussion Kris!


What is up with you people and wanting to restrict discussion? I just make a point and all these people come out of the woodwork hatin’ it up. If I could be so bold, could I ask anyone besides Kris bring up a valid point of discussion?

2001 was my first year as well. I do have an interesting perspective on rough play, though - my team loves it. A long time ago, before I had anything to do with 118, one of the robots the team built had a “flipper” for the deliberate purpose of flipping over opponent’s robots. Some of the mentors who have been on the team for a while look at it as a point of pride that it’s now illegal. I think it would be neat to play that type of game again, but that’s not the game we’ve been given.

My main problem with the penalites, and I’ve said this elsewhere, is that they make the score too much of a surprise at the end of the match. If the real time scorer, or announcer called out the penalties as they were going on, it would make them much more of a part of the game, and not a big “gotcha” at the end.

Look guys, I can’t say that this thread violates any of our rules (good, bettter, or even our bestest?)

Although unbalanced in its choices, its just easier to let it pass on by choosing not to respond rather than start a flame war.

Ryan is entitled to his/her opinion and we should not be too quick to judge.

Ryan - I believe there already exists a number of threads where folks have had the opportunity to reflect and state their opinions regarding this years penalties.

Please, let’s not let this one get nasty.

LOL… Thanks, I really do appreciate this.

While I was aware that there were other posts about the subject, with the length of what I had to say, I thought it was better to start a new thread. The poll was perhaps a bad afterthought. Just to amuse you all, here is the explanation (note that this is a student on the same team as I am):

Ryan McE: what did you vote on penalties?
Erik: yah, I did not really like what you did with the pole. Yah, sure you can, but I still think its stupid.
Ryan McE: haha, thats fine
Ryan McE: go make your own poll
Ryan McE: i wasn’t even going to put a poll in
Ryan McE: but then, there ws this button after I submitted
Erik: “Yah, sure you can, but I still think its stupid.”
Ryan McE: so its really chiefdelphi’s fault
Erik: from the “don’t-do-it-just-cuz-you-can-department”
Ryan McE: you’ve been reading too much /.

And yes, please, I don’t want another flame war. I must suck at posts, because I really wasn’t looking for that this time around.



In my experience, using the term “you people” in a statement is a very divisive way to incite further disruption and discourage all productive forms of communication. The question is how “we people” - you, me, everyone - can all work together to get this thread back on track so we can continue to discuss the core content of your opinions without having to prematurely close it down because of the packaging in which it was delivered and the subsequent negative reactions from those who read it.

When I first read Ryan’s initial post in this thread, I’ll admit it - the tone of delivery and the pro-penalty biased poll initially made me think, “Here we go again, yet another haughty nose-in-the-air anti-defense rant by the offensive elite”. Well thankfully, I held my tongue and read his posts again before I posted. By doing so, those initial (and, typically me, inflamed) opinions eased up quite drastically; in reality, I agree with the majority of his message. I am just disappointed by the manner in which it was presented. Ryan, when you asked people to ignore the presentation and focus on the content, I think you indirectly admitted that the delivery was unnecessarily skewed in the first place. I also agree with you, if we continue to focus and comment on your initial delivery, it really serves no valid purpose. I hope we can all agree to this fact, not dwell upon it any further, and move on toward discussing the real points brought up in this thread, as Mike is trying to promote and Kris is trying to do.

When they were first announced, I wasn’t opposed to the existence of the penalties so much as I was apprehensive about the refs’ interpretation of the rules and their opinions on when they should be called. After witnessing the first few weeks, I am happy to agree that the penalties are serving to reduce the negative aggressive and damaging defensive behaviors that are unsafe to both humans and robots. I agree that they are allowing the offensive minded teams to better show off their skills and capabilities. And based upon my initial observations of the refereeing this season, I feel that they are still permitting the use of strategic defense, goal blocking, and hard-nosed pushing and shoving (low, of course) which help to balance the game and give alliances of all degrees and combinations of technical complexity a good chance to win any given match if they execute a sound strategy. It is quite a bummer that these penalties go relatively unannounced until the end of the match; if FIRST could develop a system to point out the flags as they are thrown while the action is commencing on the field, I think that would give teams and the crowd a better opportunity to incorporate that info into their determination of who actually won the match once the buzzer sounds. The problem is finding a viable way to implement such a system of realtime penalty communication to the masses.

It’s truly hard for teams and the crowd to see the flags on the ground once they are thrown - could we possibly use a blue card/red card concept similar to the yellow card/red card system Andy Baker and the refs implemented at the 2004 IRI? The idea would be to have someone hold up a colored card for each penalty flag thrown so everyone can clearly see it. It would almost be necessary for volunteers to dedicate themselves solely to this task during a match - you don’t want to ask the refs to divert any of their attention from the action - they already have enough to focus on during that 2:15. These volunteers would be trained in the rules enough to know why the refs threw each flag and know which point penalties are attached to them. They would observe the refs on each side of the field and respond by holding up the appropriate-colored cards - red or blue. Perhaps these cards could be positioned on an easel board - one for each alliance, or perhaps a centralized board for simplicity - with 10- and 30-point areas in which to display them - a running tote board of penalties for each team. I know that as a spectator, I’d sure appreciate a system like this.


On the whole I agree with you. Personally I like how the penalties were designed this year.

In a perfect world everyone would read the rules, design a robot to stay within their confines, teach the drivers to drive within them, and everyone would be fine and dandy. Their would be the occasional “oops I bumped you I the loading zone, sorry” but everyone would try very hard not too and the penalties could be completely ignored…

But sadly we live in no such world. If some one were to design good rules for everyone to follow but they had no bite to them (the penalties) sadly I believe few people would abide by them.

Personally I do believe that the penalties were a tad harsh. If I were designing the rules I would make the 10point a 6point and the 30 a 15. I think with such penalties everyone still would have gone to the same amount of trouble to stay within the bounds of the rules.
Try to remember, the penalties are more intended to give you incentive to stay within the rules in the first place rather than actually punish you.**

But maybe I just a crazy lunatic who stays up till 3am writing on CD. Dang it, at least half of that is true…

I’ve seen penalties decide a good many matches. At GLR, my team lost 3 matches because of penalties through no fault of our own. So just because you haven’t been bitten by penalties doesn’t mean they aren’t annoying other people who are playing the game fairly and losing because a human player picked a foot up or a team playing their first match wasn’t aware that there was a brand new penalty for putting tetras on the carpet.

At any rate, I’m more concerned with the balance of these penalties. The 30 pointers seem horribly costly. Bumping a robot in a loading zone results in a near definite loss for your whole alliance. Tipping a robot by pushing high gets you a 10 pointer and possible DQ, despite the grievous damage that could result to the other robot. It seems slightly out of whack to me, fair and consistent enforcement or no. I think in the best of all possible worlds, FIRST would design a game where penalties just aren’t necessary by the very nature of the game. Or atleast where random 30 point insta-lose penalties aren’t necessary.

The way my own team, team 492, was able to stay away from loosing matches based on penalties was that we talked to every alliance member we had before the match, telling them what exactly the penalties were, and how we needed them too avoid them.

That depends on what you mean by “fairly”. The other team did not do those things, such as there human player picking up a foot, and they followed the brand new penalty.

I happen to agree with you that the penalties were to harsh, but as long as the were enforced equally they were not unfair.

I agree…maybe something like the down markers used in football but with colors. And one for each loading station area.

Let me try this again. The first rant I had when spell checking, disappeared.

I would like to thank the starter of this thread for providing me with another soapbox on which to stand.

Are penalties too large? Yes.

Are they being called consistently? No.

Are rules changing again? Yes.

Are rules being called that are not rules? Yes.

Has FIRST gotten the fact that we don’t mind rules we just don’t like them being changed? No.

FIRST is the only place I know of that a foul basically can cause you to lose the match and your team mates. Penalties should be enforced and be there to deter fouls. In the past FIRST was a little to lenient on penalties. Now they have swung the other way. They need to find the mid point.

The referees must have definitive rules that they can call. This will allow them to be more consistent. This is not meant as a slam on refs as they do the job the best that they can and they are all volunteers. The issue is that many of us attend multiple regionals and can see the inconsistencies.

What’s up with the mid season rule changes? Can’t they get it right the first time? Even if the rules committee realizes that there are problems, THEY SHOULD NOT be making changes mid season. FIRST claims to want to make things even for all teams so why change rules week 1 to week 6.

This is a big one for me. Tetra over the players station. Where is that rule written down? Where is the update or email blast? Who is making this call anyway? I was told at the last regional I was at was that Benji (FIRST Chief Ref) told the head refs to call breaking the plane over the players station as a robot shut down. What for? OK they say safety. It seems that the game design committee were not worried when they placed the goals right next to the glass of the players station. They also said that they expected pushing and shoving. They also never/have not written a rule about it. The issue of "breaking the plane is nuts. A tetra swinging over the glass and back is not a safety issue. One parked with the tetra over a teams head is. I have seen tetras fly off of a robot and into the players station when the robot is 2 feet from the glass. To have a ref watch for a 1/4 inch breaking of the plane when it is not a penalty is silly. Again I ask, Who is making this call?

Last question. Have I ranted enough and should I stop? YES!

4.3.2 Safety
<S01> If at any time the ROBOT operation is deemed unsafe, by the determination of the referees, the ROBOT
will be disabled for the remainder of the match.

We disagree with your opinion that a tetra swinging over the glass and back is not a safety issue. The swinging back part is after the fact; it became unsafe when it cleared the glass, as evidenced by a number of people getting boinked.

So what are we to do? If we wait for one to fall, it’s too late. If we wait until it scares one of us, then which one. Some of us just don’t scare easy.

It is often the case that the best way out of a bad situation is to try and not get into one. That’s one reason for the interpretation. Another is that it’s just not right when one end of the field gets a team disabled and the other doesn’t because the ref at one is timid and the other fearless.

The call is as easy for the teams to accept as it is to enforce; it either brakes the plane, or it doesn’t. The result is that teams slow down and carry the tetra lower.

Jack, I will not get into a verbal war with you. I will contend that any robot that has any part of it go over, under or around the edge of the playing field is a safety hazzard. The people at risk are volunteers but it is no less unsafe. I also cotend that a tetra that is 95% below the glass and has 5%, the top point, break the plane is in no way unsafe for anyone. Don’t come back to me and say that it doesn’t happen because I was there and saw it. I also contend that any robot enering a loading zone is a safety issue when there is a human player right there going to, loading, or exiting the zone right next to the robot entering. I just believe that this is another issue that referees are trying to control the game. As refs they need to becausious to follow the rules and be wise in the implimentation of them. With the loading zone rules there is refs discression on wether there is a penalty or not. This should also be the case with safety and the “breaking the plane” which is a rule that the refs brought in without any FIRST official update. They did make an update when they changed the size of the loading zone so why not with this one.

Basically I say let the kids play and unless there is a safety issue, don’t shut the kids down. BTW the only time I saw people hit by tetras over the glass there was no shut down. I also saw no robots that pushed the “offending” robot disabled when they were the ones responsible for the infraction.