FIRST Robotics Competition Blog


Apr 02, 2019 Written by Frank Merrick.




In our most recent events, we saw an increase in the issuance of cards at some events as a result of G20, the “Stay out of other robots” rule, being called. We do not want the issuance of cards to be a common occurrence at events. The intent of the cards in FIRST Robotics Competition is to assign serious consequences for certain behaviors, and when we ask our Head Referees to issue cards, it is one of the most difficult things for them to do.


I sincerely apologize to all the teams who had a poor experience because of this issue. Our Head Referees were provided additional guidance last week about G20, in the hope of seeing reduced robot damage. However, we made a mistake in this guidance, and the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. After we realized what was happening, we formulated and released new guidance Saturday at approximately Noon Eastern. While we dislike making changes like this mid-event, we did not want to enter playoffs operating under guidance that made cards, which in playoffs apply to entire alliances rather than individual teams, easier to receive than intended.


As in any other contact sport, rules about how much contact is too much will never be completely black and white. While we want to allow for a robust defensive strategy this season, if teams wish to take that approach, we don’t want to see robots damaged as a result. Finding the right balance has been a challenge.


We have carefully reviewed G20 and will be including a change to the rule’s blue box in today’s Team Update. We believe the update appropriately reflects where we stand on this issue and provides more useful information to the community. For additional information, teams may search the official Q&A system. Several questions have been answered recently about G20. All are consistent with the guidance that Head Referees are being provided. Longer term, we will also be reviewing our communication process with referees to help ensure clarity and consistency.


I’m very sorry again for this issue. We are working hard not to let this happen again.




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Nice to see an apology from FIRST after that week we had... frank, please see and respond to my email  thank you  



Alex, I hope you've seen my reply by now. I did want to get the blog and Team Update out first so I could point to them in my reply to your email.

Can the information provided to head refs also be provided to teams, so that we all know what rules we are playing by?

Almost every week, a digest is sent to Head Referees. The intent of the digest is to help Head Refs keep current on Team Updates, interpretations, and things being seen in the field. It's also a way for Head Refs to get answers to their questions, similar to the Q&A for teams. It's a tool we use to help encourage consistency between events. With over 100 head referees this year, we need some way to communicate like this.

The intent of the digest is not to change rules, but provide clarity. The particular digest sent mid-last week created more of a change of interpretation of rules at events than was intended. The digest was amended Saturday, and the key guidance in that digest was incorporated in the team update released Tuesday.

Digests are not shared with teams because we want to have a way for Head Refs to ask and get answers to questions confidentially. These questions sometimes are based on actual occurrences at earlier events, that may be identifiable by the teams involved or others at the event. This could be unfair to the teams involved, or the ref crew that made a decision based on what they saw and their interpretation of the rules at the time. Also, we want Head Refs to feel free to ask any question they want, without concern about how the question may look if the digest was public. Digests are also not shared with teams because we don't want to create yet another place that teams feel they need to go to get rules. Only the rules are the rules. They are supplemented by the Q&A to add clarity in certain cases. Comments in the digest are not intended to be rules, but to provide guidance to volunteers with particular responsibilities.

In the case of the G20 issue last week, this system failed. The digest ended up giving direction that was more like a rule, and I'm sorry about that. As noted above, we will be looking at our communication system with referees to improve this.

Also, this week, Head Refs will be addressing G20 during the driver meetings at events. Additionally, our intent is, going forward, that any information that does not reach the level that requires a manual change that would be communicated in a Team Update will be included in driver meetings.

That would be nice because alliance decisions were made based on the refereeing being done throughout the entire weekend, only now to find out that it changed before playoffs? Very frustrating, to put it mildly.

Would you please provide the contents of the two guidances issued to Head Referees?  Did they consist entirely of rule snippets and QA responses, or were some instructions new?

Please see the response above.

Thank you for proactively working to correct mistakes like this. It's rough when it happens, but it's good to know the GDC is active on these accounts.

Thank you for clarifying the situation for the community.  I appreciate your transparency and leadership.

Hi Frank! Thanks for the update. I am happy to see FIRST is continually trying to improve the game and refereeing process. In the future, would it be possible to make this type of guidance that is privately given to referees/inspectors available to teams publicly? These updates do not usually get communicated to competitors and end up causing confusion around how to legally play the game.


Hi Tom. We certainly want to make information available that helps teams play the game. Please see my longer reply above - it has some details about future plans.

Is it possible we could publish the additional guidance provided to head referees for teams? This additional "blue box"-type information that is supplemental to the rules but not in the rulebook would be super helpful for teams trying to ensure complete rule compliance in the future, so we can know how calls will be made for as many situations as possible.

Hi Ben, please see my longer reply above, it has some details on this. 

Hi Frank. 


I had the pleasure of meeting you a few years ago, and honestly, it hurts me to say this, but this apology is not enough. 


Teams spent weeks pouring their hearts into their robots, planning, building, and competing. They put all their energy into being the very best that they can be, and because of this pendulum, you perhaps ruined entire teams views and respect for FIRST. What do you tell the freshmen? Their first experience of FIRST is that of yellow cards and disqualification because of a silly miscommunication and mistake. What do you tell the seniors? Those who were hoping and planning and working their very hardest to get to Detroit or St. Louis this year.... 


What do you tell the people who got disqualified because they accidentally bumped into another team, getting them 3 yellow cards and a disqualification in playoffs? 


What do you tell these people who tried their absolute hardest, did everything right, played by the written rules, and still got a red or yellow card?


Because sorry isn't it.


I sincerely hope that you find a way to fix this. Because sorry isn't enough.


Andrew Stein

Team 810

(A team that was disqualified in playoffs for going over the bumpers of a small bot) 

Hi Andrew, I'd add another 'sorry' to the number of times I've already said that, and meant it, though I don't think that will be satisfactory.

For things to tell the various groups you've called out above, I'd tell the difficult truth. FIRST Robotics Competition isn't perfect, and never will be, because it's run and supported by human beings, like me, who make mistakes. We regularly work to improve our systems, but errors still happen. 

And I don't know how to fix this except with the adjustments we are making going forward, and a commitment to make things better. It would not be possible for us to fairly go back and attempt to re-adjudicate every card that was given last weekend because of our mistake in handling G20, or predict how a team given a card would have eventually performed in a tournament. 

I agree with you that part of the problem was poor communication. If you look at my longer post above, you'll see some information about our plans to address that.


Dear Frank,

As a coach for many years, I have seen a few questionable calls from refs, but I have never seen the outcome of the refs call change the possible fate of a team until this year.  Because of the G20 change conveyed to the refs throughout the competition week, the way matches were called did change.  The fact that FIRST attempted to reverse the magnitude of the calls at noon Saturday was admirable.  However, after having refs call the matches for a week with the additional restrictions, they were not able to just snap their fingers and revert back like the code used to drive a robot.  They were subject to human conditioning.  Because of this, team 810 the alliance captain, was given a red card during playoffs ending their competition and season.  I know FIRST does not use video replay, however there was no G20 violation during the match based on the both rules (old and new).  I write this to you to encourage FIRST to review the outcomes; 810 should be given the opportunity to advance to Worlds, they did it right.  If FIRST cannot give 810 a spot in Worlds, then FIRST should really consider refunding 810's competition fee for their event.  Sometimes an apology just is not enough.


Joel Heitman

Hi Joel, please see my response to Andrew above. 

Thank you Frank,

 I really appreciate that when you see an error you take responsibility of the error.

The real problem with the G20 calls this past weekend was communication. Even in your blog post you talked about communication between FIRST and the head referees but not with the teams.

I would like to make these suggestions on changes and interpretations

  • Changes and interpretations during the week. They can still use the team update system. It is in place and works fine.
  • Changes and interpretations that occur just before events. ( 1-2 days) Drivers meeting should be able to handle these. I would like to see an announcement during opening ceremony each day to re-enforce the changes and let the crowd know of said changes.
  •  Changes and interpretations during the event.  A special meeting that includes Driver, Drive Coach, and Lead Mentor. These teams have gone through multiple rounds and now have developed muscle memory and habits. They will have a hard time changing on the fly. The lead Mentor will have to re-enforce the change. An announcement should also be made to the crowd so they understand the change.


Your Friend with Robots

Mike Gehron

FRC 3138

Hi Mike, I agree communication was a key issue on the G20 problem. Please see my longer reply above that talks about this. We certainly want to give the teams the information they need to play the game, without overwhelming them.

Frank, I appreciate the response, our team was one of those affected by the G20 rule, however, our G20 calls were in the playoffs and our alliance was eliminated in two consecutive matches from the quarterfinals because of those calls (matches we would have otherwise won), so I guess the Saturday noon changes did not reach our referees.  Also, your response seems to indicate that it was the defensive robots that were on the receiving end of the G20 calls, THAT WAS NOT THE CASE, it was actually the robots that were being defended that received the G20 calls, which is why it was so egregious and unfair to the affected teams/students.  Once the defensive robots saw what was happening it just increased their aggressiveness with absolutely no consequence to them but with multiple G20 calls to the robots trying to avoid contact.

Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment. I certainly didn't mean to imply only defensive robots were getting assessed G20, as it can get assessed on any robot. 

As a lead mentor of a team I appreciate the accountability FIRST has shown over the past week with regard to defensive play. I have had the same discussions with my drive team that they need to be accountable for their play the second they cross the line and go on the defensive. However, this season has been a real challenge when gauging what is considered acceptable and what is not in (as you very well put it) a contact sport. Every year we aim to design a robot that is capable of taking a hit or two without need for major repairs, but that said this is not a demolition competition. The way I have always seen defense in FRC is the same way as in hockey: open ice/field hits are okay, some contact is expected, but boarding, bashing, or blatant interference are not acceptable. Thank you again for the clarifications and accountability going into the last week and district champs.

Team 100 was red-carded for G20 violations early in quals at SF Regional. Our ball intake dropped inside a defending robot's frame perimeter. This was inevitable and clearly unintentional, because our ball intake had to come down in order for the ball manipulator to go up to deliver a game piece. The red card threw a HUGE bucket of cold water on our subsequent play, because any additional infractions could get our whole alliances tossed. We were all left with an extremely sour taste at the end of SF. Funny how nobody blinked an eye at the exact same robot doing essentially the exact same stuff at Sac. 

FIRST Robotics is an amazing formation package in so many ways. Aside from learning new technologies, developing new skills and honing social interactions, the overwhelming focus is on Gracious Professionalism.

Yes, we all want to win, but we are not a hockey team. Our objective is to be the best we can be, not to beat the other team.

There are so many things that can go wrong in a robot match from bad ref calls, alliance partner failure, field faults, driver error and the list goes on. Stuff happens. Dealing with adversity and failure in a gracious way is part of the FIRST Robotics formation package.

The design of FIRST Robotics matches and alliance selection introduces the element of chance in the program. Yes, you can improve your chances with a great robot and applied scouting. But you also need luck and dealing with bad luck is part of learning life skills. 

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