How to address Referee errors

I’m looking for suggestions from referees or tournament organizers on how to handle referees who are not calling matches by the official rules.

First a little background. At the first competition my teams attended last year the referee was not scoring some owned goals correctly. My teams were not in the match that I saw scored wrong. I pointed this out to the referee between matches and was abruptly told to mind my own business since my teams were not involved. Since that time I have had my teams handle this by addressing the referee directly (with the rules to back them up) if it was a match they were involved in and by asking questions at the drivers meeting to make sure things were clarified with all teams present.

This has worked fine for us until this past weekend. A couple of the rules were not being called correctly but I was not aware of this happening in any matches with my teams. In the third match of our semi-final round an incorrect call was made. At one point the referee agreed that the rules had been broken but ultimately ruled against my teams because that was not how the rule had been called during qualifications and the referee said it would not have made a difference in the score for the match. While the incorrect call did not make a difference in the point total, by the rules the penalty for breaking the rule should have been disqualification which obviously would have affected the outcome of the match.

I teach my kids that they are to win or lose by the rules as they are written and respect the ruling of the referees.

I don’t want to start any arguments here, but really am looking for suggestions on how to address calls that are incorrect especially when your team is not involved in the match. What I want to avoid is any team being put in the situation we were in.

One of the things that has frustrated my as the season goes along is the number of teams (and referees) that know very little about the game rules.


It seems to be “be angry at bad refs” week on forums at the moment, with a number of threads highlighting poor referreeing.

Even though Vex Refs are usually volunteers, would it be useful to get them to sit a test or something similar to get accreditation to be referees? Might be something for RECF to consider. We were going to release a quiz earlier this year with the intention of helping referees make sure they know the rules, but we don’t have access to many objects or goals and didn’t get an opportunity to take the photos required.

If there was a rule that referees must gain accreditation by signing up to a website, sitting a test, and perhaps even getting an automatically generated certificate (and then when events are uploaded to RobotEvents, they also have to put in the name of accredited referees), it might raise the standard of refereeing at competitions. Whether it’s worth it is another matter. For competitions with a large number of fields and referees or in areas with fewer volunteers, perhaps only the head ref needs to have accreditation.

Well one thing that I have seen a great team do was to print out all the rules and put them on a clipboard, and if they saw that a rule was broken or if the ref thought that they had broken a rule, their coach could just flip to the rule and courteously point it out to the refs. (They also use the clipboard for scouting)

We did show and explain them the rules.

It was very disappointing, but I think our teams who were on the alliance (323A, & 323B) were fine with the success and outcome of that day.

I like this idea. That could possibly work!

The problem with the quality of referee’s is fairly complex this year. I have served in many roles this year. I am a coach/mentor of a team, I have refereed many tournaments, and I have put on a tournament. I have seen my team have to deal with missed calls which have effected the outcome of the match and tournament, I have refereed matches which have difficult situations to call, and I have tried to staff a tournament so as to have it judged/refereed/and run fairly. Organizing a tournament and having enough qualified people can be a challenge, so setting up certifications could in many cases inhibit the ability to host a tournament. However, missed calls can be very frustrating to the students and team members, so obviously those need to be minimized. I know the people I have volunteered with, all do so with the intent to be as fair as possible. This years game is, from the standpoint of the ref and the rules a fairly difficult game to manage. We always try to establish the rules and intent of the rules fairly detailed in the drivers meeting. With so many ways for teams to be disqualified and with so much interaction with the robots and game pieces this year, referees have to be alert throughout the match to try to catch every detail, and sometimes that is just not possible. I have told my students, do your best, understand that the ref’s are doing their best, and if there is a bad call, deal with it respectfully and accept the final ruling however it is settled. Just like in the “real” world you may have to deal with situations which are mishandled and accept them. I do know, as the season progresses, the better the understanding of the game by all the people involved has improved and the matches have been more consistently called. I know as a tournament organizer, we had our head referee listen to all situations and make the calls as close to the rules as possible. We also had at least one experienced and knowledgeable person at each field, as well as having a head referee who understood the rules. However, one can never eliminate human error, that will always be present and all we can do is be as fair as possible given each individual situation.

We did this. I expect all of my teams to have a copy of the latest version of the rules with them at every competition. They have also printed out Karthik’s replies to a couple of the questions asked in the official Q&A that they think may apply.

I would never allow my teams take a ref to task on a call unless they have something to back up the point of contention. The ref is right unless you can prove him to be wrong.

What was frustrating to me is that the ref acknowledged that my team was correct once they showed him a copy of the rules and the specific rule that applied, yet he ruled against them. Once the final ruling was made that was the end of it and I took it as an opportunity to for the kids to learn how to be gracious when things don’t go their way.


I understand how hard it is to referee and appreciate the position they put themselves in. The number of ways that teams can be disqualified this year makes it that much harder and the penalty sometimes seems too harsh…but those are the rules. I totally understand when a referee does not see something, especially when there is only one referee and I expect my teams to deal with them graciously.

The problem here is that there was not a disagreement about what happened, but about what should happen as a result. If the head referee, or the tournament organizer, at a competition is willing to listen those who appropriately point out incorrect calls (even when their teams aren’t involved) then this situation would probably not happened. Unfortunately my experience last year made me very hesitant to do that.


This might seem pretty farfetched, but what if we just didn’t use refs? I mean, all of the Vex teams are incredibly dedicated and I personally have read over the manual at least 4 times completely, as well as check up on all of the updates Karthik does and so forth. We wouldn’t even need to get rid of refs altogether, but I feel like a lot of times refs can hurt the game more than they help it. In my region though, we have really great refs, and they rarely make mistakes. I feel like if the “refs have the final say” rule was taken away, and the teams were allowed to prove their case with evidence (such as pictures or video) a lot of the problems would go away. The only remaining problems would be refs just not knowing the rules correctly and are making wrong calls all day. This could be solved easily by just having them CLOSELY read the game manual. It pretty much spells out all of the tricky situations you will get into.

Luckily, at world’s the refs are pretty much perfect, especially if you’re in Karthik’s division :p:p

I have a binder that I bring to every competition for this very purpose. In general, I find that some refs are excited by the fact that my team knows the rules perfectly(this year, I was called an encyclopedia by a ref :slight_smile: ). Of course, the opposite reactions are given by other refs and perhaps most disappointingly other teams. I also need the binder whenever my team decides to exercise the “higher seeded alliance has the right to place their robots on the field last” rule - I find it shocking how few people know this rule.

well, technically it is the red alliance that places last. Somehow at one of our tournaments last year we were the higher ranked alliance yet were blue in the finals…so we had to place first.

We don’t usually try to enforce this during quals as it matters very little then, but in Eliminations, when you are playing the same alliance several times in a row, having the ability to 1-up them on strategy is important.

In eliminations, the higher seeded alliance should always be red anyway if the Tournament Manager software is being used correctly. This is also shown in the match ladder diagram in section 3 (tournament) of the manual. So if you are higher seeded but are blue in the eliminations and you want to be red, you should be able to swap sides if your event organisers are being reasonable. It won’t happen if the tournament organisers are doing their job perfectly, but it’s something that could easily be overlooked.

ya it was weird. It happened last year so its not like it matters but we were just like “um, shouldn’t we be red” and they were like “well, you’re not so you don’t place last” Was that rule regarding higher seeded added this year? if not then darn we could’ve whipped that one out lol :D:D

I can tell you that as a several-year veteran of volunteering in all sorts of positions at robotics competitions, it’s a hectic and wild time. Having been a ref, most recently just a few weeks ago, I was working double-duty on two fields, where I was literally the one they would be waiting on to start the match. This means I had to work very fast, and yes, I’m sure I made a mistake or two.

The thing I always had to remind myself, especially when I was a student competing, was that you are signing up to play with these rules. I hate to say it, but… If you don’t like the game? Don’t play. This is the way it is, be polite, talk nicely, and above all else, only one representative come and talk to the judge!! It doesn’t help any of us if all of you start talking all at once.

That being said, I’ve been on both sides of the equation. I competed for three years, so I definitely know what it’s like to feel like the judges and the referees are biased. If you are positive, and you have proof, and it will change the outcome of the game? pursue it. If the referee doesn’t reply, I would say go to the head ref. That’s what they are there for. Make us earn that free meal :slight_smile: As far as being biased? I’ll just say this: I disqualified my own team.

To all the refs: One thing that I’ve found is helpful was to show the teams the scoring sheet. Because of how easy it is this year, the teams caught on really quickly, and grew accustomed to double-checking. It removed all doubt, and made them confident in the scores as well.

Just a few thoughts, as usual. :slight_smile:

No, that is not correct. Look more closely at the ladder diagram - if alliance #8 beats alliance #1, alliance #8 will be the red alliance for the remainder of the tournament. Obviously if #8 wins, they will play either #4 or #5, but #8 will still be red while the 4/5 winner will be blue. This is how it is defined in the rules and is how Tournament Manager implements the bracket. This is also the reason for the special clause about which alliance can place last - the higher-seeded alliance in elims is called out specifically because that alliance is not always red.

Thanks for beating me to the punch on that one Dave. I had the same mistaken impression earlier in the season and was corrected by the software an an event several months ago. It took some time out of the schedule between matches as I held things up examining the software thinking there was a bug. The scenario you painted is exactly what happened when the lower ranked (blue) alliance beat the higher ranked (red) alliance and moved on to become the red alliance in the remainder of the elimination matches.

Good points all!
I usually keep my netbook handy with a pdf copy of the rules. That way, I can use the search feature to find any piece of text in the document very quickly! Printing the rules out would also be a good idea though, because then you can leave them at the field for the refs to use later.

One of the ways that can help the problem of bad calls, is to fix the ‘problem’ before it becomes a problem. Sometimes I’ll watch some of the matches, and when there is a question about the rules (I.E. does this count as scored?) I’ll bring out the rules and show what they say. That way, there isn’t really any dispute about what was ruled later on, as it is actively being ruled.

Perhaps in the future, you could have one of your team members volunteer to be a ‘field-watcher’, and have him hang around the ref for the day, watching the calls, and providing feedback when necessary. That way, the ref can have someone backing him up, showing him the rules, and allowing him to make more informed decisions, and the field-watcher gets more experience scoring matches, which makes for a good coach at future events. All the other teams benefit as well, because the rulings would be more consistent between tournaments (by following the official rules more accurately)!

As I mentioned in my original post I tried this at a competition last year and was not so politely told to mind my own business since my team was not involved. What I am trying to find is what referees and event organizers think is a reasonable balance between taking the time to point out every wrong ruling in every match and not doing anything until one of my teams is involved.

This is mainly an issue when there is only one referee. At a couple competitions there was a referee for each field and a head referee. At these competitions I could speak to the head referee without interfering with the matches and then he took care of passing the information along to the field referees.


Having refereed over 300 matches this year one there is a few things I can tell you that makes it hard:
– The level of play from August to March changes. The game now is much faster than it was on the first few matches. With only one set of eyes watching 144 sq feet and 4 robots it’s possible to miss something.
– I have printed copies of the rules. When teams question I go to the rules. If teams have a “But Karthik says” printed out, then I will follow that, otherwise it’s the rule book. While I like browsing here, I don’t have the time to follow all the Q&A and print it out. If it’s a big enough change, Karthik will release a new updated manual (and he has)
– I’m a volunteer. One of my most valued items is time, it’s something I can’t replace. So I don’t take a lot of backchat about calls. If you are really, really unhappy about a call, I’ll happily refund your money and you can go home. (Note: We’ve done this before)
– You can be a volunteer too. Sign up to be a judge, referee, etc. You get first hand at how hard it is. The top teams in our area have really upped their game so it’s very competitive.
– We want everyone to learn something, have fun and not get injured. So we make every attempt at being as fair as possible.

I “ditto” Foster! As a vol. we try our best, most of us know the published rules and follow those the best we can in the given time frame to make a dec.

@ Jay, I know that must have been frustrating, but not all ref. and vol. react that way. I know if I could be shown I was calling it wrong on any match, I would want to know and adjust accordingly. I and many others can not surf this forum day and night and catch every “fine” interpretation made by Karthik here, so having printed statements would help. Jay, I think maybe you just had a ref that was a little stuck on himself.

I would also like to point out that the attitude of the individual pointing out the error can strongly influence the reaction of the ref - be polite and respectful, even in disagreeing and you will find a much better reaction and ruling.