FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Timeout Trouble

Mar 29, 2022 Written by Frank Merrick, Director FIRST Robotics Competition




We’ve seen a few instances this season of teams not making it back to the field before timeout expiration resulting in them being excluded from match participation. This is a feels-bad moment for all involved – teams, volunteers, spectators, and FIRST HQ – as we all want to see teams on the field playing. I am sorry for the distress this has caused.

At the same time, just like in every other high school sport, timeouts can’t be open-ended and we need set rules about how to handle them. This helps keep play fair and events moving toward a conclusion.

We recognize, though, that the rules we had for timeouts may not have been as accommodating as they could have been. Teams need time to get their robots down from the Hangars before they can start working on them. Also, even though relatively few of our teams are rookies, many of our participants are and they may not be familiar with how timeouts work or what the consequences are for not getting back to the field on time.

For this reason, we made several rule modifications, which you can see in Team Update 19. Taken collectively, these changes give teams several more minutes for each timeout period. Additionally, we are committed to reviewing the entire timeout process after the season to see if there is a better solution that we can implement long-term.

We are also taking other steps outside the rules to improve our processes:

  • The Alliance Captain meeting held by the Head Referee after Alliance Selection must include one student member of the drive team from each of the Alliance Captains in place of the team representative who called the picks (if they’re not already a member of the Drive Team). We recognize the student who participated in Alliance Selection may not be on the field for Playoff Matches, and thus may not be the best person to participate in this huddle.
  • All teams participating in Playoffs will receive a printed handout explaining key points of how playoffs work, including timeouts. We will also be hosting this document on the Season Materials webpage.
  • We are asking Queuers and FTAs to remind teams that, if there is room and the teams don’t need to go back to their pits, they should stay field-side or even on the field to reduce unnecessary transit time.

I’d also like to emphasize that we instruct our volunteers to follow the rules as FIRST HQ has written them. If time is up, and a referee or an FTA closes the gate on the field with a playoff team still in the pits, they are doing as instructed, whether they like it or not (and very likely, not). I ask that you direct any feedback or concern you have about this to FIRST HQ.

Our hope is that with more time and improved communication, we can help ensure every team has an ample opportunity to participate in Playoff matches.

I’m looking forward to a great rest of our season!


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I greatly appreciate the modifications to the Timeout process. I hope all other Head Referees do as well!

I have been making a Drive Team member come to the Alliance Captains meetings for several years, the Timeout process being one of many of my reasons!

Another idea I have is to display the Field Reset period countdown where the Teams can see it. We greatly stress following the Timeout process but don't give them this vital piece of information. I also asked for this the past several seasons. If it is available already, the Scoring Table at my previous events has been unable to display it except on the Head Referee tablet.

I still am not fond of the handling of timeouts with back-to-back matches.  The structure requires teams to determine within two minutes if they might need an extra two minutes, six minutes in the future.  Why not allow them to take the timeout, say, up until two minutes left in the field timeout, potentially shortening the timeout if you feel like the time between matches would be egregrious.

There are some venues where the distance from the playing field to the pits is quite far. Some repairs can be made on or near field, but some require utilization of the pits. However, the distance of the pits from the field of play is not taken into consideration at all with regards to timeouts. I have seen teams in the hallway maybe 20' from the entrance to the arena trying to quickly, and safely, get their robot from the pits back to the field only to have the gates closed and their participation in the match disallowed. You mention keeping play fair, but clearly venues with pits nearby to the field have a huge advantage over other venues and teams competing at the latter venues are at a severe disadvantage. Perhaps the rule could be changed to indicate that a team which has left its pit and is on the way to the playing field when a timeout expires should still be allowed to compete in the match.

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