[FRC Blog] Timeout Trouble

Posted on the FRC Blog, 3/29/2022: https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/blog/2022-timeout-trouble

Timeout Trouble

2022 MAR 29 | 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!



This is good to see come down from HQ, and I’m glad they’re listening.

However, this is just a band aid on a gaping wound.


Step in the right direction with timeouts starting once robots have been removed and match scores have been posted, but I think there is much more room for improvement here.

I’m glad there’s a new printed handout. I’m not glad it doesn’t actually provide a clear picture in a digestible format. It’s basically the same as the manual, and takes two pages to explain.

Would much prefer a half sheet or one pager at the most, with clear graphics. The fact that HQ could not distill the info into shorter form goes to show that the rules remain too complex and confusing.

I’m of course happy FIRST is trying to be responsive and think the most redeeming part of this whole thing is that Frank mentions they’ll reevaluate after season. Unfortunately for the remainder of this season, we’re likely to only see marginal improvement.


This seems like a slight improvement, but still unnecessarily complicated. Why is a timeout worth more time in certain situations than others? And worse, the timeout is worth less time when it is most needed (back-to-back matches).

This a very small step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.


I don’t know that this blog post sets the right tone about volunteering if I’m honest but… the changes, particularly the alliance captain head ref meeting are good.


The weirdest thing about all this is it is never explicitly stated if you submit your timeout coupon at t = 1 second after field green reset, do you get 10 minutes or 8?


If that is how FIRST wants their volunteers to act and not to be compassionate, reasonable, rational individuals. I’m seriously considering no longer being a volunteer.

What happened in long Island is unacceptable, they were not following the rules as written and FIRST needs to say this. If every volunteer and FIRST staff member can’t agree on that simple fact, I’m not sure I can continue to volunteer at events. I’ll have to think a lot more about this.


The update reads:

The TIMEOUT will begins 2 minutes after the ARENA reset signal (i.e. at the end of the Team TIMEOUT Coupon Window depicted in Figure 11-4 and Figure 11-5.)

So you’d get the full timeout regardless of when you submitted the timeout in both the original and the updated rules

1 Like

This is a bandaid on a problem that needs surgery.


In life, blindly following some arbitrary rules might feel like it’s necessary to do a good job, but it’s not. It never has been. Some things are more important. Keep the gates open, be reasonable, be empathetic, and let the students play.


Unfathomably unacceptable decisionmaking here:

  • To not call out what happened in Long Island and the other events as wrong and against the mission of the program
  • To explicitly shelter future power-tripping KVs under the warm embrace of “they are doing as we instructed”

This is how organizations make room for abuse.


This is the style of blog post we needed tonight and didn’t get.


Is this what Manchester thinks of when trying to mitigate the chance of students having anything less than outstanding positive outcomes? Or did they not even get that far?

The rhetoric in this post re-establish what most already know, but don’t like to say, and I try to deny: at events, teams and the people who build them as subservient stakeholders to the people who put on said events.

The FIRST Robotics Competition is not primarily a vehicle for inspiration, or an agent of change. It’s an information war presented as a problem solving competition. Students are prisoners to whether or not their mentors know the right people or are privy to the high level channels of communication. To expand on that, teams are prisoner to Manchester’s chosen ways of doing things. They are not seen as partners. They reserve and act on their right, with prejudice, to withhold information that may be useful or even vital to teams in weekly communications to key volunteer groups. They reserve and act on their right, with prejudice, to withhold knowledge of when paid employees are staffing events in key volunteer positions. They reserve and act on their right, with prejudice, to change the rules exactly to their liking, without earnestly taking into account whether or not the world they built ensures the outcomes they claim to desire.

That is, unless you are someone who has the privilege of being within a degree of separation of any of these avenues of information.

You are welcome to participate in FIRST, but you can only watch what Manchester does. You can be the change you wish to see, as long as you aren’t trying to change too much, or rock the boat of any particular staff member keeping the gate of your desired station. You can imagine that this is a program that can easily feed on the boundless creativity, innovation, and passion of its teams and the people product those teams create–but it is just that, your imagination.


I feel like people are being too harsh on HQ here. Yeah this situation sucks. It really does. There’s a few key takeaways I want to take out of this. I think the most important one is this

This is a temporary measure. People have likened it to a bandage. You’re right. It is a bandage. And if you want that wound to be properly stitched and healed, email email email! They have stated they’re OPEN to finding better more permeant solutions. This is where we come in.

I think people are reading too much into this paragraph. To me what it sounds like is they’re trying to get people to layoff the individual volunteers who shouldn’t have to fix this problem in the first place in favor of more systemic change. And honestly? While it was frustrating and upsetting to see what happened, the volunteers are people too, and in the heat of the moment people make bad decisions. It sucks, it’s awful, but harping on one ref or FTA isn’t going to stop this from happening, getting the rules changed will.


I agree completely with this, I also strongly believe that when it happens you acknowledge that it’s wrong and you apologize. FIRST hasn’t acknowledged that what happened in long Island was wrong, that’s what needs to happen. FIRST can state clearly, that this isn’t how the rules should be enforced and that they will instruct their volunteers to not do this in the future. What we have gotten so far isn’t enough, the volunteers in this instance were not following the rules (0 robots where on the field when the timeout buzzer went off).


Fair enough. I don’t disagree with that. It’s just a really awful situation all around, and I profoundly hope that people take them up on their offer for wanting to find a better more permeant solution. I know it’s something I’m going to be thinking long and hard on, and may warrant its own thread.

Encourage refs and volunteer staff to be compassionate in these instances and not force a rules blockade around these situations.

There. Done. Its fixed.


May yet happen. We might not notice, though–at least not until the first (or second, or third) time there’s a late team back from timeout.

Based on what was written in the blog post I wouldn’t hold your breath.