Understanding timeouts in football

A timeout in football is a short break from the game that can be initiated by either team in between plays. Timeouts result in a stoppage of the game clock. In football, each team is going to have three timeouts per half.

These timeouts are quite valuable due to their ability to stop the clock between plays. If the clock is running, about forty seconds can be burned between each play.

This means each timeout can save you up to forty seconds in game time. This makes them incredibly important at the end of either half.

Timeouts in the NFL

In the NFL teams a given three timeouts each half. If you do not use the timeouts they do not carry over to the next half.

Generally, NFL timeouts are two minutes long. This is because the league often uses this break in the game for a commercial break.

When all the commercials have been shown for the half timeouts will only last thirty seconds.

Back to back timeouts

Additionally, teams are not able to call two timeouts in a row. The officials are not supposed to award second timeout to a team in a single dead ball period.

Source: NFL rulebook, page 13, Section 5 item 3

Though if the official accidentally awards the second timeout the team will be charged with a penalty.

When this penalty occurs the team that called the back-to-back timeouts will be assessed a loss of five yards and will lose their timeout.

Unsportsmanlike conduct

In football, timeouts are used on occasion to ice the kicker. This means a timeout will be called right before the kick attempts a field goal.

The idea is that this will give him more time waiting to kick potentially increasing his chances of missing.

If a team attempts to call back-to-back timeouts to ice the kicker then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty will be applied.

This is going to result in a loss of fifteen yards. This is more than likely going to result in a first down for the offensive team and greatly reduce their field goal distance.

Injury timeouts

Injury timeouts are called in football when a player is hurt on the field. If the official deems a player is hurt or if team staff come onto the field to assist the player then an injury timeout will be called.

Before the two minute warning injury timeouts are going to be charged to the official. Though after the two minute warning injury timeouts will cost you one of your team timeouts if you have not already used them all.

If a team is out of timeouts an injury in the two-minute warning will result in an excess timeout being called. If a team uses more than one excess timeout in a half they will be assessed a five yard penalty for delay of game.

Additionally, when a player is injured causing a timeout they must then sit out for a single play.

The player may only stay on the field if the injury is a result of a foul, there was a change in possession or the half or quarter has ended on the same play.

Timeouts in the NCAA

Timeouts in the NCAA are very similar to the NFL. Each team is given three timeouts per half.

Just like the NFL timeouts can only be called by the head coach or by players on the field. Timeouts are only able to be called in between plays which the NCAA refers to as a dead ball.

Timeouts will last 30 seconds or one minute depending on if they are a full timeout.

Injury Timeouts

If a player is deemed injured then an injury timeout will be called. The player will be removed from the game after the injury timeout and must sit out for at least one down.

The injured player must be cleared by the team’s medical staff before they are able to return to the game.

Injury timeouts in the NCAA are slightly different than in the NFL in that they result in a ten-second run off of the clock late in the game.

If there is a minute or less remaining the opposing team will have the option to accept or decline the ten-second run-off from the clock.

Frequently asked questions about timeouts in football

Can you call two timeouts in a row?

In football, you are not allowed to call two timeouts in a row. When a team attempts to call two timeouts in a row the official is not supposed to award the timeout.

The official is supposed to ignore the coach and no penalty will be called. Although if the official inadvertently awards the timeout then the team will be penalized a loss of five yards and a timeout.

Calling a timeout with none remaining

Both NFL and college football teams will generally not be penalized for trying to call a timeout with none remaining.

The officials are instructed to ignore these calls for timeouts as they are not able to call one.

That being said trying to call an extra timeout to freeze the kicker can result in an unsportsmanlike penalty in the NFL.

This is the only situation in which you will be penalized for calling a timeout with none remaining.

Why are some timeouts thirty seconds?

If you watch NFL and college football you may have noticed that some timeouts seem to be longer than others.

In NFL some timeouts are going to be longer due to commericial breaks. When timeout is called a commercial break will occur unless all commercials have already been shown for that half.

Once all commercials have been shown the timeouts will only last for thirty seconds. A timeout will also last for thirty seconds in the NFL if it is the second timeout called in the same dead ball period (one by either team).

In the NCAA the average timeout is only thirty seconds long. Of the three timeouts a team has in each half the team is allowed to take one full timeout.

Regular timeouts are going to be thirty seconds in college football while full timeouts are going to be longer.

How long is a full timeout

A full timeout in college football lasts for one minute before players take the field.

All in a full timeout is going to consist of a one mintue break, a five second period for the referee to signal the timeout and twenty five seconds on the play clock before the ball must be snapped.

Can you challenge a play without timeouts?

A coach may not challenge a play when they do not have any timeouts remaining. If they do so they will be assessed a penalty of fifteen yards.

Luckily many plays that occur within the final two minutes of each half are reviewed. Most teams don’t tend to burn all three timeouts until the end of the half.

This means situations in which a team wants to challenge the play yet does not have any timeouts left are relatively rare.

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