British American Football Referees Association

Referee's Signals

When watching a game of American Football whether live at a game or on television you will notice that the referee (the one with the white hat) periodically waves his arms around and makes an announcement. This usually happens after one of the officials drops (or throws) a weighted yellow hanky (flag) - he does this if he has noticed a foul occur and the flag marks the spot of that foul. The play is allowed to continue until it reaches its natural conclusion, when he will report in to the referee who will make a preliminary signal to the press box so that everyone knows what is happening before talking to an on-field captain of the team offended against to explain his options. A further signal is then made together with the announcement confirming the infringement and the option selected by the captain (accept or decline). If you are watching this on TV or at a live professional game, this announcement can be heard as he will be wearing a microphone which is connected to the stadium's (and TV) PA system.

If you are at a "grass-roots" game you will have to listen very carefully as he will have no microphone. This is where the arm-waving comes in, because the referee is giving a visual signal as well as the audible. This dates back to the early days of American Football games when radio mikes were not thought of.

Below is a table of the more commonly used signals under the NCAA set of rules (as used in Great Britain), and whilst there is significant correlation between these and the ones used in the NFL (shown on TV) there some differences. The signalling of a foul and its outcome may well consist of two or more of these signals.

To find out more about each signal (when it is most commonly used, the penalty involved, how it is executed) hover the mouse pointer over the picture of that signal, and then click. These are not intended to give a comprehensive list of fouls and penalties, just the most common. For a more in-depth investigation, you should use the BAFA rulebook.

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LATEST NEWSFLASH #47 30th November 2023
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