Ask Farmer: How do NFL announcers call the penalties before the referees?

NFL referee Walt Coleman during the first quarter between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers.
(Chris O’Meara / AP)

Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to:

How do football announcers seem to know what penalty is being called on the field, almost instantaneously, as the flag is being thrown? Do they have multiple spotters in the announ-cers’ booth to identify just penalties that are called?

Chris Sorce

Fountain Valley


Farmer: For this, I turned to NBC’s Al Michaels, the best play-by-play man in the business. He was flying when I called, so he emailed this answer:

“A lot of penalties are easy to spot as they happen — false start, encroachment, offside, personal fouls like roughing the quarterback, etc. Some pass-interference calls are obvious but occasionally we have to wait until we hear whether it’s offensive or defensive. We also know what each official’s responsibility is, so that gives us an early indication of what the likely infraction is.

“The toughest are the calls that take place well away from the primary action of a play because you’re normally not focused on that part of the field. Also, our producer, Fred Gaudelli, can spot something on a monitor in the truck that we can’t see and he’ll prompt us.

“And, of course, when all else fails, just wait for the ref to turn his mic on.”


How far away are we from having an 18-game regular season with two preseason games?

Jeff Haseley

Charlotte, N.C.

Farmer: The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2020 season, and there likely will be some talk about expanding the regular season, which would also require expanding the current roster size of 53 players.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear that four exhibition games is too many, and the league could reduce — but not expand — that number without the permission of the players. There’s pushback from ownership, though, on eliminating those meaningless games because they can bring in big money.

My guess is, the league will trim the preseason within the next few years but keep the regular season as is. Fans are getting tired of paying top dollar to watch scrubs in games that don’t mean anything.