Google “referee shortage,” and you’ll come up with page after page of news articles written this fall about communities all over the country where shortages of sports officials at the high school level have reached near-epidemic proportions.
“We are one official away at any given venue of having to cancel a game,” Dave Pixton of the Northwest New Mexico Officials Association told KOB-TV.
“As our officiating pool ages, we’re going to need young people to join us as officials, and I think as generations turn over, we’re going to see the trend shift to where … more and more games may be canceled,” Tim Richter of the Wisconsin Hockey Officials Association told Channel3000.com. “I know a lot of sports … in the same situation hockey is.”
A lack of officiating crews also forced high schools in Virginia’s Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties to move some high school games to Thursday nights this fall.
What does all this mean for high school tournament directors who rely on the cream of local officiating crews to work special events? While many officials want to work high-profile competitions, a smaller pool from which to draw means the number of qualified individuals continues to drop.
Just how bad is the situation? A disconcerting new infographic from Ohio University’s Master of Athletic Administration program reveals that although there are still 300,000 to 350,000 high school officials working games today, the numbers in Nevada are down 500 from 2015; Tennessee experienced a drop of 200, and Kansas lost almost 150.
The infographic cites the following reasons for fewer officials:
• Older officials retire, and younger ones aren’t replacing them.
• Officials receive low pay, typically ranging between $35 and $91 per game, depending on sport and location.
• Background check requirements discourage some potential officials.
• The officiating environment is increasingly hostile; almost 86 percent of officials say they are this close to calling it quits because of poor spectator behavior.
• Opportunities for advancement to the college level or higher are limited.
To ease the burden, some state high school athletic associations have increased recruitment and retention efforts, provided new training opportunities and issued fans sportsmanship reminders. Additionally, the National Association of Sports Officials, headquartered in Racine, Wis., has backed legislation in at least 20 states to increase punishment for people who attack referees.
“There is a change in fans. They are less forgiving of an official’s mistake,” Brad Allen, an NFL official who also officiates high school sports in Florida, told the Miami Herald in March. “There is a lack of respect. And in today’s world, the abuse can be spread very quickly online. I think some young people are looking at that and wondering why they should get into officiating. Some of the veterans wonder why they continue to do it.”