A Call To Arms: How To Fight The Shortage of Referees and Game Officials

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AKRON, CO--SEPTEMBER 10TH 2010--Akron High School head football coach, Brian Christensen, center, talks with referee, Mike Billadeau, left, and official, Jim Short, before the game against Rye at Akron Friday evening. Andy Cross, The Denver Post (Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

There is a serious issue plaguing our high schools. The shortage of referees and game officials is one that will affect the future of sports as we know it. According to both District Administration and USA Today, there is a terrible decline in interest in becoming officials. Back in the 1970s, the average age of new officials was 21. Today, it’s 43. What happened? What can we do?

A Call To Arms: How To Fight The Shortage of Referees and Game Officials

Why Is This Happening?

There is a stigma against officials. Who would want to get paid very little to stand outside and get berated from coaches, players, and parents? This is the center of the issue. The leading cause for the lack of incoming officials is this abuse. Yes, the game gets exciting and there are times where officials can decide a game. Does this excuse the language and rhetoric thrown? No, of course not. You cannot possibly complain about officiating if you contribute to the main reason that there is a shortage in the first place. You can complain about officiating in your own time, but once you go out of your way to berate or threaten another person, you have gone too far.

Personally, I understand getting angry. As a coach, I have been thrown out of a contest for this reason. I make no excuses, but I have learned from it. Referees and game officials are human. Humans make mistakes. How about we stop looking at the shortcomings of the officials and start looking at getting them better pay and training. The best way to make sure the officials on the field are the best possible, you must give them the tools to succeed. Officials have a tough job. Let’s not make it harder by adding in the stress of grown men and women screaming that they may have missed a call.

It Cost Money

In order to become an official, you have to pay fees. These fees vary from state to state, but they pay for the refereeing permit. If you want to get young athletes into officiating, this would be the biggest obstacle. How many high school student-athletes can afford to shell out nearly $100 for the permit, uniform, and other proper equipment? Not many. This is where we start. These fees are essential for education and training, so we can’t just make it free. We can, however, subsidize these costs.

If you want more officials (or just better ones), we need to get rid of the financial concern. The solution to this would be to have athletic programs to subsidize the fees. By paying these fees, you open up the opportunity for all athletes to become licensed, regardless of their financial history. This would allow for more officials to get trained. This, in turn, would allow more training and more dialogue on how to get better. By doing this, you assure that the quality of officials would go up. Thus, the need for verbal berating would fall, which would encourage more students to become licensed.

But, It Does Not Pay Well

The third reason for the shortage of referees is the fact that officials do not make much money. If being an official were easy, then it would make sense to pay them very little. Would you want to be yelled at for three hours for $60? According to the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association handbook, $60 is what a varsity football official makes per game. Officials constantly face physical harm on the field. It cannot be overstated the threats of violence that are thrown at them, either. Who would want this? By understanding the impact of these officials, as well as the abuse, officials deserve a little more money.

The Last Word

The shortage of referees and game officials is a serious issue. We all love to complain about missed calls, but would you rather move toward robots? Would you rather sports end? Referees and officials are human. We all make mistakes. Despite that, we can fix the shortage. By allowing more students to become officials, we can make sure the standards are raised. These standards would allow for better officials to get licensed, which would result in fewer instances for verbal abuse. Be nice to your local game official. It’s thanks to them that you even get to watch the games you love.

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