Officially off the field

Hostile parties, low pay and the pandemic are blamed for the drain of referees at sports games

Alan Schaeffer, Sports Editor

Alan Schaeffer/Bear Witness

A vibrant red shirt weaves her way through a number of blue defenders. Reaching the top of the box, she looks to shoot but is knocked off the ball. Parents on both sides shout. Screaming for a penalty. Red players throw their hands in the air in frustration.The ref blows his whistle. Now both the teams, both the coaches, all the spectators join the shouting match. Some plead for the referee to show a card. Others defend the legality of the challenge.

Referees are often one person against the world, trying to officiate the game as they see it. But the hostile atmosphere is making more reconsider heading out on the field. Is it really worth it? Why risk so much for all this criticism?

High school sports enter their third season during the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools and leagues are falling victim to a shortage of certified officials across a variety of sports. Football and soccer are two of the sports most affected by this ongoing issue, often having to change schedules due to the lack of referees.

“You need referees to play the games” said Burt Field, a former soccer referee who now assigns match officials for CCS.

Soccer, at least at the high school level, is usually played with three referees; one 1st official that does most of the refereeing – calling fouls and controlling the game – as well as two assistant referees who move along the sideline and report when the ball goes out of play or when a player is offside. Branham’s girls varsity soccer coach and club soccer coach Erich Rabago has most noticed the lack of referees when it comes to tournaments, saying that they will often have to resort to using only two referees (one on each side of the field) to officiate matches. He says that by having fewer officials, the consistency of their calls has declined and noticed that match- es are officiated at a lower standard than they were previously.

“What it mostly impacts is the quality of refs,” he said. “(You get) whoever you get for any quality.”

The BVAL soccer bylaws, the rules that regulate how the league works, also provide a review form that coaches may fill out after a game, with any complaints about a referee.

“It is the committees’ recommendation that all coaches complete a review of all officials after every game” the by-law states. “It can be a vital tool in the continuous development of officials.” The by-laws also clarify that reviews must be specific, and coaches may not simply verbally attack a referee without providing reasons for their complaints.

As sports push on through the pandemic, the decreasing amount of referees can largely be attributed to covid. With many of the older refs resigning due to low pay and health concerns, organizations have struggled to recruit new ones. Field says that he has seen a decrease of 4,000-5,000 officials this year.

“It has been tough and there’s a couple of reasons,” he said. “Covid was one and a lack of classes was two. And also the common theme of parents just being over-the-top.”

Field and Rabago both highlighted the brutality of the refereeing role. With the toxicity in almost every match from parents, coaches and players, the low wage of approximately $40- $100 a game is unsubstantial. The pandemic is causing officials to leave, and the poor salaries and environments deter many newcomers.

As a coach, Rabago has seen the adversity that referees can face, and can foresee a possible, albeit distant, solution. He says that between the modeling of disrespect to officials by professional players and coaches and the animosity between the two parties that can arise due to unfavorable calls, the situation has developed to the point where it may take a while to fix completely.

“I think a solution would be having the refs and coaches work together,” he said. “There is a separation but I think if they looked at it as we’re all just going to work together to make sure the players stay safe and the game gets called fairly… it might help”