If you guessed a shortage of officials, you win.
Officiating organizations throughout the nation are finding it tougher and tougher to put qualified officials on the most important games due to the sole reason that those officials may not be in the rank and file of the chapter. Then again, those same organizations are finding it difficult to put any official on some games simply because the number of available officials, regardless of level or ability, is decreasing.
According to an article by Jay Fanta for Post Bulletin, there are three suggested reasons for this decline in officials:
- The number of assignments has increased so much that there simply are not enough physical bodies to cover each assignment.
- The recruitment of officials (who are usually ex-players at any level) is poor due to a faulty system of either advertising the opportunity, encouraging people to take the opportunity to try it out, maintaining relationships with people for the purpose of retention, or anything else in between that simply doesn't get the word out.
- The culture of poor sportsmanship scares potential officials away.
These three points are all tied together in some fashion in addition to being individual problems. If the number of assignments increases, it demands the recruitment of more officials. But if the recruitment efforts do not yield favorable results, then those assignments can't get filled (or get filled eventually by poor officials). There's no clear cut solution to the problem in general, but any solution to any part of the problem will alleviate at least some part of the burden.
We can also argue that the number of travel teams and tournaments has gotten out of hand, creating the problem of not being able to cover assignments. Kids are playing on more travel teams now than ever due to the pressure to succeed and to try to open as many athletic opportunities for success. It's great that kids get the chance to play sports and remain athletic, but it shouldn't come at the expense of letting a kid experience the things necessary to have a regular childhood.
What about the culture surrounding officials? The common problem is that they're getting paid an incredibly small amount of money to put up with abuse from players, coaches, parents, and fans. Potential recruits for officiating see the abuse and make the sound decision to stay away. Entitled former players see officiating as below them. The relationships between players, coaches, and officials has become so strained that the funnel of officiating cadets has become dry.
But it gets worse. In New Jersey, high school hockey officials are now boycotting their assignments because of the abuse the officials take from parents. It has gotten so bad that it has ended up in the courts. Officials will soon be wearing body cameras so as to present evidence in court to properly adjudicate the wrong doing of the parents.
Ultimately, the solution comes down to respect for officials. If officials are respected on the field, they can set the example that more people should become interested in officiating. Increasing the pay will show that officiating is a decent way to earn money, which can't hurt either. But the combination of respectable compensation, pride in giving back to the community, and knowing that conflict doesn't reside on the other side of the playing field needs to be enacted to see this growing problem disappear. Just another reason why arguing with referees and umpires ends up costing you in the long run...