THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
The state of Kansas had an interesting problem this year. Due to significant inclement weather, many high school sports were forced to reschedule their games into a more condensed fashion. The problem was actually widespread; it was not just applicable to one sport or season.
But within that issue was another issue: there were not enough officials to cover all of these rescheduled assignments on a given day.
Now, in fairness, this problem was somewhat unique. When you take a schedule that is properly spread out over a decent amount of time and are forced to condense it into a smaller window, there's definitely going to be some people scrambling. It actually happened to me this year! Due to rain, I was scheduled to work a last-minute doubleheader on Mother's Day!
However, the article that discussed this issue in Kansas looked into the other causes or related factors. The results were not surprising.
The number of people who leave officiating (or who never enter it when they should) continues to grow due to three common factors: the pay, the hours, and the lack of respect.
The hours are an unfortunate conflict, and there really isn't a solution for this. High school sports are usually played immediately after school, and the average working adult doesn't leave work until 5pm. So the chances of getting out early to make a 4pm start are not always high. Not everyone has the ability to change their schedule to get to games. The perfect people for jobs as officials are teachers, the self-employed, and the retired...or professional musicians.
The pay is an interesting discussion. In New Jersey high school baseball, varsity officials make $81 per game. Sub-varsity officials (JV through middle school) make $60 per game (unless you're working by yourself, in which case you make a varsity fee). And in Mercer County, we are fortunate enough to negotiate for some travel fees for schools that fall outside our county-contracted schools. It's not a terrible rate (especially for varsity); whether you do the math based on the time you spend actually on the field, or if you factor in travel and prep time, it actually seems somewhat fair for what amounts to a part-time job.
The issue with pay actually lends itself into the argument regarding the lack of respect. For the amount of abuse that officials take, the pay simply doesn't seem like it's enough. In fact, an interesting argument within baseball officials is whether or not fewer arguments would occur if the standard for officiating was to use three officials instead of two. Of course, though, adding a third official would require more money from the schools. And if pay is already where it is, it's doubtful schools will have the budget for that.
Outside of the pay, though, the lack of respect can take on a life of its own. Many officials deal with so much abuse that they determine officiating is not for them and quit. One wonders how those abusers would feel if they knew that their antics actually caused a human being to quit his or her profession of officiating.
Regardless of how it is dissected, though, the fact that the number of officials continues to decline while the average age of the officials increases is one that points to an obvious truth: we need officials, especially if we are going to keep youth sports going.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.