"Assigning High School Sports - Is Anybody Happy?"

By the NFOA Publications Committee
Reprinted With Permission From Officials NFHS Quarterly, The Magazine For High School Officials (Summer 2000 Issue)

Several issues ago, we asked our readers to respond to a few questions about the process of assigning officials in high school sports. While the answers were varied, interesting, and occasionally provocative, the common denominator seemed to be that few individuals are content with how officiating assignments are made in high school athletic contests. Those officials who are assigned spoke of "politics" where others are getting special favors while their talents go unnoticed by their assignor. Those who do the assigning complain that their efforts are neither understood nor appreciated and that too many officials are not as good as they think they are. In this article, we will attempt to summarize the many replies we have received over the last couple of years.

1. Should assignors be allowed to work games in the leagues in which they are making assignments?

Seventy percent of the respondents emphatically say "No!" Larry Ellers of St. Louis says, "Experience has shown that they will take care of themselves and a few friends." Kathleen Howley agrees, commenting, "Choice games tend to go to the assignors and their friends." The "yes" respondents point to the shortage of officials, especially for afternoon games. If the assignor is a competent official, why should we exclude him/her from refereeing games? A popular sentiment expressed was the idea that assignors should be restricted by their association to working mid- to lower-level games.

2. Do assignors need to be former working officials capable of evaluating their fellow officials?

The overwhelming response was "yes." The complex job of officiating would be made more difficult without a working knowledge of the sport one is assigning. Ken Goss of Cleveland opines, "Being an officer in both groups (the league and the local officials association) makes me more aware of the problems and concerns which may prevail." Some thought that retired officials or athletic directors familiar with the sport would be acceptable, as long as they are objective and can evaluate in an unbiased fashion.

3. Are working officials guilty of playing politics?

The prevailing opinions were an overwhelming "yes!". Recognizing that "politics" means different things to different people, officials across the country, rightly or wrongly, feel that there are too many assigning decisions made on political rather than merit considerations. What an official sees as "politics" is often seen by the assignor as a decision based upon multiple factors. D.J. Barbaro of St. Louis comments that, "We (assignors) are faced daily with coaches who may or may not want to have an official on their games." Mike Wong says that the real issue is that assignors have to be ethical - "If an assignor assigns himself and/or his friends to all the good games, he will quickly lose the respect of his fellow officials."

4. Do officials have legitimate concerns about the system of assignments?

Here again, the opinions are varied. David Woodyard of Columbus, Ohio, thinks that, "There is no unbiased system of assigning officials usually it is the "good ole boys" system. According to Jon Richards of Huntsville, Alabama, "Many of their concerns could be addressed with both a grievance policy and a strong evaluation system." In myriad ways, this last thought was echoed by many respondents. If an official is evaluated fairly and often, the "cream will rise to the top," and many young officials who otherwise quit because they do not advance might continue to make valuable contributions to the game they referee.

5. What methods of evaluation should assignors be using to advance the best officials?

The consensus of the writers was that the assignor should wear only one hat - allocating games according to association policy. However, nearly all of the contributors recognized the need to have excellent coordination between the evaluators/observers and the assignor. In this way, the younger officials who are receiving good assessments will be availed of the opportunity to work more challenging games. Several respondents noted that camps, scrimmages and summer leagues provide opportunities for individuals to advance.

6. How can league officials accommodate the needs of assignors?
John Crisp of Ventura, California, has some good suggestions: 1) giving schedules to assignors in a timely manner; 2) where appropriate, paying officials in a timely manner; 3) minimal changing of dates and times of scheduled games; 4) keeping open days in the schedule for rainouts; 5) playing evening and/or weekend games where possible, and 6) having all communication to the assignor come from the athletic director, not the coaches.

As can be seen from the varied responses, there is no simple solution to the problems inherent in the allocation of high school athletic contests. Since our focus is on high school assignors, we thought it prudent to include what we felt was a candid, practical set of guidelines provided by an assignor. John Mantica of Fort Myers, Florida, has some excellent ideas that we would all do well to heed.


(The Ten Commandments)

Have you ever wondered why you're not scheduled more times than other officials in your association? Have you considered why bigger games are handed out to officials who you deem to be less qualified than yourself? Maybe you should consider your relationship with your booking commissioner (BC). It behooves you to know and to understand the methods that a BC uses to make assignments. Most associations are now using some sort of computer software package that assists in assigning games. While the software is extremely helpful to put a schedule together, it isn't foolproof. There still exists the need for human intervention and insight on the BC's part. As a BC, during season, I spend a minimum of 12 hours per week on scheduling. This includes calls to and from officials to make necessary assignment changes, calling school athletic/activities directors to coordinate game changes, and inputting information into the computer database.

Here are "The Ten Commandments" for dealing with your BC:

1. Thou shall make sure that your BC has your home, work, fax, beeper and cellular telephone numbers. It is extremely frustrating when you need to reach a member about an assignment and he or she can't be reached. If you know that your BC is trying to contact you, call him back as soon as possible.

2. Thou shall make sure that your spouse (or significant other) is aware of your current assignment schedule and can answer questions for you. Anyone can take a message, but it would be great if they knew your schedule and were able to accept assignment changes on your behalf.

3. Thou shall install call waiting or an answering machine on your telephone if you don't already have it. Sometimes a BC needs to assign a game at a moment's notice. If your telephone is busy, the BC will just move to the next available name on the list.

4. Thou shall work assignments with the BC as much as possible. What better way to show your BC of your skills and knowledge than to let them get a first-hand look at you?

5. Thou shall not call your BC with scheduling problems at the last minute, unless it is an emergency. This will definitely get you on the "bad guy" list with your BC. Certain emergencies are understandable and excusable, but some things just won't be tolerate
d. Whenever possible, find a suitable substitute yourself prior to notifying your BC.

6. Thou shall accept assignments graciously, no matter what the mileage distance or payoff. You must accept the good with the bad assignments. You can't be assigned to every big game right down the street from your home or office. When asked if you're available on a certain date, don't ask where and who's playing before you accept the assignment.

Thou shall not brown-nose your BC. It happens, but a good BC will see right through you. Be nice, but don't go overboard.

1. Thou shall bring scheduling complaints up with the proper people. Usually each local or state association has methods in place for handling grievances or problems with schedules. Usually, your complaint is with the BC directly. Don't complain to him/her, but through the proper channels.

2. Thou shall work assigned games. If you regularly miss assignments or show up late, BCs usually will stop scheduling you.

3. Thou shall notify the BC of scheduling "switches." Nothing will upset your BC more than when he's trying to contact you for three hours about an assignment, only to find out that you've switched with another member and didn't notify him.