Schools struggle with fairness in high school officiating

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17 2013 5:10 p.m. MST

Many coaches are unwilling to support the three-official crews because they know the reality is that girls already get less experienced referees. To some degree, girls games are seen as a training ground, a stepping stone to boys games.

The reality is that some officials don't want to work girls games. For others, girls games are seen as a stepping stone to officiating boys games.

Price said he's been asked by officials to write letters of recommendation for referees who've done a good job managing his games.

"They worked hard and did a really good job," said Price. "They want to get noticed so they can go do boys. So they've asked me to write letters and I've done that. Then they get to the boys level, and if they have to come back and do girls, they're not nearly as good as when all they could do were girls' games. There is just a mentality, and I don't know how to solve that."

Skyline athletic director and long-time girls basketball coach Deb Bennett uses a teaching analogy when describing the situation.

"As a teacher, I don't get to teach only one gender," she said. "I have to teach both."

But officials are private contractors who may not work if they are required to take jobs they don't enjoy. Petty said officials often have other jobs and family commitments and sometimes they're simply taking games that fit their schedules.

Bennett said she also voted against three-official crews when polled for the same reasons expressed by Price.

"The biggest issue for women was that we wanted our officials to be drawn from the same pool as varsity boys," she said. "We weren't against three refs as much as we were against getting more inexperienced officials. Can't we have some equality in officiating?"

When the state instituted three-official crews for boys, the best and most ambitious officials gravitated to those assignments because they aspired to work at the highest levels. If officials hope to move into junior college or college ranks, they must be proficient in three-person mechanics.

"The unintended outcome for the women, once we went to three-person rotation format, was that is made it even worse," said Bennett.

"I think we need to revisit those conversations," Bennett said. "Based on where we are now, we need to have it equitable."

She said if cost is an issue, then the change should be to go back to two officials for all levels, both genders. Referees for high school sports are paid for in the preseason and regular season by the high schools.

"If administrators say we can't afford it, well, now we're violating Title IX to pay for boys and not girls," Bennett said.

There is no easy way to get around it. Part of the problem in adopting the proposal that is universally favored by officials and used in all but a handful of states at the high school level, is financial.

"The executive committee was reluctant to spend the extra money, even on the boys side," said Petty. Because of that, basketball officials opted to take a pay cut five years ago, if principals would give the system a try. Now the state is a year into a series of pay raises for officials in all sports.

"I’m a proponent of two officials for both men's and women's basketball," said Granger principal Jerry Haslam. "I don't think it's a safety issue. I don't think the game is fast enough that you need the third official. And I'll be really honest with you, the cost of the third official, in a school like Granger where we don't fill up the gym, well, it becomes cost prohibitive."

Haslam said Granger has spent $10,500 since August on officiating for all of the sports in which the 5A school participates. And, he points out, that is just one of the costs associated with paying for athletic programs sponsored by high schools.