Schools struggle with fairness in high school officiating

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

"It's becoming very burdensome to put uniforms on kids and pay for everything and make it all work," he said. "At Granger High, we have an enrollment of 1,600 and 50 percent of those (students) are on fee waivers."

That means those students' families qualify to be exempted from the fees charged by schools for participation in activities. Those fees, however, cover the costs of running the programs, and the money has to be made up somewhere.

Petty said officials were so eager to see the new system in place in all high school games, they agreed to a $5 pay cut to work games with three officials.

An official in a two-person crew is paid $56.50 per game, while an official working a three-person crew is paid $51.50.

He estimates that adding a third official to girls varsity games would cost schools an additional $600 per season. And while that doesn't sound like much, principals like Taylorsville's Garrett Muse, who serves on the executive committee, said every seemingly small fee adds up to a difficult bill to pay.

"I'm a little bit torn," said Muse. "Some of us are not entirely sure the refereeing is necessarily significantly different than when we had two officials. We know the officials like it a lot better. We know it's easier… But the regions have to look at all of the sports, and the money we're paying for officials, and asking 'What are we doing as regions to recoup that money?' Do we raise ticket prices, charge for all sports, charge senior citizens? I'm not sure."

Granite District provided the Deseret News with what basketball officiating cost some of its schools in the 2011-12 season. Cottonwood spent $5,426.80; Granger spent $6,037.80; Kearns spent $5,433; Olympus spent $5,537.60; Skyline spent $5,658.20; and Taylorsville spent $4,850.

In fact, Price was told that if he voted for three officials, he'd have to pay for that third referee from fundraising efforts by his team.

"I think the girls get a backseat to what the boys get," he said.

That includes, coaches said, only using three officials during the state tournament.

Vicki Bohney, president of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and head coach at Taylorsville High, said it's almost unfair to ask the girls to play all season with two officials and then adjust to three in the tournament.

"We don't see it all year," she said. "I think it just throws everybody off. It's not a bad thing per se; it's just different. I would be in favor of three if we could get that throughout the season." In some cases, that's because officials who are assigned to girls tournaments have been officiating boys games during the regular season.

"The people who will referee at the state tournament are not the ones I saw during the year," said Bingham coach Rand Rasmussen.

He praised Petty for putting higher-rated officials on critical girls games, but agrees with Price that generally girls get less-experienced, less-qualified officials. Like Price, he has anecdotes about how that situation has changed the nature of a game, a region seeding and the general experience girls have playing high school basketball.

The fact that many officials would rather work boys games is a problem not easily solved.

"I get it," Rasmussen said. "Let's say all good players have a bit of an ego. All good referees have a little bit of an ego. I'd rather ref in front of 5,000 instead of 50. It's more exciting. Nevertheless, that hurts us."

Female players, Rasmussen said, are constantly adjusting to different scenarios be it game times, facilities or different types of officiating.

"Why do we have to do the adjusting all of the time?" he asked.

Which is why Petty's newest proposal may not address the issue as easily as it seems to at first glance.