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High school basketball: UHSAA votes to use 3 referees for boys and girls 5A/4A games this winter

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 7:23 p.m. MDT

Bingham High Girl's basketball coach, Rend Rasmussen, attempts a to have a conversation with referee Jeff Francom while playing against Riverton at Riverton High School.  Bingham lost the game against Riverton.  Michael Brandy.  January 9, 2006 (Michael Brandy, Michael Brandy/Deseret Morning N) Bingham High Girl's basketball coach, Rend Rasmussen, attempts a to have a conversation with referee Jeff Francom while playing against Riverton at Riverton High School. Bingham lost the game against Riverton. Michael Brandy. January 9, 2006 (Michael Brandy, Michael Brandy/Deseret Morning N)

MIDVALE — This winter, 4A and 5A girls basketball teams will play with three officials, just as their male counterparts have for the past five years.

In a 7-1 vote Monday, principals who represent 4A and 5A schools on the executive committee of the Utah High School Activities Association passed the change after a few minutes of discussion that acknowledged that the most significant issue was money.

“I realize it costs a little more money,” said Woods Cross principal and Region 6 representative John Hanning. “I realize that sometimes we get three really bad officials. Still, we have to train our officials. We talk so much about having to nurture our kids; well, we’ve got to do the same thing with officials. It’s no fun anymore to be an official. We need to support them. … I think it’s ridiculous to even consider going back to two officials.”

Cal Jones, veteran basketball official, works a game at Utah Valley University. Jones was the first referee to officiate at every high school in the state.
 (Jones family files) Cal Jones, veteran basketball official, works a game at Utah Valley University. Jones was the first referee to officiate at every high school in the state. (Jones family files)

The UHSAA staff told principals that they had to either pay for girls to have three officials during the regular season or eliminate the system for boys because it’s an issue of fairness. Most states use three officials in large classifications, as do most AAU and club leagues and tournaments. Many officials prefer working in three-person crews because it's easier to keep track of issues away from the ball, and it allows more officials to work varsity games. It is the direction the profession is heading, and officials told UHSAA leadership that they felt they would be at a disadvantage if they weren't able to work on three-person crews on a regular basis.

Utah moved to three-person crews five years ago in just 5A boys, adding 4A the next year, as part of a pilot program.

Because schools pay for regular-season officiating, principals said they struggled with the current costs of prep sports. The UHSAA pays for postseason officiating, which has provided three officials for both boys and girls in 3A, 4A and 5A for the last several years.

“We have teams in my region that don’t have the gate receipts to cover that cost,” said Jordan principal and Region 3 representative Tom Sherwood. “The cost of officials already exceeds their intakes.”

He said many of the fans are family members of the players and it could end up costing families even more if schools had to raise ticket prices to cover new costs.

Still, he said he favored the change, in large part, because it is the direction the sport and officiating is headed.

Taylorsville principal and Region 2 representative Garrett Muse said that paying more for officials may mean an increase in ticket prices down the road.

Region 8 representative and Maple Mountain principal John “Willie” Penrod was the only one to vote against the change. He said coaches and athletic directors in his region wanted to stay with two-official crews.

“We cannot even pay the bills,” he said. “We don’t get enough money to even break even. If we’re going to maintain programs, we’ve got to have the dollars to cover costs.”

Sherwood said it was an issue that they treated the girls differently than the boys.

“If you look at the list, we’re the only ones on the list that don’t provide the same thing for girls,” he said.

Hanning said to change back to two-official crews on the boys side would be a step in the wrong direction.

“This really bothers me that we even consider going backwards when the rest of the country is moving forward with three officials,” Hanning said. “As much as it is our responsibility as an activities association to provide a safe environment for the student-athletes, we also have a responsibility to develop officials as part of this whole program.”

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