WXYZ – Ref shortage is increasing in the Detroit subway. It’s a big deal with the fall games approaching and the dedicated athletes ready to compete.
We have discovered that there are two big factors that push referees out of the way. The first one? Fears over COVID-19 have prompted arbitrators to leave the company – or not return at all.
The second reason has been a problem for decades: parents and coaches don’t play nicely with officials!
Brent Rice, deputy principal of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, says it’s not uncommon to see a 3 to 5 percent annual drop in the number of umpires. But in the past year, the MHSAA has lost 14% of officials from the previous year. Fortunately, hope is on the horizon.
“We’re in the process of recording so we don’t know what those numbers look like. It looks like there’s a little bounce coming back, which is positive at the moment,” Rice explained.
Rice says umpires generally fall in all sports. However, this year there are notable drops in football and basketball. With the COVID issues at stake, we’ve been trying to find out what is being done to put the referees at ease.
MHSAA management says it is constantly reassessing protocols for referees and listening to advice from the Michigan Department of Human and Health Services. Refs can also protect themselves by taking precautions wherever they want.
John Douglas, a college soccer official, says the referee shortage goes beyond high school sports. Douglas says about 60% of Michigan’s football referees disappeared during the pandemic, making the problem even worse.
“We were already 30-40% short-staffed – then COVID cut our numbers another 50-60% – so we’re probably about a quarter of what we’d like to be with the numbers,” Douglas offered.
With COVID, Douglas is highlighting the pressure for a big reason why referees are packing their bags for good. Sometimes they even choose jobs that pay less!
“You don’t do this job by running, sweating, getting yelled at and having adrenaline in your body,” Douglas explained.
Recruiting new civil servants or convincing old ones to come back is not easy. The Michigan Referee Committee sometimes offers incentives. This includes everything from waiving registration fees to covering uniform costs.
Douglas and Rice say that for the referee shortage to improve, coaches and parents must first improve.
“There has been a sort of general contempt for public servants for a long time… public servants are not treated properly,” Rice told 7 Action News.
“The ones who give up first are probably the worst, but we never give them a chance to get good… if we don’t start treating our umpires with kindness, you won’t get a umpire,” Douglas warns.
Douglas says the best training for umpires is on-the-job training. The head of the college says he expects to make mistakes at the start; it’s all part of the process.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association is looking for umpires 18 years of age and older. You must be out of high school.
The Michigan Referee Committee is looking for soccer referees. You only need to be 13 years old to apply. You can start online.
Due to the shortage, expect to be able to pick up additional games. On the other hand, extra games mean more money in your pocket.