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bobref

Retention of Officials: A Bold Proposal

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I know there a lot of coaches on the GID, many who don't post but simply follow what others are saying. This is for all high school football fans, but especially for you coaches. It's a little wordy, but I think it's really important.

It is now clear that there is a crisis in football officiating. Here in the Region, we have moved some games to Thursday night, and in some cases worked varsity games with a crew of 4 instead of 5, all because the numbers in the officiating ranks are decreasing past the critical level. There are two reasons for this. First, we are not recruiting young officials well enough. There are many reasons for that, and I’ll address them in a future post. But the second reason is that we are not retaining officials. Young officials work a few years, but then they get out of officiating long before age forces them to do so. Some of this is inevitable, as job and family situations change, and make demands on our time. But some of it is for reasons that are within our control.

 

Coaches realize this, and are generally supportive of efforts to address this crisis. Many have asked me “what can I do?” Well, I’ve got a bold proposal for you that will go part of the way toward addressing the retention problem:  Give up the coaches’ vote.

 

For those that don’t know, officiating assignments and advancement in the playoff is largely determined by the annual coaches’ vote. Technically, the coaches’ vote accounts for 50% of a crew’s “score,” by which advancement in the playoffs is determined, Practically speaking, the coaches’ vote accounts for more like 90%, as the other factors that go into the score, such as meeting attendance, certification, completion of the rules test, etc., are pretty easily controlled and are almost the same for every official.

 

Officials leave the ranks for a variety of reasons, but clearly one of them is dissatisfaction with their prospects for advancement. We all understand that almost everyone thinks their crew is better than it really is – officials have the same human biases as anyone else – but it is also clear that the coaches’ vote doesn’t work well. In fairness, by the time you get to the semistates and state finals, the cream has usually risen to the top. But where the rubber meets the road for younger officials is getting to that first sectional final, or finally advancing to the regional level. And it’s there that the system breaks down. It’s there that the most disappointment and disillusionment occurs. And it’s there that we are losing officials who say “what’s the point of all this hard work when we never move up, but crews that don’t work as hard as us do?” I assure you, this problem is very real. Any system of evaluation must, in order to actually work, not only be objectively fair, but must also be perceived as fair by those who are being evaluated. The coaches’ vote process fails this test miserably and is, therefore, almost universally perceived as illegitimate by officials.

 

Why doesn’t the coaches’ vote system work? There are many reasons, and I should mention at the outset very clearly, in most cases, it’s through no fault of the coaches. They are asked to do an impossible job. The standards they are given for rating crews are impossibly vague. They have no training in officiating. Most coaches don’t know the rules as well as even an inexperienced official. Even the best coaches do not understand officiating mechanics, nor are they schooled in the philosophy behind rules enforcement. They are simply not trained in these aspects of officiating, which really make the difference between a good crew and an excellent one. It’s unfair to ask coaches to do something they are not equipped to do, as if they didn’t already have enough on their plates.

 

The coaches’ vote also doesn’t work because coaches are not objective … nor can we reasonably expect them to be. For the 25+ years I served as a crew chief, I solicited written feedback from coaches after every game, supplying a form to the coaches for that purpose, and then tracked the results. It was crystal clear that the winning coach had a very different appraisal of the job we had done when compared with the losing coach. This is not particularly surprising, but simply provided objective evidence that the system is ineffective in providing an accurate assessment of officiating proficiency.

 

Further, when coaches cast their annual vote, they are encouraged to restrict the vote to crews they have seen in the last 3 seasons, but not required to do so. The crews are identified by the name of the referee, but no allowance is made for turnover in the other positions on the crew. Nor is a coach required by the IHSAA to cast a vote for every crew that he has seen over that 3-year period. This introduces a selection bias into the process that any first-year statistics student could tell you invalidates the result.

 

So, if it is clear … and it is hard to see how it could be any more obvious … that the coaches’ vote is not a valid way to select officials and advance them through the levels of the tournament, and if it is also clear that officials’ disenchantment with the process leads some of them to leave officiating before they would otherwise have to, what’s the answer? It’s both simple, and complicated.

 

The simple answer is to have officials evaluated by people who are objective and well-trained in how to evaluate officiating expertise: other officials. This may not eliminate officials' disenchantment with their own ratings, but it will at least give the process much needed legitimacy. The complexity comes in how you go about it. The IHSAA has an observer program right now. There are some issues with it, but it’s clearly a valid concept and those issues can be fixed with a few adjustments. The main problem with the current observer program is it counts for very little. Basically, a crew might be observed one or two times a year. Each observation counts no more than a single coaches’ vote ballot. So, if a crew is observed twice, and gets 35 coaches’ votes (not an unrealistic number by any means), the IHSAA drops out their two highest and two lowest votes, and then averages the rest. The observers’ votes, which are the only ones really qualified to assess officiating proficiency, get diluted accordingly. The longer a crew has been around, the more likely they are to get a high number of coaches’ votes and, thus, their observer votes are diluted even more. That’s why you see some (not very many) crews working semistates and state finals whose chief virtue is they’ve been around a long time.

 

In conclusion, I believe one step on the long road to better retention of our younger officials is to do away with the coaches’ vote. The impetus to do so can come from only one place: the coaches themselves. The IHSAA is a member institution. Officials are not members. Schools are. If the Indiana Football Coaches Association were to go to the IHSAA and tell them that the coaches’ vote should be eliminated and a full-fledged observer program instituted, it would happen very quickly. So, the next time a coach asks you what he can do to help alleviate the shortage of qualified football officials, you have a ready answer.

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I like this plan.  And you, bobref, could become the commissioner of this full-fledged observer program.

 

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1 minute ago, Muda69 said:

I like this plan.  And you, bobref, could become the commissioner of this full-fledged observer program.

 

Ha! The IHSAA might have something to say about that. :14_v:

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I think this is a great idea and I'm all for this...but I could only imagine how this would go over at our next region meeting. I have the feeling a lot of other coaches, especially the older ones, would feel like their voice would be taken away and they would be stuck with (what they view as) bad officials. That maybe a flaw in the coaches culture that we (coaches) should have a say over officiating. Coaches are kiiiinda control freaks...:13_v:

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12 minutes ago, Starbacker said:

What is the age to be an official?  21?

I believe that anyone who is out of high school can get a license.

1 minute ago, Veechy63 said:

I think this is a great idea and I'm all for this...but I could only imagine how this would go over at our next region meeting. I have the feeling a lot of other coaches, especially the older ones, would feel like their voice would be taken away and they would be stuck with (what they view as) bad officials. That maybe a flaw in the coaches culture that we (coaches) should have a say over officiating. Coaches are kiiiinda control freaks...:13_v:

I fully understand that. It would require coaches to accept 2 propositions. First, that a true observer program administered by the IHSAA can do a better job of identifying qualified officials than coaches can. Secondly, that during the regular season, coaches still have a modicum of control over who works their games by providing input to their own ADs, conference assignor, etc. Those don’t seem terribly controversial to me. The fact is, coaches have virtually no control over who they see in the playoffs now. 

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Personally, I think it would be great. One less thing for coaches to have to worry about. Let the experts handle it. You should start the crusade to make this happen Bob. In a way you already have by putting it on the GID for the world to see.

Edited by Veechy63

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1 minute ago, Veechy63 said:

Personally, I think it would be great. One less thing for coaches to have to worry about. Let the experts handle it. You should start the crusade to make this happen Bob. In a way you already have by putting it on the GID for the world to see.

The IFOA has been trying to lead the IHSAA in this direction for 10 years. Nothing will happen unless the coaches get behind it. Just like the success factor and the creation of 6A.

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Bob:  How do you think the weekend hudl exchange with IFOA has been?   

I know I have not missed a week in 3 years and I hope it brings great value to your profession 

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I can tell you we get about 55-60% of the games each week and share them with the crew that worked. There are 10-15 schools each year that provide a video each week and you are definitely one of them. Off the top of my head Madison is another that is very consistent. There are usually about 50 schools that never submit video. We provided the data to the IFCA last year. Our crew got every game this year, but I had to follow up with the coaches in all but 2 or 3 instances. They usually responded quickly so I know it was oversight, but it should be automatic by now. We've been doing this for 4 years. Thank you for your participation!

 

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The larger problem is with young guys/crews starting out gaining 3-4 years of sub-varsity work--but then finding miniscule opportunity to even break into varsity. Can't blame the current varsity guys for working a full regular season schedule, as it''s only 9 Fridays--but when additionally most schedule 3-4-5 years out, there are barely crumbs for anyone else wanting to break in.

Edited by Stoner

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17 minutes ago, Stoner said:

The larger problem is with young guys/crews starting out gaining 3-4 years of sub-varsity work--but then finding miniscule opportunity to even break into varsity. Can blame the varsity guys for working a full regular season schedule, as it''s only 9 Fridays--but when additionally most schedule 3-4-5 years out, there are barely crumbs for anyone else wanting to break in.

Ahhh...a big problem....the schools scheduling 4-5 years out.   Let's say myself and 2 other experienced officials want to start a crew, and we get 2 good younger guys to go with us.....there are no games out there to get for 4-years, unless you hit the IFOA list of games with no officials.....and you want to travel 2-3 hours to get these games.  Without a fairly full schedule, you get marked down for playoffs....so why would a new crew start?   You want new crews, fresh blood....limit contracts to 2 years in advance.   That would also help with the double booking and the crews breaking up and AD's not knowing until the week of a game.   This...is a problem.

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All good on paper, but reality is a different view.  Where do all of these “observers” come from and who is “paying” them to observe?  Officials, just like coaches, come in all different sizes and shapes.  Not every HS football official is qualified to be a tournament official.  And not all HS officials are qualified to work tournament rounds past a sectional.  I agree that age and experience plays way too big of a factor in terms of advancement, but I would also argue that experience and age also make for “usually” a better officiated game.  I honestly think the problem with the officials’ shortage is comparable to the shortage of “qualified” head coaches in the state.  The age that we live in is an instant gratification era.  People want to get to the top right away, without ever “earning their stripes” coming up through.  I think a lot of young officials think they should move up quickly, work sectional final games and above within 2-3 years of officiating, and expect greatness without ever earning it.  I have all the respect in the world for officials and what they do...just my 2 cents!

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Completely agree Bobref! We have several guys in our area that are leaving their crews out of frustration with the coaches vote. The fact that any school can vote for your crew and have never, ever worked a game for them before is wrong! It has just become a popularity contest and like a political campaign to kiss asses to not tick any coaches off because you get worried about your vote.  I think this is a good reason that coaches gripe at crews that enforce the rules that coaches don’t agree with (sideline restricted area and the pants covering the knees and other uniform/equipment issues) because other crews don’t enforce it because they don’t want to ruffle the coaches feathers because it all goes back to the almighty vote and not calling the game as it should be called. That makes it hard for the crews on a week to week basis when us as crews can’t and won’t call the game consistently 

Edited by backjudge28
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You understand that coaches can and do watch/evaluate officials on film don’t you?  Sometimes film is more telling than having a crew in real life.  Officials do not like to be criticized/evaluated poorly period.  

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You actually think coaches watch film of officials other than their games? That’s the furthest from what they are worried about. 

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10 hours ago, Stoner said:

The larger problem is with young guys/crews starting out gaining 3-4 years of sub-varsity work--but then finding miniscule opportunity to even break into varsity. Can't blame the current varsity guys for working a full regular season schedule, as it''s only 9 Fridays--but when additionally most schedule 3-4-5 years out, there are barely crumbs for anyone else wanting to break in.

 

10 hours ago, SPARKS said:

Ahhh...a big problem....the schools scheduling 4-5 years out.   Let's say myself and 2 other experienced officials want to start a crew, and we get 2 good younger guys to go with us.....there are no games out there to get for 4-years, unless you hit the IFOA list of games with no officials.....and you want to travel 2-3 hours to get these games.  Without a fairly full schedule, you get marked down for playoffs....so why would a new crew start?   You want new crews, fresh blood....limit contracts to 2 years in advance.   That would also help with the double booking and the crews breaking up and AD's not knowing until the week of a game.   This...is a problem.

I'm not sure where you guys are but this is not the case up north. I know of well established crew that had to take a basically new guy last year and then turn around and get another brand new never worked a game before guy this year and they had big games right out of the gate. There are games everywhere, I could start a brand new, fresh crew right now and have a full schedule by the end of the weekend. 

This has been like this for many years also. For the last 10-12 years guys have been working less then one year and getting on varsity crews. Also I'm not sure just starting a brand new drag out of the gate crew is the right thing to do but that's a different debate. 

Edited by Huge football fan

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4 hours ago, SagamoreSage said:

You understand that coaches can and do watch/evaluate officials on film don’t you?  Sometimes film is more telling than having a crew in real life.  Officials do not like to be criticized/evaluated poorly period.  

Evaluate on what criteria? Cosches don't know mechanics? Coaches don't really know the rules. Officials are way harder on themselves then any coach or fan could ever be. To miss a call, or not move and be in the right position to make a call is a terrible feelings. To have a negative impact on a game can make an official sick to his stomach. I would like to hear this evaluation process you speak of. 

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10 hours ago, SagamoreSage said:

You understand that coaches can and do watch/evaluate officials on film don’t you?  Sometimes film is more telling than having a crew in real life.  Officials do not like to be criticized/evaluated poorly period.  

I honestly don’t know whether they do or not. But assuming you’re correct and they do, that does nothing about the issue of whether they are actually qualified to do so. If you’re not properly trained to evaluate officials, it doesn’t matter whether you do it live or from video.

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I remember our referee was not popular so we made our linesman the crew chief, so a new name appeared on ballots. We did see an improvement in our rating even though the crew was the same.

Another time we were honored to work chains at the state finals. However, on the field was a longtime crew, but the back judge was working his first state title game in his first year refereeing football.

No grudges about it, just two examples of how the setup is flawed.

Dan

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