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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.
There is a move afoot toward using 7 man officiating crews in the upper levels of the playoffs. Quite obviously, coverage by 7 is going to be better than coverage by 5. It would have to be limited to the upper levels, such as Regional and above, simply because there aren't enough qualified officials to go to 7 man crews in the sectionals. How do you feel about that? Such a plan is already in effect in a number of states. I can foresee 3 types of objections, from 3 different constituencies : The IHSAA/Schools: Obviously, nothing will happen without the IHSAA and schools being on board. Their objection might be an economic one. Remember, the state football tournament is the single most important source of revenue for the IHSAA, and once their operating costs are covered, surplus revenues are distributed to the schools. Adding 2 officials to each game from the Regional level onward will add (after making some reasonable assumptions about mileage expense) a bit over $9,000 to the cost of officiating the tournament. In other words, in terms of any surplus distribution to schools, it's less than $30 per school. That's less than the cost of one official working a freshman game. To me, that doesn't seem to be a serious objection. The Officials Believe it or not, some officials object to the idea. Those objections usually come from one of two places. Some officials object because we've worked with 5 officials all year long, and a switch to 7 requires learning some unfamiliar mechanics at a time when the games actually become more meaningful. It's true, there is a learning curve. But again, in my mind, this objection is unfounded. The last couple years the North-South game has used a 7 man crew, and it has worked just fine. Also, keep in mind that the officials working the upper levels of the playoffs are, by and large, the better officials in the state, and more able to quickly incorporate new mechanics. But most importantly, a change to 7 man means each official has fewer responsibilities, not more. The ability to focus on fewer things on a given play more than makes up for the relatively small changes in mechanics. Other officials may object because the process of selecting the 6th and 7th officials for a crew is an unknown. Crews have worked together as a unit all season - usually for several seasons. Engrafting two new members on the crew has implications for teamwork and chemistry. Again, in my mind, an insubstantial objection. There are many states where officials do not work as crews, but are assigned individually in both the regular season and in the playoffs. I am a firm believer in the crew concept. But any issues arising from adding two highly qualified officials to the crew are more than offset by the improved coverage, in my opinion. The real question is how the two get picked. Does the IHSAA assign them from some approved list they have generated? Does the crew chief get to pick two from his local association? Does the association itself have a role in assigning? All details that will have to be worked out, but none presenting obstacles that detract from the basic concept that 7 are better than 5. The Coaches Coaches represent the final obstacle, and it is, potentially, a formidable one. Simply put, there are coaches out there who believe, rather simplistically, that more officials = more flags. In fact, the opposite is often true. With 7 men instead of 5, each official's area of responsibility is reduced. This results in better looks at plays, which translates not into more fouls called, but better decisions about calls and no-calls. The fouls that get called are more likely to be justified, and the fouls that shouldn't be called don't get called because the covering official gets a better, longer, and more accurate look at the action. I believe my basketball official brethren can attest to this by analogizing to their experience when basketball moved from 2 to 3 officials. In summary, the potential objections to moving to 7 man crews in the upper levels of the playoffs are far outweighed by the advantages, in my opinion. And, there is also an additional potential benefit that could be significant. We have a huge problem in Indiana with a shortage of football officials. Part of that problem is retention of officials who work for awhile, then quit before they really have to. A significant part of that is caused by dissatisfaction with the playoff advancement system - which is heavily weighted against relative "newcomers" to the upper levels of the playoffs. Moving to 7 man at the Regional level puts 48 officials to work who would otherwise be sitting at home. Perhaps that taste of the bright lights will cause some officials who are tired of being mired at the sectional level to stick around longer. And we need every official we can get. What say ye?
Bills safety Aaron Williams expressed his displeasure with two officials on the Bills' game yesterday, after they "fist bumped" following replay's upholding of their call of a TD on a close goal line play.Then, he stood by his comments today. http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/12/08/buffalo-bills-aaron-williams-officials-fist-bump I'd like to know what people feel about this sort of thing. When my crew was together, we always made it a point to hold off on our traditional post game crew handshake and any sort of congratulatory stuff until we were in the locker room behind closed doors, where it couldn't be seen by coaches, players or fans. I'd like to know if anyone has a problem with this sort of thing ... and, if so, why you don't like it.