The Real Cause of Losing Sports Officials

Authors: Matthew J Williams D.S.M., M.B.A. M.S.

Department of Education, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Wise, VA, USA

Corresponding Author:

Dr. Matthew Williams
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise
2001 Greenbriar Drive
Bristol, VA 24202

Matthew J. Williams D.S.M., M.B.A., M.S., is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. His areas of research interest include NASCAR, COVID-19, college athletics, professional sports, and sport management issues..

The Real Cause of Losing Sports Officials



Recreational Sports, Junior Highschool Sports, and Highschool Sports are witnessing across all types of sports a decline in sports officials. Athletic directors in all three levels have seen a steadily declined in sports officials in the last twenty years. But since the COVID-19 Pandemic, the lack of sports officials has increased so rapidly that it could eventually become a nationwide crisis. The pandemic may have caused the decline of sports officials but it was not the only cause. The age of the sports officials has played a role in the decline of the sport’s officials. But the true main cause of losing sports officials has been the lack of respect for the sport’s officials through the behavior of players, coaches, family members, and sports fans.

Keywords Sports Officials, Players, Coaches, Fans, COVID-19 Pandemic, Respect.


Recreational Sports, Junior High School Sports, and High School Sports are all witnessing a lack of sports officials all across the United States. There are so many theories out there on why we are losing sports officials so rapidly. If you have attended a sporting event lately and looked at the sports officials, a constant trend you will witness is the sports officials’ increasing ages and the lack of sports officials that are able to cover the sporting events. The repercussions of the lack of sports officials are already being felt. What is the true reason we are losing sports officials? Did COVID-19 Pandemic play a role in the loss of sports officials, the current age of sports officials, or the constant verbal abuse or threats to sports officials?


Even before the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Virus, it was apparent to recreational athletic directors, and athletic directors at both junior high and high school that they were already seeing a steady decline in sports officials across the United States over the past decade. The scarcity of officials is a long-running problem in high school sports. (6) From the 2018-19 school year to 2021-22, 32 of 38 states reporting statistics have seen registration numbers of officials drop, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations data. (1) Over the last decade, there has been a steady decline in the amount of referees available. In 2018, the Michigan High School Athletic Association reported that amount of referees available dropped from 12,400 to around 10,000 over the previous decade. (11)

The start of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the spring of 2020 forced a majority of recreational sports, junior high and high school sports across the United States to cease operations and shut down all games until further notice. This action of shutting down all games caused some officials to walk away from officiating. Simply because there were no games for the sports officials to work. As a result of the shutdown, officials had a chance to evaluate if they wanted to return to officiating. So many sports officials did not return to officiate games because of numerous reasons in the fall of 2020 or the spring of 2021. The Alabama High School Athletic Association is working hard to recruit and retain officials in all sports after losing more than 1,000 after the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020. (2) Washington said the association lost more than 1,100 officials after the COVID-19 shutdown. (2)

In the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, some of the COVID-19 Pandemic restrictions were lifted and sports returned to somewhat normalcy. However, some officials decided not to return to officiating simply because of their age. There is a concern by some the impact of COVID-19 might hasten the retirement of older officials. (8)

The average age of the sports official was between 45 and 60 and it played a major role in the sports officials’ decision either to continue to be sports officials or not to be a sports official. Officials tend to be near or beyond retirement age the median age for a football referee is 56, according to the National Association of Sports Officials survey. (6) 77% of current officials are over the age of 45, with slightly more than half over the age of 55. (12)

The average age of the sports officials was at least 45 or older during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The COVID-19 Pandemic forced some older sports officials to choose not to return to officiating because simply of the underlying healthcare issues from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Some officials chose not to work during the pandemic because of health/safety concerns, and some of them chose not to return at all. (17) “In talking to some of the state directors, many of these losses are people who were probably on the brink of retirement, and then COVID kind of forced the issue,” explains Dana Pappas, NFHS director of officiating services. (15) The pandemic has also pushed a growing number of referees out, with officials leaving out of fear of getting sick. (16)

During the fall of 2021, some governors across the United States mandated that state employees must be fully vaccinated to prevent and/or limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This mandate forced many officials to choose whether to get the COVID-19 vaccination or not get the COVID-19 vaccination. If the sport’s official chose not to take the COVID-19 vaccination due to fears of the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccination or for religious beliefs, they would be banned from officiating junior high school and/or high school games. This mandate forced many officials to stop officiating resulting in a smaller pool of available officials to officiate games. “We already have a shortage of officials, not just in football but other sports,” Weber said”. “That (vaccine requirement) will reduce our numbers, based on what we’re hearing from our officials.” (3) The COVID-19 Pandemic resulted in some officials deciding not to return to officiating, creating an already smaller pool of available officials to officiate games. COVID-19 accelerated the problem, without question. (9)

Today’s parents are more invested financially than ever in their children’s sports careers. Parents are financially supporting their children’s sports careers through travel teams, summer leagues, specialized camps, personal training, and individual lessons. In the hopes that their child will either be drafted into professional sports or earn a college scholarship. Parents being so financially invested has caused an explosion of verbal abuse or threats toward officials from parents. Parents want the best outcomes for their children and are not afraid to voice their opinion to officials either by verbal abuse or threatening officials. Barrett theorized that the rise of travel teams in baseball —not to mention AAU teams in basketball and specialized camps for young football players — has caused parents to feel much more invested in their kids’ athletic careers, both financially and emotionally. (9) The parents feel more emboldened now than ever and are not afraid to voice their opinion verbally toward officials due to the fact they are so financially invested in their children’s sports careers. The parents feel strongly that they deserve the best officials to call the games because they have invested so much financially. “Parents have this sense of entitlement,” Barrett said. “They’re paying so much money, they think they should have better umpires.” (9) “These parents have this mentality of. ‘We pay all this money and travel all this way we expect the best, and referees can’t make mistakes.’ It’s based on society saying it’s okay to yell at people in public if they’re not giving you what they want. It’s asinine.” (13) “The problem is that, as parents spend more time and money on children’s sports, families are “coming to these sporting events with professional-level expectations,” said Jerry Reynolds, a professor of social work at Ball State University who studies the dynamics of youth sports and parent behavior. (7)

Aggressive behavior of abuse toward officials from coaches, players, parents, and fans started well before the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. “Before COVID, I felt like this behavior was reaching its peak,” Barlow said. (13) The aggressive behavior toward officials did not stop after the COVID-19 Pandemic was over. But some feel that the abuse of officials has increased resulting in the loss of more officials. Society of today has now become a custom of unruly behavior toward officials, players, and fans. The old saying, I paid my general admission ticket, gives me the right to berate an official, an opposing player, or a coach. This mentality has allowed more aggressiveness toward officials. Parents, coaches, and fans are increasingly aggressive toward officials. (4) People have had seemingly free license to scream, taunt and hurl insults at sporting events — acting out in ways they never would at work, the grocery store, or the dentists office. (14)

Officials have had enough of this type of abusive behavior, which is a major reason why we are losing officials so quickly. No official wants to be verbally abused, harassed, or threatened. Such unruly behavior is the driving force, referees say, behind a nationwide shortage of youth sports officials. (7) We have had the problem of losing officials because of the lack of respect toward officials from parents, family members, and fans well before the COVID-19 Pandemic. The shortfall has persisted for years, as rowdy parents, coaches, and players have created a toxic environment that has driven referees away and hampered the recruitment of new ones, referees say. (7)

The coaches, athletes, parents, family members, and fans of today no longer value or demand sportsmanlike behavior. We now accept unsportsmanlike behavior. Which consists of disrespect or lack of respect for officials through verbal abuse, threats, or harassment. Because we are accepting and allowing this type of behavior from coaches, athletes, parents family members, and fans. This is one of the main reasons why we are losing so many sports officials. “The un-sportsman like conduct of coaches, as well as some parents put people off and they don’t want to come back, they don’t want to return. They get yelled at during their days at work,” added Gittelson. (5) The shortage of officials in high school – and middle school – sports has been a growing concern for several years – in large part due to unsportsmanlike behavior by parents and other adult fans. (10)


The lack of sports officials is becoming a critical situation that recreational athletic directors, junior high school, and high school athletic directors will be facing in the coming years. Some sports officials are deciding to retire because of their age or knowing that their bodies can no longer keep pace with the speed of the game that they are officiating. This is creating a smaller pool of officials from the standpoint that the average age of the sport’s official is at least 45.

The COVID-19 pandemic did play somewhat of a role in reducing of sports officials that we are in right now. The pandemic brought health scares and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations to some sports officials resulting in these officials making the decision to not return to officiating. But the real cause of the shortage of sports officials is simply the respect that is not given to the sports official by coaches, parents, family members, and fans. The behavior from coaches, parents, family members, and fans of yelling at sports officials, questioning sports officials’ calls, threats of violence towards sports officials, cursing at sports events, and even battery towards sports officials is out of control. No sports official wants to deal with this type of behavior at all nor should this type of behavior be allowed. This is the main reason why we are seeing the pool of sports officials becoming smaller. State legislation, superintendents of schools, principals of schools, and county commissioners need to address this issue of out-of-control behavior toward sports officials. If they do not, we will witness games being canceled, cancellation of seasons, and drastic pay increases that will be demanded by sports officials for the abuse.


  1. Aldam, W. (2022, July 30). Why number of high school officials is declining in Connecticut and what’s being done to fix it. Retrieved from CT Insider:,abuse%20from%20fans%20and%20coaches.%E2%80%9D
  2. Anonymous. (2022, August 16). AHSAA trying to replace more than 1,000 high school sports officials. Retrieved from
  3. Arnold, G. C. (2021, September 21). Shortage of high school sports officials expected to worsen as Oregon’s vaccination mandate approaches. Retrieved from The Oregonian:
  4. Davis Jr., M. A. (2021, November 5). No refs, no games: Can people play nice? Retrieved from The Christian Science Monitor:
  5. De La Fe, R. (2022, August 20). Nationwide referee shortage impacting hgh school and youth sports. Retrieved from CBS8:,moved%20to%20Thursdays%20and%20Saturdays.
  6. Keilman, J. (2021, August 10). Friday night slights: referees, feeling unappreciated, underpaid and unnerved by COVID-19, are fleeing high school football and other youth sports. Retrieved from gmtoday:
  7. Medina, E. (2022, April 21). Bad Behavior Drove a Referee Shortage. Covid Made It Worse. . Retrieved from New York Times:
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  9. Newberry, P. (2022, April 23). Column: Amid increasing abuse, officials flee youth sports. Retrieved from The Bulletin:
  10. Niehoff, K. (2021, September 1). Poor Sportsmanship, Pandemic Contributing to Shortage of Officials . Retrieved from National Federation of State High School Associations:,-By%20Dr.&text=As%20high%20schools%20begin%20a,to%20officiate%20all
  11. Purcell, J. (2022, January 10). High school referee shortage ‘as bad as it’s been’ as COVID-19 continues to impact Metro Detroit. Retrieved from Michigan Live:
  12. Saunders, C. (2023, February 2). Shortage of local sports officials in ‘a crisis mode’. Retrieved from The Outer Banks Voice:,dealing%20with%20increasingly%20bad%20behavior.
  13. Solomon, J. (2022, April 15). Roughing Up the Refs: Abusive Behavior is Driving Youth Sports Officials Away From the Game. Retrieved from Global Sports Matter:
  14. Stanmyre, M. (2022, March 29). It’s never been uglier on N.J. sports fields as bad behavior explodes. Retrieved from
  15. Thiede, D. (2022, August 18). SportsLife: Officials shortage impacting youth, high school sports. Retrieved from Kare 11:,year%20unaffected%20by%20the%20pandemic.
  16. Voigt, K. (2021, December 5). Youth sports referees are quitting in droves due to a toxic combination of abuse from coaches and parents, low salaries, and COVID-19. Retrieved from iSport360:
  17. Woelfel, R. (2022, July 15). Why is there a Shortage of Officials? Retrieved from Stack:
2024-02-15T12:01:06-06:00February 16th, 2024|Contemporary Sports Issues, General, Sports Coaching, Sports Management, Sports Studies|Comments Off on The Real Cause of Losing Sports Officials

BOOK REVIEW: Digital Sport Marketing: Concepts, Cases, and Conversations

Authors: Chenghao Ma

School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China

Corresponding Author:

Chenghao Ma
2001 Longxiang Blvd.,
Shenzhen, China 518172

Chenghao Ma is now at the School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.

BOOK REVIEW: Digital Sport Marketing: Concepts, Cases and Conversations

Seymour, A., & Blakey, P. (2021). Digital Sport Marketing: Concepts, Cases, and Conversations. Routledge.

2024-01-19T13:36:38-06:00December 22nd, 2023|Book REview, Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Management|Comments Off on BOOK REVIEW: Digital Sport Marketing: Concepts, Cases, and Conversations

BOOK REVIEW: Playing through the pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever

Authors: Barrett Snyder

West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA

Corresponding Author:

Barrett Snyder
PO Box 128
West Chester, PA 484-889-7321

Barrett Snyder is a WCUPA graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Exercise Science with a specialization in Sports Psychology

BOOK REVIEW: Playing through the pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever

Good, D. (2022). Playing through the pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever. Abrams Press.

2024-01-19T13:34:41-06:00December 15th, 2023|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Management|Comments Off on BOOK REVIEW: Playing through the pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever

Restructuring NFL Ownership, A New Way Forward

Authors: R. Matthew Hedges1, David Hughes2

1School of Continuing Studies, Sports Industry Management, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA
2School of Continuing Studies, Sports Industry Management, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA

Corresponding Author:

R. Matthew Hedges, MPS
295 Durham St.
Unit F
Lake Oswego, Oregon 97034

1R. Matthew Hedges, MPS, is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and studied Sports Industry Management. In light of the current sports franchise ownership market and the lack of diversity thereof, Hedges’ interest includes finding a pathway to a more inclusive sports ownership structure.

2David C. Hughes, Ph.D., M.Ed., is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies. His specialties include esports, diversity, equity, and inclusion within sports management, and sports technology.

Restructuring NFL Ownership, A New Way Forward


Racial discrimination still exists in the NFL today. What has been referred to as a modern-day plantation, NFL franchises have insufficient diversity at the ownership level as well as in the top front office positions. NFL franchise owners have illimitable power and are averse to a 21st-century progressive society. The league is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that is owned and operated by 32 franchise owners. Although the NFL is the behemoth of the sports industry, there are ingrained systemic issues. Instead of putting a band-aid on a bullet wound, the NFL must address the diversity concerns with strategic initiatives to overcome the deficiencies. A comprehensive top-down structural reformation is required to alter the ownership level. With the introduction of private equity funds, amending the Rooney Rule to include limited partners, and modifying the relationship between NFL franchises and their respective local governments, diversity within senior executives will advance. While the 32 owners have tightly held the reins of the league, a revolution must transpire.

Key Words: NFL Ownership, Diversity in the Workplace, Social Reform, Private Equity, Rooney Rule, Equal Opportunity

2023-04-27T16:37:15-05:00April 28th, 2023|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on Restructuring NFL Ownership, A New Way Forward

Pay to Play in the NCAA: A Data Driven Playbook on How to Compensate Athletes

Author: Cameron Van, J.D.

Contributing Author:
Cameron Van, J.D.
University of California, Davis School of Law, Davis CA

400 Mrak Hall Drive, Davis, CA 95616
Phone Number: (650) 740-2235

Cameron Van is a recent UC Davis School of Law Graduate with a focus on the intersection of business and the law.


This article offers the NCAA a reputable, repeatable, and reasonable formula for a student-athlete revenue scheme that will ensure its competitive edge in an ever-encroaching market. The NCAA uses amateurism to restrict artificially the compensation of student athletes’ compensation to “cost of tuition,” at best. It is precisely this reason that more athletes are finding alternative ways to capitalize on their talents. As a result, this amateurism scheme is not Pareto Efficient. Pareto efficiency is reached when a situation cannot be modified in a way that would have one party better off without making another party worse off. Notably, Pareto efficiency does not imply equality, equity, or fairness, rather simply that there could be no economic changes that would better off the overall system. Here, this article explores a rare occurrence where the system can be made both more efficient and equal by increasing the supply of revenue generators – the athletes. This article will build upon Stocz formula for deriving a student-athlete’s salary, as well as give examples of what such a salary would look like for said athletes.

2020-07-16T11:29:28-05:00October 16th, 2020|Contemporary Sports Issues, Research|Comments Off on Pay to Play in the NCAA: A Data Driven Playbook on How to Compensate Athletes
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