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.


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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

Relationships Between BMI and Self-Perception of Adequacy in and Enjoyment of Physical Activity in Youth Following a Physical Literacy Intervention

Authors: Brandi M. Eveland-Sayers1, Andy R. Dotterweich1, Alyson J. Chroust2, Abigail D. Daugherty3, and Kara L. Boynewicz4

1Department of Sport, Exercise, Recreation & Kinesiology, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee
2 Department of Psychology, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee
3Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 
4Physical Therapy Program, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee

Corresponding Author:
Andy R. Dotterweich
Sport, Exercise, Recreation and Kinesiology
PO Box 70671
Johnson City, TN 37601

Brandi Eveland-Sayers is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science at East Tennessee State University. Her research interests include physical literacy, exercise adherence in youth, and long-term athlete development.

Andy R. Dotterweich is a Professor of Exercise Science at East Tennessee State University.  His research interests include youth sport, recreation management and policy, physical activity, long-term athlete development, and community development.

Alyson Chroust is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at East Tennessee State University. Her research interests include infant and child development and visual cognition. Abigail Daugherty is a graduate student in Sport Psychology and Motor Behavior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Her research interests include the fidelity of virtual reality in a military training environment and long-term athlete development. Her professional interests include becoming a mental resilience trainer-performance expert within a tactical population.

Kara Boynewicz is an Assistant Professor in the Physical Therapy Department at East Tennessee State University.  She is a board certified pediatric physical therapy specialist with clinical experience of infants and children in a variety of settings including school, outpatient, and hospital.  Her research interests include early identification of children who are “at risk” for adverse childhood development, specifically in the realm of gross motor development and skill acquisition.

Relationships Between BMI and Self-Perception of Adequacy in and Enjoyment of Physical Activity in Youth Following a Physical Literacy Intervention 


Purpose: The purpose of this research was to examine the relationships between body mass index (BMI) and self-perception of adequacy in and enjoyment of physical activity in youth following implementation of a six-week physical literacy (PL) intervention. Methods: Students (n=92) in grades 2-5 completed the Children’s Self-Perceptions of Adequacy and Predilection for Physical Activity (CSAPPA) scale pre- and post-PL intervention. The PL intervention program consisted of a weekly, 30-minute program conducted by trained individuals during the school day. This program focused on the mechanics of running, jumping, and throwing. Height and weight were measured pre-intervention to calculate BMI using the Center for Disease Control’s Youth and Teen calculator. Results: A significant interaction between CSAPPA score and BMI category was found, F(1, 82) = 4.948, p < 0.05). Students in the abnormal BMI category post-PL intervention CSAPPA scores were higher than their pre-PL scores. Conclusion: Based on the results, PL programming seems favorable in improving self-perception of physical activity selection in children with abnormal BMIs. Previous research has shown that students who do not feel confident performing a task are less likely to participate. Following the trend of decreased exposure to physical activity during school, it is possible that students with unhealthy BMIs are not getting proper exposure to the mechanics of movement. This scenario may lead to less physical activity participation and increases in unhealthy BMI ranges. Applications in Sport Fitness and Health: By teaching children that they can move proficiently, children may increase self-perceptions of physical activity and make more active choices which may attenuate increasing BMI trends and lead to future sport participation.

2022-03-10T08:44:47-06:00March 11th, 2022|General, Sports Health & Fitness|Comments Off on Relationships Between BMI and Self-Perception of Adequacy in and Enjoyment of Physical Activity in Youth Following a Physical Literacy Intervention

Controlled but Autonomous: An examination of autonomy deficit in the pursuit of practice in sport

Authors: Joar Svensson1 and Scott Barnicle2

1Department of Sport Science, Halmstad University, Halmstad, Sweden
2College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Corresponding Author:
Scott Barnicle, PhD, CMPC
WVU – College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences
375 Birch Street
Morgantown, WV, 26505

Joar Svensson is a graduate student in sport and exercise psychology at Halmstad University in Halmstad, Sweden. His primary research interest is in self-determination theory and is continuing to expand his research interests as part of his graduate work.

Scott Barnicle, PhD, CMPC, is the program coordinator and teaching assistant professor in the Sport and Exercise Psychology program at West Virginia University. His research interests are in the areas of sport enjoyment, applied mental skills training, and teaching methods in the field of sport and exercise psychology.

Controlled but Autonomous: An examination of autonomy deficit in the pursuit of practice in sport


Self-determination theory posits three basic psychological needs, competence, relatedness, and autonomy (6). Autonomy is defined as being the perceived origin or source of one’s own behavior (2). The limits of this perception have not yet been tested. The current study set out to investigate whether athletes could be controlled while still feeling autonomous. A questionnaire about level of control and perception of autonomy was created. Participants were recruited (N=39) and answered the questionnaire. Results indicated that level of control over the sport and autonomy was significantly negatively correlated whereas control over practice and autonomy had no significant correlation. Athletes in controlling sports could therefore need extra autonomy support to satisfy their needs. As no significant correlations were found between control over practice and autonomy, practice sessions could possibly be very controlling without any major ramifications. The factors influencing this relationship need further investigation in differing sports and populations.

2020-11-20T15:34:34-06:00November 10th, 2020|General, Research|Comments Off on Controlled but Autonomous: An examination of autonomy deficit in the pursuit of practice in sport

Are NBA Players Paid to Perform in the Clutch?

Authors: Kevin Sigler

Corresponding Author:
Kevin Sigler, PhD
601 College Road
Department of Economics and Finance
Cameron School of Business
UNC Wilmington
Wilmington, NC 28403

Kevin Sigler is Professor of Finance in the Cameron School of Business, UNC Wilmington

Are NBA Players Paid to Perform in the Clutch?


The star players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) are paid extremely well.  In the 2018-19 season there were 60 players in the NBA that were paid $17 million or more for their services.  Stephen Curry was the highest paid at $37.5 million (Table 1).  LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook tied for second at salaries of $35.7 million (1).  This study examines if the highest 60 paid NBA players are compensated for performing in the clutch.  The research finds that the pay for the sample of highly paid NBA players is related to their field goal percentage and to assists to other players during the last four minutes of close games when the score is within five points.  Their pay is tied significantly to field goal attempts in the last minute of close games as well.  It appears from the results that NBA organizations reward players who at the end of close games make shots, are able to handle the ball, and set up their teammates to score as well as be willing to take shots in the last minute of tightly contested games.

2020-02-19T09:49:46-06:00February 28th, 2020|General|Comments Off on Are NBA Players Paid to Perform in the Clutch?

Branding in women’s sports: A literature review

Authors: Isabell Mills

Corresponding Author:
Isabell Mills, PhD
1400 E Hanna Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46227

Isabell Mills is an assistant professor of sport management
at the University of Indianapolis. Her research areas are sport and fitness

Branding in women’s sports: A literature review


The purpose of this study was to explore the gaps in the branding literature as it pertains to women’s sports. The review included 11 articles from sport management and business journals, investigating personal branding, team branding, and media coverage. Additionally, the review explored the practical implications as well as avenues of future research (i.e., conceptual model).


2020-06-02T12:04:47-05:00November 22nd, 2019|General, Sports Marketing, Women and Sports|Comments Off on Branding in women’s sports: A literature review
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