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:
  8. Miller, M. (2023, June 2). Return to Play Concerns for Youth and High School Sports Officials. Retrieved from SportsEngine:
  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

Strikes, Pins, Gutter Balls, and…Maps: A Review of the Spatial Geography of NCAA Women’s Bowling

Authors: David F. Zinn

College of Business, Lander University, Greenwood, South Carolina, USA

Corresponding Author:

David F. Zinn
Assistant Professor of Sport Management
Lander University
College of Business
Carnell Learning Center, M54
320 Stanley Ave.
Greenwood, SC 29649
(864) 388-8220

David F. Zinn, EdD, currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Sport Management and the NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative at Lander University. A former NCAA Women’s Basketball Coach and Athletic Director, Zinn’s major research interests include global sport, sport geography, sport leadership, and intercollegiate sport.

Strikes, Pins, Gutter Balls, and…Maps: A Review of the Spatial Geography of NCAA Women’s Bowling



Spatial geography is important to the understanding of any human activity as this field helps to determine where and why specific activities occur and flourish. As proximity to campus and access to sport opportunity are important determinants in college choice, the spatial relationship between campuses and hometowns are important components in the marketing of programs to potential recruits. The intent of this study is to examine the geography of Women’s Bowling, a relatively unstudied and newer NCAA championship sport, in terms of the locations of institutions sponsoring the sport and the relationship with hometowns of student-athletes on current rosters.


Rosters for women’s bowlers participating in the 2023 season were downloaded from team athletic websites and distances from reported hometowns and campuses were calculated via Google Maps to provide an approximate distance from a student-athlete’s home to the institution for whom they compete. Distances to hometowns were averaged per team and by NCAA division to determine relative distance to campus and states where bowling recruits tended to originate.


Data from the 2023 season indicated that the sport of Women’s Bowling is highly geographical in nature. While bowlers were willing to attend an institution further away from their hometown at the Division I level as compared to Division II and III institutions, most bowlers tend to commit to programs relatively close to their hometowns. Additionally, data suggests that large percentages of these athletes are from areas located in a relatively small section of the USA.


Spatial geography plays an impactful role in both the sponsoring of women’s bowling and in the recruitment of student-athletes into these programs. Data suggests that, with a few exceptions, the further a school is located from the Great Lakes area, the fewer collegiate programs and the fewer potential student-athletes exist. Additionally, participants in the lower levels of NCAA competition tend to commit to schools much closer to their listed hometown than those who play on an NCAA I team.

Applications in Sport

The findings of this study may prove beneficial to administrators considering adding Women’s Bowling to their offerings and to coaches who are looking for prime recruiting areas to develop their teams. Also, as most of these teams are located at smaller colleges and universities, this data may prove beneficial in considering how limited resources might be best allocated.

Keywords: Bowling, Distance, Geography, Location, Spatial

2024-01-25T11:18:15-06:00January 26th, 2024|Sports Management, Sports Studies|Comments Off on Strikes, Pins, Gutter Balls, and…Maps: A Review of the Spatial Geography of NCAA Women’s Bowling

Line of Efforts: Unity of Purposes for Professionals Working with Elite Athletics

Authors: Matt Moore1, Keegan Atherton2, and Cindy Miller-Aron3

1Department of Family Science and Social Work, Miami University, Oxford, OH, USA
2School of Education and Human Sciences, Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC, USA
3Ascend Consultation in Healthcare, Chicago, IL, USA

Corresponding Author:

Matt Moore, Ph.D., MSW
501 E. High Street
Oxford, OH 45056

Matt Moore, Ph.D., MSW, is an Associate Professor and Department Chair for the Department of Family Science and Social Work at Miami University in Oxford, OH. His research interests focus on sport social work, sport for development, and positive youth development through sport.

Keegan Atherton is a BSW student at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC. He has a decorated military career with the United States Air Force.

Cindy Miller-Aron, LCSW, CGP, FAGPA, works for Ascend Consultation in Chicago, IL. She is several decades of clinical social work experience with an emphasis in sport social work and psychiatric care.

Line of Efforts: Unity of Purposes for Professionals Working with Elite Athletics


The purpose of this commentary is to explore how military practices can help provide holistic care for the biopsychosocial well-being of elite athletes. In particular, authors explore how Joint Doctrine related to Lines of Efforts (LOEs) and Human Performance Optimization (HPO) could provide a model of integrated care for elite athletes. The commentary includes an introduction to factors impacting elite athlete mental health, a review of military LOEs, and how these LOEs could support HPO among elite athletes. This includes a discussion on the inter-professional practice and informational diversity needed to support elite athletes both in and away from competition. The authors also discuss the key stakeholders needed to support elite athlete health and well-being, with an emphasis on full collaboration from professionals to transform practice.

Keywords: elite athlete, military, integrated care, health, well-being

2024-01-19T13:33:18-06:00January 19th, 2024|Sports Studies|Comments Off on Line of Efforts: Unity of Purposes for Professionals Working with Elite Athletics

The impact of risk factors on Olympic travel intentions

Authors: Bonnie Tiell1 and Elizabeth Athaide-Victor2

1 United States Sports Academy and Tiffin University School of Business

2 Tiffin University School of Criminal Justice and Social Sciences

Bonnie Tiell, Ed.D.
2696 South Township Rd 1195
Tiffin, OH 44883

Bonnie Tiell, Ed.D., is a Professor of Sport Management at Tiffin University in Ohio and the U.S. Sports Academy. She has coordinated an academic experience with Olympians at every summer Games since Athens 2004.

Elizabeth Athaide-Victor, PhD., is a Professor of Forensic Psychology and Psychology. Her research interest includes jury behavior, jury cognitive processing, child sexual abuse litigation, toxic tort litigation, juror competence, and juror bias.

The impact of risk factors on Olympic travel intentions


This study explores perceptions of risk-related factors that may discourage travel to the summer Olympics. Specifically, the research analyzes the degree to which risks related to environmental concerns, instability, and personal limitations impacted travel intentions to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan which were held without spectators due to a global pandemic.

Purpose: The purpose of the study was to analyze the degree to which risk-related factors significantly impacted Olympic tourism intentions.

Methods: Almost identical surveys were administered in the United States (U.S.) and the People’s Republic of China approximately two months before the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics and again before the originally scheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The only change to the updated 2020 instrument was replacing the Zika virus with Covid-19 as one of the variables measured. Analysis of Variances (ANOVAs) and Dunnett’s Planned Comparison were used for the statistical analysis. 

Results: The study herein represented an analysis of 882 responses including 728 usable surveys from 2016 and 154 from 2020. Risks that related to instability and environmental health that were uncertain in nature were perceived to be greater deterrents to Olympic tourism than known risks related to personal limitations. When conducting paired comparisons of risk factors that would deter travel to the summer Olympics, 17 significant differences were found between the mean scores.

Conclusions: Perceptions of travel risks that are uncertain or unable to be controlled are typically a greater deterrent to Olympic tourism than risks that are certain and seemingly able to be controlled.        

Application in Sport: Understanding the types and degree to which risk factors influence travel intentions to the summer Olympics or a mega-event can assist organizers in framing communications with potential visitors and local businesses.

Key Words: tourism, Zika, COVID-19, Environmental risks, instability, terrorism, mega-event, nationality, sport travel, personal limitations related to travel, travel health

2024-01-05T15:50:06-06:00January 5th, 2024|Olympics, Research, Sports Studies|Comments Off on The impact of risk factors on Olympic travel intentions

Coincidence anticipation timing requirements across different stimulus speeds in various sports: A pilot study

Authors: Haneol Kim

Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, WI, 54601, USA

Haneol Kim
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
124 Mitchell Hall, La Crosse, WI 54601
Cell: 765-586-5878

Haneol Kim is a faculty member in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. His areas of research interest include biomechanics, motor control and learning in sports.

Coincidence anticipation timing requirements across different stimulus speeds in various sports: A pilot study


The ability of coincidence anticipation timing is directly related to athletic performance in sports, and anticipation timing requirements vary according to the sports type. This case study aimed to investigate the coincidence anticipation timing of male university athletes in various sports across different stimulus speeds such as slow (3 mph), moderate (6 mph), and fast (9 mph). Nineteen university athletes from soccer (n = 5), tennis (n = 7), and volleyball (n = 7) participated voluntarily in this study and were compared to non-athletes (n = 6). All participants pressed the button when the light stimulus arrived at the target location of a Bassin anticipation timer to assess anticipation timing accuracy in terms of constant, absolute, and variable errors. A speed effect in constant error (p < 0.001) and a group by speed interaction in variable error (p = 0.044) were found. However, no significant difference was found in absolute error. In conclusion, coincidence anticipation timing requirements are different across sports types. Racket sports such as tennis might be more beneficial to improving anticipation timing skills than other sports or non-athletes.

Keywords: sports performance, anticipation timing accuracy, athletes, male

2023-11-14T15:11:22-06:00November 17th, 2023|Research, Sports Studies|Comments Off on Coincidence anticipation timing requirements across different stimulus speeds in various sports: A pilot study
Go to Top