The number of officials working OSAA football games in Eastern Oregon this year is critically low, so much so that games are having to be rescheduled to days other than the standard Friday night to accommodate for the smaller staff. And some might face cancellation altogether.
“It’s at a point where I have enough to cover two of the eight Friday night games, and for the other six, I have to ask teams to move their games or ask the OSAA if they have any extra officials to send to us,” said Blue Mountain Football Officials Association commissioner Michael Lieuallen.
So far this year, several schools have had to move Friday night games to Thursday nights just to adjust for the shortage in the number of officials. Pendleton, Irrigon and Stanfield did so this week, as Pendleton’s season opener with La Grande and Irrigon’s opener against Stanfield were both moved to Thursday.
A specific number is needed for each game. Football requires at least five officials in Class 6A-4A, and four for smaller classes. Baseball, softball and basketball require two. If that number can’t be met, the game won’t happen.
“If La Grande and Baker were both home on the same day, I couldn’t cover anything else,” said Northeast Oregon Basketball commissioner Dave Comfort in a press release. “At some point, this will affect the ability of schools to even schedule games.”
Lieuallen says this shortage isn’t just a statewide issue – where officials participation is down 18 percent over nine years, says Oregon Athletic Officials Association executive director Jack Folliard — it’s nationwide. According to a study conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials, over 70 percent of new referees and officiates quit their jobs within their first three years.
“Younger people don’t like the idea of coaches and fans yelling at them. It comes down to sportsmanship,” he said. “They can’t take the abuse.”
When a new official signs on for the season, they agree to a three-month deal. They then receive training and are paid $40-$60 per game, depending on the level.
Lieuallen says the Blue Mountain Football Officials Association — which covers schools such as Pendleton, Mac-Hi, Irrigon, Umatilla, Heppner, Stanfield, Pilot Rock, Riverside, Weston-McEwen, Echo, and Ione — has 24 officials this season, three of whom are brand new to the job. The total is significantly lower than last year’s group of 35, and ideally, Lieuallen says he’d like to have at least 40 officials signed on.
It’s a similar situation to the Northeast Oregon Officials Association, which had 33 officials last season and only has 23 as of August 24.
Lieuallen is currently hoping to get at least 30 officials by October in order to successfully cover upcoming games.
“I may be bringing in guys from the Portland area, and they’ll unfortunately have to deal with the mileage,” he said. “Having 35 guys last year was difficult, but not nearly as much as it is now.”