TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The number of referees across the State of Texas has run scarce over the past few years and COVID-19 is not helping.
There are few things bigger in Texas than football, and just as important as offense, defense, and special teams, are the referees. However, the number of sports officials not only is diminishing in football. This is an issue seen across the board.
According to Jeff Gonzales, a referee in Tyler for the Texas Association of Sports Officials, the shortage has been an on-going reality. He helped narrow down the reason why into three main points. The first reason being the pay. “We don’t do it for the money and it doesn’t pay that well, so we do it because we enjoy it,” Gonzales said.
The second reason regards the way referees are treated.
“I hate to say this, but part of it is the way fans treat officials. Especially the younger ones. The old veterans can handle it, but the younger ones, they may feel uncomfortable after the first year, so they may quit. That hurts us bad.”Jeff Gonzales, Referee, Texas Association of Sports Officials
The third reason being time and travel. “Most of our games are after work. Sometimes we have to travel an hour to a game. We do the game and then we have to travel back. It’s time-consuming,” said Gonzales.
Another consequential problem stemming from the shortage of sports officials is the impact on the game. For example, varsity basketball runs a three-man crew, but with the shortage of officials, this may make them revert to a two-man crew depending on the circumstance.
“If we do that, it can hurt everyone on the court because we don’t have as good a view to the make the calls that we need with a two-man crew rather than a three-man crew,” said Gonzales.
This issue is seen across the board. According to Gonzales, “…we’re short in every area. Whether it be volleyball, basketball, softball, or football, we’re short in every area.” Now given COVID-19, there’s an entirely new factor adding to the overwhelming scarcity.
“You know the average age of officials today is over 50 years old, and there’s another problem right there, especially for the ones that are over 60 because they may be even more afraid of this pandemic then what they were if they were 40,” said Gonzales.
Given the pandemic, the UIL has decided to start divisions 1A-4A. They have postponed 5A and 6A until the end of September.
Currently, this is actually helping referees, given that two divisions are on hold. However, once all six divisions are running at the same time, this is where the TASO will really start to see the shortage. “That’s a big concern,” Gonzales added.
Despite the pandemic’s impact on the shortage, Gonzales believes the main reason is the misunderstanding that fans have with referees. He said, “We’re not perfect, we train, we test, we work hard at what we do. We try to be the best that we can. I ask that people be more patient on us.”
If you’re interested in getting involved, you can visit the TASO website to learn more.