What the Heck Is Up With The Referees?! Part I: Awareness

Written by a former player, coach, official, administrator, but mostly…a fan of hockey

This is a message to the entire hockey community, officials, fans, administrators, coaches and players. There has been much criticism with regards to the officials and the scheduling of the officials this season. Some certainly justified, some not.

Here are some facts which includes downstate Illinois:

• Total number of officials eligible to officiate as of Dec 1, 2018: 1014
• Number of new Level 1 officials this season: 597 (175 of those are not eligible to officiate due to not being completely registered.)
• Number of top Level 4 officials: 75
• Total number of games played this season as of Dec 5, 2018: 18,200 (This number doesn’t include non-USA Hockey mites, men’s leagues and some non-sanctioned tournament games.)
• Total AHAI games expected to be played by the end of the 2018-19 season: 35,000
• Games have been cancelled due to lack of available officials.
• All officials must complete the following in order to be certified to officiate USA Hockey games (very similar to what coaches must complete)

o Classroom seminar that is 6-8 hours in duration
o On-ice session (skating test for Level 4 candidates)
o Online education modules
o Closed book exam
o Open book exam
o SafeSport course (for 18 and above)

• Number of suspended and/or restricted officials at any given time due to USA Hockey/IHOA codes of conduct or behavior: 6
• Every report submitted on an official’s performance, good or bad, is reviewed by a Performance and Development Committee member.
• Number of games evaluated by an AHAI/IHOA supervisor for official’s development feedback: 175
• Number of positive reports on officials from coaches and spectators: 46
• Number of reported Zero Tolerance violations: 76
• Aggressive penalties called so far this season vs ALL PENALTIES FOR ALL GAMES during the 2017-18 season: List below includes ONLY HIGH SCHOOL penalties.

Some observations:
• The number of officials has remained consistent, plus or minus 100, over the last few years. There has been a distinct decrease in the experienced Level 3 officials due to age and/or desire.
• The number of games has increased helping to create a shortage of officials.
• Most Level 1 and Level 2 officials are restricted to officiate 12U games and below only.
• Many Level 3 and Level 4 officials also work College and Junior level hockey throughout the season, which in turn limits the number of AHAI games they are able to work.
• There are arrogant officials.
• There are many inexperienced officials.
• There are bad officials.
• Most officials, no matter what level, are trying to do a respectable job.
• Officials work regular jobs and have personal lives that can limit availability.
• Every call an official makes is on video.
• AHAI often receives “edited” videos that support certain opinions. Often spectators are also on video and audio.
• The average pay for an official is about $15-$20 per hour when you consider their time before and after games. This amount does not include gas, travel, etc.
• Fans yell.
• Officials miss calls.
• Players and Coaches make mistakes.
• No coach’s or player’s career was derailed because of a missed call for offside or a missed goal.
• Fans and/or coaches don’t yell if an official misses a call against their team.
• Coaches should always be in control of their players.
• Hockey is an emotional game and “stuff” happens.

The cause of officials not officiating or quitting can always be debated. The largest challenge is helping all the new Level 1 officials make it to Level 2. Generally there is at least a 60% drop off. Reasons include time (new officials are usually players and in school), abuse, or just the fact they don’t like it. That also means some officials that move on to Level 2 have very limited experience. The popular response is that most new officials quit because of the zero tolerance issues, but in reality it is a combination of many things that cause a new official to not continue. A large part of the solution would be for everyone to realize why we are all here…for the players. Players need good coaches to develop and games need officials that help with the players’ development or experience.

Officials currently are in the position of supply and demand. With the increase of games and game times (longer games), officials can pick and choose games they want to work. Some choose based on level of play, some location, some just for the pay. Some teams have fewer officials request their games because of the team’s reputation, game location or past experiences. Single, isolated games are difficult to fill. It’s difficult to find officials who will travel for a stand-alone 8pm Saturday night game in say, Oak Park. This is a difficult position for the hockey community to be in. There are only so many “level qualified” officials. The Assigners try desperately to manage the assignments and put the best crews available for every game. But, below average officials will still be assigned games based on need, not ability. When AHAI/ IHOA suspends or restricts officials, they just go work for other non-AHAI assigners or non-USA Hockey games. Officials are told they are held to a high standard. Trying to raise and maintain that bar is the challenge in front of us.

Coaches and organizations are responsible for their teams and players. How many times you have heard the game ‘got out of control!’? At every coach’s clinic, the question is asked, who can’t control their bench/team? Never has a coach raised their hand. Coaches can control who goes on the ice and when. Coaches usually teach a brand of hockey that probably doesn’t include dangerous play. Good coaches, and there are many, control their teams and that results in very few on-, or off-ice issues. Officials can only call infractions after they happen.

Fans, we are all fans, it’s an emotional game and the amount of commitment by families is immense. Its ok to react, just don’t over react! Police have been called to rinks in excess of 100 times so far this season for fan vs fan issues. Isn’t that embarrassing? How often have the police been called to settle disagreements in your place of work?

So, while we can acknowledge that there is a referee issue, it is all our responsibility to help correct it for the players. Officials must perform as expected for their level. Organizations and coaches must continue the player and member education of on-ice skills and conduct on and off the ice.

Fans must consider treating the officials and the other teams’ players as their own child, or family member. We need to ask ourselves, how would we feel or react if an adult was yelling aggressively at our kids or even at us or a family member? Enjoy the excitement and don’t over react to things that just aren’t that important.

We all need to be good examples to the players. Everyone expects to be respected, we all just need to earn that respect.

Coming up in Part II: What can and is being done in the short term to remedy this issue

Categories: Featured, Hockey Headlines, IHOA, Officials

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