There aren’t many jobs more thankless than being a referee. The best-case scenario – what a ref should absolutely strive for – is that no one notices him. The worst-case is that fans and coaches treat him like he’s running an international terror ring.
It’s not fun. It’s a lose-lose position.
But let’s not forget that the people who are officials choose to be officials. It’s not like they were raised in the family officiating business. They made a conscious choice to go out and start refereeing or umpiring games.
Of course, theoretically, what that means is that they know what comes with the territory – ridicule, derision, heckling, hatred. It’s all right there on the job description.
They also, theoretically, know that they’re a complementary piece. The players are playing – they’re just there to make sure that they’re playing by the rules.
And, if they chose that line of work, it can also be assumed that they care about the sports they’re officiating, and that they know the rules of those sports. In fact, they are required to take classes on those very rules.
So all of that being said, why are there so many officials refereeing games around this state who are so bad at what they do. And why is nothing done about it?
This isn’t some heartless jab. There are a few good officials in Rhode Island, but there are hoards of bad ones, too.
Now, I’m using bad as an all-encompassing term. For instance, there are officials who flat-out don’t know the rules and just make terrible calls.
That type of official is a problem, and should know enough to realize that they’re not cutout to be ruling on the outcome of games that truly matter to people.
With that group, though, at least it looks like they’re trying. It’s the ones that don’t care, or think they’re somehow part of the show, that bring down the quality and integrity of the game every time they even step on the field.
The most glaring situation happens each week in high school football. It’s like three-quarters of the refs have a pact with each other to not take their jobs seriously.
It usually starts with a penalty. There will be a false start on the offense, a standard five-yard setback. The ball will clearly be somewhere – say at the opponent’s four-yard line.
Almost without exception (watch for it when you’re at game – you can’t miss it) the ref will grab the ball and start pacing off the five yards – only he won’t get it right. He’ll take six steps, or he’ll take four steps, or he’ll take five disproportionate steps. He won’t look at the lines on the field that mark off the yards (that would be too obvious). When it’s all said and done, the offense has usually been assessed anywhere from a four to a six and a half-yard penalty. Five yards is a rarity. What should be third-and-7 becomes third-and-9.
There are all sorts of problems like that. After incomplete passes, the ball almost never ends up back at the original line of scrimmage. When the refs come in from the sidelines to mark a player down, they run diagonally, and end up at the wrong spot.
It looks like they’ve never watched a football game before, or even worse, that they just have no interest in getting the calls right.
It looks like they’re bored. After all, as long as they just get the game over with, they’ll still get paid.
But, whatever you do, don’t tell them – or even insinuate – that they’re wrong.
These refs are never wrong.
I was at the Cranston West vs. La Salle football game this past Friday, and the head referee was very confused. He thought it was the refs vs. the coaches game, which of course the refs won handily.
Not only did the refs call more than 20 penalties, more than a few of which were questionable, he refused to explain a single one of them. Coaches on the West sideline, on multiple occasions, literally said, verbatim, “Mr. Official, can I have an explanation?”
The ref reacted like someone had just asked him to donate his first-born to experimental science. How dare those coaches speak to him like that?
It was a wonderful lesson on how to be defiantly arrogant, even when in the wrong.
Yet, hubris and general disinterest isn’t limited just to football.
I watched a Toll Gate vs. Westerly boys’ soccer game in mid-October, and one of the refs starting handing out yellow cards like they were Halloween candy because kids reacted – not verbally – to the horrible offsides calls he made from 20 yards behind the play.
A few weeks ago, I covered a Vets girls’ soccer game, and a dog ran on the field in the first half. I’m talking about a big dog, and it didn’t just run to the other side of the field, away from the action. It ran right at the ball, hung out by some of the players and caused the actual flow of the game to change. It was funny, and it was only for a few minutes, but it still happened. Now, wouldn’t an official who cared about the game being played the right way, and wasn’t just trying to move everything along so he could get on with his day, stop the game to get the dog off the field?
The thing is, I can relate to refs. When I was younger, I refereed soccer and umpired baseball. But I was terrible at both of them. I was compromising games and I felt bad about it. It wasn’t for a lack of caring or trying – I just wasn’t good.
I had the awareness to know what I was doing, and I got out of it quickly. I quit because I wasn’t good enough. I could have stayed and probably could still be doing it to this day, while getting paid, but it would have been horribly unethical. It’s not a pat on the back – it’s just having the slightest bit of integrity. I was hurting more than I was helping.
If these refs can’t get their acts together and care about the job they’re doing, then they owe it to every kid, coach, parent and fan to take a good, hard look in the mirror and think about what’s going on. Going through the motions isn’t good enough.
It’s a problem, and sooner or later it’s going to alter the outcome of a hugely important game. What if Hendricken had lost last year’s Super Bowl because the line of scrimmage was wrong, and one of their crucial fourth-down attempts had came up short?
Something like that is going to happen. Then, hopefully, something will be done.
But in all likelihood, everything will stay the same.
Why make a change to get it right, when the refs are never wrong?
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.