My refereeing season is starting up soon. Or at least it is scheduled to start up soon if the snow eventually melts. There are a couple of very interesting to me things going on in the referee world.
Supply meet Demand
Over the past three years, the state soccer association and the state itself have moved to significantly restrict referee supply. All refs must now by over the age of 15, all refs must spend $100 per year on child abuse clearances, and the low cost entry level referee tier has been discontinued. Previously a 14 year old would spend $25 for a short class, get a bright yellow t-shirt, a watch and a whistle and be good to go. Now, a new referee must pay $125 for a full course plus two uniform shirts.
Shockingly, the supply of referees who are available to work the recreational leagues has cratered. The lower levels count on the U-14 player wanting to referee instead of delivering newspapers, it counts on someone’s dad deciding that he’ll take fifteen or twenty games a season to help his kids play, it counts on a lot of referees who make under $500 a year to make the rec leagues work. Predictably, supply of low level referees is drying up.
I’ve gotten four phone calls and half a dozen e-mails from local recreational leagues trying to get me to agree to take $10 per game U-8 games because they lost half of their referees due to costs. I’m not giving up family time or Regional level U-17 games for U-8s. I’ll take a game if I have a three hour gap at the same complex, but my peers and I are already overworked at the middle and upper levels of the non-professional game.
Independent Contractors versus Employees
Traditionally referees are considered independent contractors with the notable rare exceptions of professional league referees. Traditionally that means, a referee can set their own schedule and has the right to not work games for any reason. I currently block myself from three local high schools as I have a history of never having an enjoyable experience at one school, another school I’ve seen the coaches too much so I need a break from them, and the final school pays roughly 50% of the going rate. An independent contractor controls when, where, with whom and how much they work.
The high school regulatory body may have stepped into making some of their high school referees act as if they are employees.
Last year, for another sport, 50% of the schools in the region decided that they wanted to cut their game fees by 45%. This is a sport that is very short referees as it is a non-traditional sport. The primary local assignor (who is an independent contractor who serves as a facilitor between schools and referees and is paid by both on a per game basis) told the schools in question that she was willing to talk pay but not 45%. She was told that 45% was the final offer. Her response was to hand the schools a list of all certified referees with current phone numbers and told them to find their own referees, which they are allowed to do by state association by-laws. The schools called around and were able to fill 10% of their slots in three weeks. The schools which either kept the traditional game fee or reduced it by a few dollars were assigned by the assignor and had all games, scrimmages and referee supervised practices fully covered.
The state high school atheletic body (mainly staffed and funded by the schools) ordered all referees to accept any games offered to them at 45% pay reduction rate. If there was an unexcused refusal, all certifications to referee for all sports would be yanked, and full retesting/recertification and re-running of background checks ( a cost of $250 for the first sport, $100 per additional sport) would be required if the referee ever wanted to referee high school again.
That to me, sounds like the state atheletic body is controlling where, who, and when people work, which makes a clear independent contractor situation muddy as hell. Does that sound right to the legal beagles here?
The distinction between independent contractors and employees is not a clear one. It’s a little more complicated here because it sounds like the state seems to be acting as a regulator and not just an employer. But less favorable terms of contracting by itself would probably not change an independent contractor into an employee.
“That to me, sounds like the state atheletic body is controlling where, who, and when people work, which makes a clear independent contractor situation muddy as hell. Does that sound right to the legal beagles here?”
IANAL, but from what I’ve gathered, they are on shaky legal ground now.
I completely agree that a pay cut does not change independent contractor status. 90% of the games played in that sport last year had a pay cut ranging from $5 a game to 45% of game fee.
My question is if an independent contractor can not refuse to take work for any reason, and is professional about it (ie, politely saying “No, I will not work at East Suburban HS on September 28th for the offered rate, have a good evening), and is then ordered by a non-governmental regulatory body that controls certification to work any and all games offered at any rate, the independent part of independent contractor gets fuzzy.
I don’t really understand the need for expensive child-abuse background checks for referees. I mean, obviously, any such thing would be horrible, and if it’s someone depraved they might try to weasel their way into interaction with youths – but on the other hand the referee only interacts with the players in the middle of a field in front of dozens of witnesses, and has no close personal interactions with individual players. I can understand such a requirement for the coaches, and I can understand setting up standards of behavior and a process for investigating complaints – but when the costs of refereeing have skyrocketed (and pay is declining) and this one requirement is expensive and is hard to justify, I’d reconsider it.
I’ve been out of public recreation and officiating for 20 years but I can tell you it was always a pain in the ass. As a rec department we contracted with the area officials association for adult sports but, for kids, we took what we could get through our own recruiting and scheduling. I remember working the UGA “Team Camp” when Hugh Durham was the coach. He appeared exactly once the entire week. Said hi, told the kids not to grabass and he was gone. We worked 8 games in a row for $5 a game in an un-air conditioned gym on campus. I had a problem with a huge coach, T’d his ass up 3 time and, when I tried to toss him the camp dude said “you can’t throw him out, it’s camp”. I handed him the whistle. I’m glad for the experiences I had in those years but it was obvious where it was going and that was when we had soccer officials that did it because they loved the game. Of course that was before soccer parents became morons like the baseball people.
@Warren Terra: It’s a matter of liability for the organization that is responsible for the league. If you are going to require it of coaches (and you should) you should do it for the officials as well. CYA dawg.
@raven: Agreed, it is a CYA thing, but there are knock on effects of making effectively volunteering to referee (as game fees at the lowest level cover registration, class, equipment, and Gatorade) more expensive. And the leagues around me have not considered that part of the equation.
@Warren Terra: There certainly seems to be a whiff of security theater to it, plus the handy fact that it is paid for by the individual refs, but the legal / social / theatrical PR benefit goes to the league. Self-bagging security theater.
@Richard Mayhew: Yes I agree. Requiring coaches to attend a certification program so they have some idea of what they are doing also is very difficult. Many was they time that we had the programs in place but ended up having to take uncertified coaches or we would have had to turn kids away.
Solidarity time. Sounds like your friend needs to start a referees association.
Is it a non-governmental body? That does seems weird, since certification shouldn’t be tied to whether or not a ref chooses to work a particular game.
@Baud: Yup, non-governmental body, the My State Interscholastic Atheletic Association is a 501(c)3 funded primarily by member schools with some revenue from referees for certification and a little bit of state level corporate sponsorship. The state budget will usually throw $25,000 or $50,000 in capital project grants at the MSIAA to maintain the championship field for football/soccer/lacross/field hockey and track and field (single stadium) but there is no state control.
Big ole hound
@Downpuppy: Exactly. If the leagues keep score and have a standings list then the officiating should have some sort of standard which can be set by a refs association. The tier of officials for that league with a predetermined pay scale for the quality of the refs for each level of play.
@Richard Mayhew: Quite possible the background checks may be required to have any shot a decent insurance coverage rate.
Oops, that wasn’t supposed to be a reply directed to Richard directly.
@RSR: I have no problem with background checks, and agreed, it probably plays to liability insurance concerns — the issue is that the leagues weren’t expecting the low end referee pool to drop by 40% to 50% in the past three years.
Hmm. I don’t know if that affects the independent contractor/employee question, but non-governmental bodies don’t have the same immunities that governments do. Interesting.
@Baud: Yeah, very interesting. I was having a couple of burgers and beers with fellow referees last night as we’re trying to figure out if driving 8 hours for a tournament in June makes sense for a variety of reasons…. and there were a couple of people from Sport X, and a pair of general practice lawyers who were scratching their chin thinking that this was a very odd situation,
@richard mayhew: Find the american football refs, point out to them that the board is trying to force a 45% pay cut, and ask if they want to be next.
It also sounds like you may have a good Anti-Trust Claim. The problem will be pooling resources for attorney to file a class action.
Why not tell them you have a religious objection? It’s the ultimate get out of jail free card.
@richard mayhew: “Yeah, very interesting. I was having a couple of burgers and beers with fellow referees last night as we’re trying to figure out if driving 8 hours for a tournament in June makes sense for a variety of reasons…. and there were a couple of people from Sport X, and a pair of general practice lawyers who were scratching their chin thinking that this was a very odd situation,”
Form an association, and demand that the state body of whatevers negotiate with it.
It sounds like a lot of the refs are on the fence about whether or not to continue, so you might have great leverage.
Sounds like a smooth intimidation racket. “Ya not gunna take the JV football game at 7AM on Easter? Perhaps that ref cert for sectional varsity basketball games will suddenly and mysteriously expire….forever”.
If this is allowed, what’s to keep them from cutting pay another 50% or so next year? I’d be completely unable to prevent myself from walking into that office, looking the guy right in the eye, and telling him to go fuck himself with the business end of a hammer.
IAAL but not in this area. I’d love to see the basis on which the regulatory body asserts the authority to set wages and impose punishments. I can imagine that there’s a generic clause somewhere in the rule book allowing the body to sanction a referee who refuses to work. But what looks weird to me as an outsider is that the body is proposing to impose punishments utterly unrelated to the refusal.
And setting a payscale is likely way beyond their power.
So go ask. Also, if this state body is created pursuant to legislation, post an update which points to the legislation. Someone in the crowd of unpaid lawyers here can go take a look and report back on the legislative powers given to this body.
As I’ve mentioned before both my daughters referee soccer at the rec & low level club level. We live in North Texas. If the pool of refs dropped (and the associated drop in games) in this area like yours I think the outcry from parents & players would stop the insanity.
Maybe that is one thing you can do, find an advocate on the parent side and have them get the word out. Sometimes the leagues have to remember that the parents & players are their customers.
This all sounds ridiculous.
I coach my daughters U10 team and as this is daughter #3, I’ve basically been doing it for 12 years. Coaches obviously should go through background checks and I do mine every year but I don’t know where the cost figures are coming from. Here in TX they do annual background checks through the coaching section of the gotsoccer.com and it is basically instant. I type in my identifying information, hit submit and within minutes I see it is approved so it is obviously some sort of instant computer database check and no humans are involved. On the other hand, when I got my teaching license we had to go an agency and get fingerprinted so that must have been a much longer and more expensive process.
More power to the kids who agree to referee. We should be making it much easier for them not harder, especially for U6 and U8 games where 14 year old refs are perfect. Here in this part of TX, soccer is pretty divided on class/ethnic lines. There are lots of upscale white/anglo teams from the suburbs and poorer Hispanic teams from the cities playing in the same city leagues. At one game last year my team was playing an Hispanic team and we happened to have an Hispanic kid ref. The opposing coach was just completely out of control screaming at his team and screaming at the ref with an endless stream of Mexican profanity in Spanish. Assuming incorrectly that I didn’t know what he was saying. On our fields the opposing benches are on the same side of the field only separated by about 25 yards so you hear everything. After 10 minutes I had had enough and walked over to tell the jerk ‘look asshole, everyone out here except for the two of us are kids. There is no call for this sort of abuse. That kid out there who is just doing his best should have had you thrown off the field 10 minutes ago. If you don’t knock it off I’ll call the league office and have them do it… ¿Me entiendes?.” He shut up for about 10 minutes and then was back at it by half time. So I walked over to the league office, found the commissioner and told him there was a coach he needed to deal with. At the start of the 2nd half I noticed the commissioner and two cops standing off to the side observing. There are always lots of people milling about so the other coach didn’t notice. 5 minutes into the 2nd half the commissioner and the cops walked up and escorted him out of the complex. He is now banned from the complex and done with coaching.
The Anglo/white parents and coaches can be just as bad or worse. So this isn’t an ethnic thing. It just so happens that the one coach I got to have tossed out was Hispanic and was assuming the language barrier gave him free reign to be an abusive jerk, and had no way of knowing my wife of 14 years is Chilean and I have spent years working in Latin America.
Sometimes I have half a mind to sign up and become a youth referee once this youngest daughter moves on to select teams in a couple years. Just so I can help deal with some of the asshole parents who inexplicably get put in charge of youth teams. But then I’ll probably be so grateful to finally get my fall and spring weekends back that I won’t bother.
@Kent: And now you know why I went into another field.
In the Rec-level league my kids were in when they were younger, they asked parents on the team to be sideline refs for games. One from each team.
I found it lots of fun, and a great way to learn about the flow of the game, and the rules.
Hardest part is when you have to worry about calling offsides vs. your own team. I don’t think they have VAR (volunteer assistant refs) for the older rec teams however. It is a great way to be introduced to the job too, keep costs down for teams.
see http://www.sfvikings.com/training/training.htm for example
@Francis: not set up by legislation. Just a 501(c) membership organization composed of schools and referees and run by the schools. I think refs get 1 of 13 board slots, schools get 9 of 13, and community interests get the remainder. We had our smart phones out last night looking into this crap.
Man that story is so very common. My youngest was working her second weekend ever. It was a U6 game. One coach went ballistic. By the end of the game she was in tears.
Thankfully our rec league has a pretty good system of mentors & field marshalls so that the assignor and a couple of league board members were there at the end of the game. One board member asked the coach “Does it make you feel good making a 12 year old cry?’
@Lee: “Maybe that is one thing you can do, find an advocate on the parent side and have them get the word out. Sometimes the leagues have to remember that the parents & players are their customers.”
That is the best idea here. Doubly so, because the state whatever association will be putting out their side.
@Francis: also a lawyer in a different area, and have to agree, seems strange and slightly less than lawful.
@Richard Mayhew: part of it may depend on who the referee’s contract is with. on the surface, it looks like the contract would be with the schools, individually – in which case, a third party (even regulatory in nature) shouldn’t be able to force the contractor to take the contract. It is one thing to serve as a mediator of disputes and to ensure proper licensing, etc. it is wholly something else to change regulatory rules from “shall” to “may”. If the referee’s contract is with the governing body, then it really does become a bit murky. What little experience I have with refereeing groups is in water polo in California, and generally they have regional organizations that assign referees to games at different levels (from age group through the NCAA level, I believe) based on experience and availability, but the referees are still typically paid directly by the schools or clubs. But that sounds like a very different situation than what you’re dealing with, so apples and avocados.
I’m also not sure how building a pool of refs essentially selected for complience to all demands by authority, especially in order to earn money (that they likely need) works well in terms of having a set of refs immune to pressure and being bought off or influenced. How seriously do some individuals take the outcomes of these games? Not a clue myself, but the system described does seem to cull out the refs willing to tell (money- and license- wagging) authority to take a hike because of principles. Weird.
I understand that there is pressure on sports leagues to keep costs down, but cutting referee fees by half is beyond ridiculous. Without enough competent refs the league will have to reduce the number of games to match the availability of referees.
And I cannot understand how the high schools think that threatening to remove referee certifications for refusal to provide services is constructive or even legal. If you have paid for the certification, don’t you own it for the period specified? At least they should be forced to show cause why you are no longer qualified to referee that sport, and somehow I don’t think turning down a job because the pay is too low is a valid reason.
Unless that identifies you as some kind of union/socialist rabble rouser who they don’t cotton to around these parts is a valid reason to revoke your certification.
Although turning down work because the pay is too low identifies you as a bona fide candidate for a senior management position IMO. A true capitalist.
@richard mayhew: a hardball tactic would be to set up a rival group controlled by the referees that does the same certifications. only historical example of anyone actually doing that in the sports world was in baseball back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, owners tried to lock out (or otherwise screw) players, so the players went and started their own professional leagues, most of them didn’t last very long.
@KG: No, all high school refs get paid by the school.
So during the high school season, I have a stack of 30 checks and 3 direct deposit advices sitting under my coin jar at home until I finally get tired of having my wife asking me when we’ll see all the referee money in the bank account.
College is different. Some areas pay by the individual school. Other schools hire referees by the conference level, so the check for 10 or 12 schools comes from one source.
Youth season play has the home team pay, youth post-season play has the state youth association (a totally seperate and at this point, in the clear, organization) pay.
Tournaments pay as individual entities (one local field complex has 4 tournaments, so it is 4 checks by the same TIN which means a lot of people get 1099ed, others are single tournaments at a single TIN etc)
Adult amateurs pay in beer and cash on the field by the individual teams etc.
Agree, this is one of the best ideas here.
Could you guys go on “strike”? Not that you can officially because you don’t have a union but refuse to ref. Would that help or hurt your cause?
Sounds like it’s time to form some kind of an organization so they can negotiate for you.
I think you may have hit on it. This is basically the long range plan for pretty much every government in existence……..ever.
Then why doesn’t the league pay for it? If it’s for the benefit of the league, then the league, and not the individual volunteers, should cover the cost.
@richard mayhew: then and your felllow refs need to tell them to get stuffed. If the body is not your employer, then trying to set a maximum wage is a serious infringement on your freedom to contract. At this point you need an actual labor lawyer, but I have little doubt that the body is engaged in seriously tortious conduct.
@NorthLeft12: Well, it you want to go that far, there’s certain evidence it’s a long term goal of most personal relationships ever: getting someone to enthusiastically support our every whim, pick up all our socks and bring us cups of coffee anticipating our every unspoken desire. Intriguing that you leap to it’s being a necessary feature of govt, whereas I tend to find it the current go-to plan of businesses and human-systems enthusiastically run as businesses.
pseudonymous in nc
My guess is that the association is making shit up as it goes along and seeing what sticks, and that a relatively small investment in legal advice would produce a letter to shut them the fuck up.
@richard mayhew: If you are concerned that any activism might lead you to getting blackballed, then for$500 you should be able to find a lawyer to send a letter to your State AG Antitrust Division on behalf of unidentified referees requesting an investigation of what appears to be a clear violation of antitrust rules.
And maybe someone more up on recent Sup Ct rulings can comment on the powers of non-state regulatory agencies in light of the North Caroline dentist (?) case.
Highten the contradictions, man! Have all the referees collude to refuse 1 game each, thus all becoming decertified, so then there is no one to referee future games! What of your rule now, bitches?!?
@scav: Uhhh, no. I have enough self awareness to realize that having a relationship as one sided as that is damaging to both/all parties.
One of the attractions of my wife is that she is different from me and confident enough to provide constructive criticism as needed…whether it is deserved or not.
And yes, I agree with you regarding that model’s desirability for businesses. Probably even more for them over governments.
@gordon schumway: I really don’t like this response just because I would guess that a lot of the refs are part of that community and may likely have children or friends’ children playing in these games and understand that a total shitstorm like that makes everyone look bad.
@NorthLeft12: Having enough self- and system-awareness to recognize that pushing toward complient, approval-seeking, externally-guided and complient, money-starved employees / citizens / partners is not the long-term viable system to set up is an important bit. Like you in personal relationships (but not all are like you, see the graciously submit cohort et alia), people seem to recognize it for CEOs and judges — giving them enough income (etc) to theoretically put them above being suborned into doing doing wrong / shoddy / ilegal actions by pressure or bribery, but it works at many more levels than that. Ignoring it when setting up a system for building a pool of refs (rather especially like judges) seems especially dim.
The main issue for me would be the pulling of your certification if you don’t accept the pay cut . Its perfectly within a schools right to reduce your pay by 45% — you’re an IC and you have no right to work at the prior rate. But the schools may be on less firm ground if they are banding together under the auspices of the state association and insisting on a reduction across the board. That may give rise to antitrust liability, although there are certainly issues — is state athletic association a government body with antitrust immunity? Does the pay cut affect the entire “market” for referees, or just this one small segment (this goes to how you define the market). As a prior commenter said, I would write to the state AG’s antitrust division on this…this would be a hard case to bring as a private attorney though (there is no money in it), so state enforcement is your best bet.
You should also look at the certification to see if you have any contractual rights. Presumably you paid money for the certification and are entitled to it if you meet certain criteria — I doubt accepting their pay rate is among those criteria. That is the most outrageous part of what they are trying to do.
@NorthLeft12: It’s not a total shitstorm unless the schools choose to enforce the arbitrary rule they just created. I don’t buy that the schools can bully the refs and they’re just supposed to take it because “think of the children”.
As Peter Gent wrote -“Every time I say it’s a game, you tell me it’s a business. Every time I say it’s a business, you tell me it’s a game.”
You don’t need Marvin Miller here – the mildest sign of unity from the refs should be enough to make them fold.
@NorthLeft12: Meh. You have to burn the village to save it!
Richard, find out what your actual, contractual agreement says. Sue them if they pull your certification over not playing in a particular place or time, or for the money they specify, without agreement from you.
@brantl: As of now the pissing match between referees and the state high school body does not directly harm me, so I have neither cause nor controversy. And according to the NFHS, and the state by-laws, the certification is good as long as dues are paid on time, the referee attends X number of annual trainings, the referee does not get charged with a felony. That is it.
Yeah, there is probable actionable grounds for the referees in Sport X.
I’m a little late to the party, but I make employee/contractor decisions as a part of my job.
Most of the law here is universal (broadly), but I’m in Pennsylvania.
1. Do you have a contract? What does it say?
2. 1099 or W2? 1099s for contractors, W2s for emplyees.
3. Any equipment needed? Who does it belong to? If it’s yours you might be a contractor.
4. Expected/required to attend meetings? If yes, you’re more likely to be an employee.
5. Free to accept or reject work without an adverse action? If no, you’re more likely to be an employee.
The court opinions say that there’s no controlling factor, the totality of the circumstances have to be considered. But, the hiring party has the burden of proof, and the presumption is that one is an employee.
I’d say that if you get a negative reaction when you reject work, that goes pretty far along the way to being an employee. At least in Pennsylvania.
Those restrictions seem arbitrary and excessive; what, am I a Libertarian now?
The offspring, at age 12, took referee training last year and reffed several matches of tiny, tiny children who came up to her waist. It was the most fun thing I observed the entire year. Her (utterly giant) uniform was “free” once she reffed four matches and each one pays something like fifteen or twenty bucks. Importantly, she has a better understanding of the rules than many of her teammates and now has a technical basis for her assertion that all refs don’t know what they’re doing. (It’s a girl thing, I’m pretty sure.)
So of course such a positive training and support system needs to be ditched. Hopefully California doesn’t follow suit.
@JustRuss: I am not advocating that the refs comply to all the demands of the state HS association, I just think the way that was suggested by the other commenter was childish and potentially embarrassing to the refs.
Personally, if I was a ref I would turn down all the high school games offered and make it clear why and invite them to discuss it like adults. I don’t like threats and the bullies that make them.
@NorthLeft12: I agree Gordon’s phrasing was a bit off, but not the idea. If one ref decides to quit, it’s not a big deal. If all the refs commit an action that was totally acceptable last year but is now grounds for termination, it’s the schools who have their backs to walls. And when they explain to the angry parents why they don’t have any refs, they come off as jerks.
I like the idea of discussing it like adults, but as a single ref you have no leverage, and if the schools were interested in being reasonable they wouldn’t be trying to force this shit sandwich on their refs in the first place.
Retired Union member: if you don’t hang together, you’ll hang alone.
Get that list of ref’s and get in touch with a few of the level headed ones (LHO)and see if they would agree to sit down to meet with gov body. Then, informally call all the rest and get a feel of their overall views and what their minimum and maximum action might be. Explain you are considering a chat, even know you plan on it. No need for an amphitheater…
Get a game plan together with the LHO’s covering all the above covered advice giving everyone a bullet point to hone. No talk of unions or organizized assn right off the bat. Show the depth of refs you “represent”, the scarcity of skill set, and a slight willingness to walk away.
Nothing more than a nice meet and greet at the local Starbucks and a copy of a letter tithe anti trust div to be accidently left behind or distributed to a couple of their people.