Will they or won’t they?
No one knows if members of the Louisiana High School Officials Association will don their vertical stripes this fall and call football games.
Although an “agreement” was reached Sunday during talks between the LHSOA and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, no details about the agreement have been released. Even officials who weren’t in the meeting don’t know the details.
The officials want a bump in pay. According to a timeline compiled by the LHSOA, officials have only received two pay increases in the past 25 years.
Football officials have proposed a modest $5 increase per official per game. That comes to $30 or $35 a game for a crew.
Pay proposals for officials in other sports differ.
“I understand why they are asking for more money,” one local principal told me. Officials must pay for equipment and numerous fees, and often they have to take time away from their primary job to work games.
Then, there is the abuse they take from all sides. No one, except for family, roots for the officials. Nearly two decades ago when I covered high school sports for The Town Talk, a couple of the best basketball officials in Central Louisiana walked away for good after having a gun pulled on them after the game they were working was over.
Even with the proposed pay increases, Louisiana officials would still rank near the bottom of the country on the pay scale.
The solution sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just pay the men and women who officiate what they are asking.
But this is Louisiana, and nothing is ever so simple.
“It’s going to put a great strain on schools who are nonprofit to pay these added expenses,” the local principal said. “Schools without football barely keep their heads above water, especially baseball and softball. Most of the time, we are in the hole after every game.”
“I understand their perspective,” an athletics director at a smaller school told me. “The flip side is smaller schools like we are at a disadvantage from a facility standpoint. Many a night, we actually lose money on games.”
The AD noted that when he worked at a much larger school, they would host Peabody in basketball once a year. The gym would be packed out with nearly 1,000 in attendance and the gate from that one game alone would help pay for the entire basketball season.
At his current school, the gym seats about 250.
Officials work as independent contractors. The LHSAA works with the local officiating associations throughout the state to assign games.
One possible solution would be for the LHSAA to employ the officials, much like college conferences and professional sporting leagues. Increase the membership fees schools pay annually to be members of the LHSAA to help offset the added expenses. Then, the LHSAA could dictate fees without the LHSOA having to go beg before an unsympathetic group of principals.
Also, by bringing the officials under the LHSAA umbrella, the LHSAA could better crack down on ref-baiting coaches and out-of-control crowds. Of course, the same applies in reverse in that officials who simply are not cut out for officiating would be left to improve before being able to call again.
LHSAA commissioner Eddie Bonine likely didn’t envision an officiating standoff before his first football season in the state after coming east from Nevada.
Yes, he knew about the fissure between public (non-select) and private (select) schools.
This may prove to be a more difficult task to solve.
Although it is expected the LHSAA Executive Committee will approve the agreement reached Sunday, it still must be passed by the LHSAA body, which has repeatedly rejected officiating pay bumps in recent years.
You’ll have to forgive some for being skeptical about the agreement.
As one longtime football official noted, “it’s hard to fix seven years of broken promises.”
John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.