The Current Officiating Crisis

As most of us are aware, there is a huge challenge for many softball umpire organizations to fill assignments to cover all the games – high school season, travel ball tournaments, rec leagues, etc. How many of you have worked a high school game by yourself, or been pulled off the JV assignment to be the second umpire on a varsity game? For travel ball and rec tournament and leagues, who has worked five or more games in one day, sometimes back-to-back without a break?

College assigners discourage our college umpires from working more that three games in one day. Even if the games have a short time limit (e.g,1:20 or 1:30 drop dead), unless you are a regular decathlon participant, there is a strong possibility that after the third game you are not at 100%, or even 80%. Yet, when people watch you during your fourth, fifth or even sixth game of the day, they consider you a “college umpire” nevertheless. This situation may have a strong influence on how people perceive the quality of college umpires, which is a detriment to all college umpires. Please consider this when you tell these assigners your availability for assignments – perhaps tell him/her that your upper limit is three games per day.

The number of qualified officials in all sports keeps declining every year, and the number of participants keeps increasing. We have been heading toward a crisis situation. There have been many articles in local or national newspapers, and almost every month in Referee magazine, about this crisis. The results of a recent study on this topic were published in 2019 in a book titled Whistleblower – Calling Fouls on Amateur Sports Officiating Crisis; author Brendan Szulik.  The content for the rest of this article are taken from this publication.

The mind-numbing scale of amateur sports
  • • Over 100 million amateur sports contests involving a sports official were played in 2018.
    • Much of this has been fueled by the growth of women’s sports over the past 30 years (can anybody say “Title IX, 1972?).
    • Youth participation in sports has nearly doubled from around 4 million to around 8 million since 1972.
    • In the 1990’s, sports specialization became a trend which resulted in an explosion of “travel” or “club” teams.
    • This then led to athletes now playing two seasons every year; in nice climate areas, like ours, it is now year-round.
Sports officials in today’s environment
  • • The rapidly expanding number of athletes and games require a lot more officials.
    • Many times, the “availability” of an official to cover a contest is more of a priority than the official’s “capability.
    • In is not unusual for many games being cancelled each week because no officials are available.
Going, going, gone

• The annual attrition rate for various sports in officiating is in excess of 20%.
• Amateur sports officials are usually poorly paid; nearly two-thirds of respondents to a survey believe they are underpaid.
• This is even more evident when you take into consideration the nature of the job – harassment, skilled labor, hours of studying rules and mechanics, cost of equipment, etc.
• At the root of this is the abuse of officials, harassment, low pay, and the ever-escalating bad sportsmanship by coaches, parents, spectators, and participants of the game.
• Every month we read in Referee magazine stories of out-of-control players, parents and fans.
• Another challenge is the statistics on the age of current officials – 16% of Americans are over the age of 65, yet they represent 35% of sports officials. How do we replace them when recruitment is always the last priority of assigners and umpire associations?

Living the Dream

• Parents have become fully invested in their children playing youth sports.
• They are living their dream (through their children) about becoming a star college athlete and/or professional player.
• Too many parents think the game exists simply to receive their daughter with open arms and provide them with a lift.
• In their mind, a scholarship could hinge on a single game or a single call.
• On any given weekend, you can go to a local park and witness the firsthand breakdown of civil communication between coaches, parents/spectators and officials

“Respecting the game”

• There has been a decrease in the attitude and comportment of sports fans. They seem to not “respect the game” as they once did.
• Respecting the game means you accept that disappointment, failure, mistakes, and injuries are inevitable and the game is innocent.
• It means never being preoccupied with the officials or the coach’s choices on who plays.
• True respect for the game means that playing the game is the goal; winning is secondary.
• The “game” should be bigger than the blown call or dumb coaching decisions.
• What happened to sportsmanship, and just appreciating being between the lines and learning everything you can about the right way to throw/catch/pitch/hit the ball?
• Should not the priority of amateur sports be to teach the fundamentals of working as a team, learning to live with both the highs of a win and the lows of a defeat?


• Sportsmanship is a separate issue from respecting the game and should be practiced by everybody involved in the game – players, coaches, parents and spectators.
• Good sportsmanship means you are able to keep your emotions in check, that you consider the game in its proper perspective, and that you have respect for all the players, and the officials.
• It means that your realize that by the nature of the game, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are all part of it.

The Future

It is a bleak future for sports officials being available to cover all the games in all the sports. A seismic change is needed by all participants. Our society needs to commit to teaching the future generations we ourselves learned from youth sports – teamwork, commitment, perseverance, sportsmanship and civic discourse. This responsibility lies with all of us, sports officials as well.