October 22nd, 2021
The Say Yes To Officiating campaign is a NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) sponsored recruitment blitz hoping to stem the well-publicized shortage of sports officials throughout high school sports. If you follow anything related to youth sports on social media, you have likely seen one of their many commercials urging you to sign up to be a referee. As followers of NASO, we have likewise received countless e-mails begging us to "invite a friend" to pick up a whistle and give back to the local sports community.
One day we thought of a very simple question:
And so we wrote this letter to the NASO representative in charge of the campaign:
Good afternoon Cory,
This is Chris Balasinski. We spoke on the phone last week regarding the "Say Yes To Officiating" campaign and about how our Union on the West Coast is actually reveling in the referee shortage. We have utilized it as leverage to get a pay increase across all of our accounts. We have used it to put the clamps down on bad sportsmanship ⏤ after all, there is nothing more effective in getting coaches and parents in line than the real threat of games getting cancelled. Lastly, we have utilized this shortage to empower referees and get them to finally understand and appreciate their value to the game.
It is incredibly liberating to finally hold a little leverage over league directors and tournament organizers. Not too long ago, throughout the Great Recession, they held all the power. They viewed sports officials as dispensable and easily replaceable, sometimes even less than human. Just cogs in their machine. Supply/demand dynamics worked against us ⏤ there were simply too many referees constantly looking for work. We had to fight each other for available games while event organizers took the opportunity to cut our wages at every turn. Quite frankly, their horrid treatment of us in the past gave way to the referee shortage we experience today.
Now the pendulum has swung in our favor. There are too many games and not enough qualified referees. We finally hold the power and control our own destiny. It bothers me that NASO and the "Say Yes" campaign are so eager to give away our leverage before we had the chance to fix the underlying issues that drove so many officials away in the first place.
Is the referee shortage a problem for high school sports? Absolutely.
But is it our problem to solve? Absolutely not.
Ultimately, why does NASO really care if games get postponed or cancelled? Why should we?
Why not enjoy this leverage while it lasts, because at the next economic downturn, everybody will be digging through their closets for whistles and stripes. Our beautiful position as rare commodities will be gone for another cycle. What we have now is a small window of opportunity to get the pay raises and improvements to our working conditions that we have deserved for years.
Could you at least collaborate with us to expand your message that albeit recruitment is good, it is not in our best interest as an industry to merely help bring more cows in for slaughter. Our goal should be to change the environment, RAISE THE PAY, make officiating respectable, commendable, and prosperous. If we did that, we wouldn't have to worry about recruitment. Officiating would become a job that people actually want to do.
I look forward to potentially working with you.
Cheers and well wishes,
We have yet to receive any response.