High school refs: Do numbers affect performance?

Georgia’s high school football coaches don’t agree on the quality of the officials who are calling their games on Friday nights, describing their performances as anywhere from "excellent" to "pathetic."

Seventy-three of the 147 Georgia coaches (49.7 percent) who responded to a survey conducted by Georgia High School Daily for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution rated officials as good, very good or excellent. Forty-five percent rated them mediocre or poor. Five percent did not answer.

Paul Standard of St. Pius was among six who rated officials as excellent.

“I might have overstated excellent, but I do believe it is really good,’’ Standard said. “The top crews of all associations that I have had officiate our games are very professional.’’

Other coaches weren’t as impressed, but were sympathetic to the challenge that the Georgia High School Association and officials' associations face.

Brookwood’s Mark Crews rated officials as excellent, but said their quality has slipped in recent years as the need for officials has increased.

"More and more schools and more and more scheduled games do not make more and more quality officiating crews,’’ Crews said. “They are stretched thinner and thinner, in terms of money or benefits, to recruit guys to keep up with the demand.’’

The need for officials, measured by the number of varsity games scheduled, has increased nearly 25 percent in 15 years. In 1995, there were 1,634 games played in the regular season. This season, there were 2,030.

“There are just not enough good men who want to do it,’’ said Stan Luttrell of Chestatee.

Cortez Allen of Newton wants officials paid more, "so they will spend more time working on their craft and not cause the great football in this state to be poorly officiated.’’

Officials are paid $90 per regular-season game and $110 per playoff game, plus travel expenses. They must buy their uniforms.

The most common complaint involved accountability.

"Coaches suffer consequences for poor actions during games, such as penalties and being ejected,’’ Harlem’s Jimmie Lewis said. “Refs with attitudes and rabbit ears are not held accountable for their actions at all.’’

GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said his staff reviews tape sent in by coaches and officials are held accountable.

"When officials make errors that the GHSA believes to be inexcusable, then the GHSA works with the local officiating association to discipline those officials,’’ Swearngin said. “A matter is considered to be inexcusable when the rule or procedure is so basic that trained officials are expected to know it.’’

Penalties that go beyond calls also can be enforced, Swearngin said.

“Officials who behave in an unprofessional manner -- words or deeds -- are sanctioned,’’ he said. “The penalties can include being suspended for a period of time, including being denied consideration for playoff games.’’

Erik Soliday of Turner County and Greg Busby of Montgomery County expressed frustration at not being able to pick the associations that officiate their games.

"Associations know they are going to get a certain number of games whether they are good or not,’’ Soliday said. “When we selected the association to use, we wanted good officials. Therefore, everyone had to step up to get games.’’

The GHSA has not allowed schools to hire their own officials for the past 10 seasons or so.

Standard of St. Pius recommended that coaches be a part of meetings held by officials associations and that evaluation of crews be shared with the coaches.

“Officials need to know that the coaches will get to see their evaluations,’’ Standard said. “If we are included in this process, many coaches would have a much better outlook toward officials.’’

That would require for coaches and officials to get along. Standard was optimistic.

“Officials to me -- the good ones -- are great people,’’ Standard said. “They love the game of football. They love working with young people. Sounds like coaches, huh? They sure ain’t in it for the money.’’

The Survey Says

How would you describe the quality of football officiating in Georgia?

Excellent or very good (18 percent)

Good (32 percent)

Mediocre (34 percent)

Poor (11 percent)

Did not answer (5 percent)

Is the GHSA doing enough to ensure that officials are well-trained?

Yes (39 percent)

No (34 percent)

Don’t know or did not answer (27 percent)