Feature – Frenemies

Coaches can be our friends and enemies. How do we manage to have a more effective relationship with our counterparts on the field and court?

Frenemies

By Tim Sloan

was working a boys’ basketball game a few years back and the home team was getting shelled. They couldn’t shoot, pass, handle the ball or defend. By the third quarter, the margin was 30 points and I was standing in front of their coach, with whom I had a decent relationship.

“I’m telling you, Sloan — you mark my words: Next game, I’m only dressing seven players,” he promised.

“Really?” I responded, beginning a scan of the floor to pick out who he might have in mind.

“Yep. The rest will just have to start dressing themselves from now on.”

Now, that was a fellow who I’d seen chew up and spit out officials in the past. I’m not suggesting I have some kind of gift with coaches. There are others who snoot me out and seem to be buddies with some of my confreres. I often think about why that is and how to have more successful relationships with coaches. And in some places, like in Iowa, there’s more to gain from understanding because it’s a “recommendation” state: Coaches name officials whom they would like to see reffing playoff games. They aren’t asked why, only who. There are some officials who gel with some coaches and, statistically, the ones who get along get further ahead. What’s their secret?

Recently I asked a former coach, who is an assigner, to sum up what related refereeing to recommendations. He said it came down to general personality — a sense for the coaches and officials being in it together — and consistency of calls. That’s a short list, but the Holy Grail to most. We all strive for consistency, but the esprit de corps thing surprised me. How can we be in it together when our job is to do what’s best for the game and the coaches’ is to do what’s best for the team?

It’s all about relationships, and how you get by with coaches is a big part of that. I’m not saying graduating, cum laude, from Referee Charm School is a prerequisite for success; officials who overtly pander to coaches seldom get far. But learning how to empathize is important. When you understand how coaches think, it’s easier to know what annoys them or makes them comfortable with you. That’s all well and good. But it often contrasts with our style as officials: We call games a certain way and have standards, which mesh well with some coaches’ outlooks, but not others. With all that, there’s still a great middle ground, where accepting that there are some forces at work and then working proactively in response makes for more success as an official.

Let’s understand some basic things about coaches at the high school level. First, most are teachers. Next, few I’ve run into didn’t consider the job to be fulfillment of a significant ambition: They’re doing it because they want to and, with rare exceptions, were selected. Third, they work in school systems that pander to society’s demand for winners. Fourth, they are under demand to put time into their efforts to produce a competitive product against the resistance of family, profession, the limitations of players and their own stamina. Fifth (choose one), they either feel the love or the noose tightening. Finally, every one of them handles the pressure of success or failure differently.

My wife just handed me a coffee as I was typing and remarked, “Hmm: So, getting along with coaches is just like being married. … Are you going to be able to cut the lawn today?”

She is right! Some marriages click: The spouses are so alike they naturally interact in a way that is smooth and largely non-confrontational. For others, it takes work and the pair learns what annoys/enamors the other. They decide that some issues are better overlooked. And then there are The Honeymooners, who disagree on everything. Few enter marriage because they look forward to a life of discord. More likely, they lack the skills to manage conflict.

By that rationale, many good relationships with coaches might be accidental. That is, we don’t all comprehend that many relationships take work to work. If a coach and official see the game-related things the same way, few bad things happen. So, where I tend to reward teams that have good skills and can avoid violations, coaches who emphasize the same get along with me. If they coach aggressive play in the paint while I jump post players who sit on each other’s laps, we have a problem. One of us has to give in if the relationship is to be smoother. That creates a crisis, where two facts apply: We need the coaches more than they need us. The two of us have conflicting pressures: The coach (hopefully) likes his or her job and has some need to behave, train and mentor. And I have a binder of memos from the state admonishing me to be alert to, and penalize, various behaviors. So, how do we do our jobs and have more effective relationships with coaches?

Accept that the majority will never see everything the same way you do: It shouldn’t be surprising that many coaches will carry on more than you think is acceptable. It’s not about you! Not everything sung to us in burps requires a response. The best officials keep the peace with coaches by reacting to the message and not the delivery until the delivery interrupts the game.

Accept that it helps to give a little when the conflict is insignificant: Sense when coaches are trying to be sensible about a bad situation and you need to tag along: Team A has travelled 41 times by halftime and appears unable to help it. Team B has driven 60 miles through the snow and is growing tired of rehearsing their inbound plays. It hopes to be home by midnight. Think about relaxing your standard a little and serving the teams. Work with the coaches to become part of a solution. Heresy, I know, but many coaches respect that over rigid consistency; in that regard, you can all be in it together.

Accept that your style needs to be flexible: Some crews develop reputations for being the threesome-of-choice for certain games: If the last meeting was contentious, send this crew because they’ll clean it up. For the rest of us, the game is what it is: It’s played by two teams with strengths and weaknesses and, if it makes for a fair game, let them set their tone. Take charge to avert conflict, not create it.

The best officials advance not by being the best rules people, the best athletes or the most committed, although those are important. They get there by being the most successful. They take each game as it comes and respond to what they see.

Tim Sloan lives in Davenport, Iowa. He’s a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 3/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – A Touchy Subject

Should game officials incorporate a hands-off approach during games? Get “in touch” with what is acceptable.

A-Touchy-Subject

By Tim Sloan

It doesn’t always take a feature-length movie to define a complicated issue. On one night during the volleyball season, it took about 10 seconds.

My partner and I were meeting with the coaches and captains, all females, prior to a much-anticipated varsity match. I politely greeted and shook hands with each one, while he was given an enthusiastic, long-time-no-see hug by the home team’s coach, a lady who might appear on The First Wives’ Club. The captains glanced quizzically at one another, while the athletic director, sitting at the scorer’s table, nearly fell off his chair. Meanwhile, the visiting coach looked to be thinking, “Hey, what about me?” For that matter, so was I.

There you had it: A microcosm of the way we now are, begging the question, “How did we ever get here?” Maybe Coach, who obviously wasn’t afraid of boys, was just being Coach, but her opponent was in a quandary. Was she thinking, (1) This tells me something about Coach; (2) This tells me something about the referee(s); or (3) What does this tell me about how many close ones I’m going to get after that close one?

My partner, meanwhile, was in a bind. While they might just have been on the same bowling team once upon a time, I know it crossed his mind that was the wrong thing to be seen doing, but what was he supposed to do? Reverse her into a half-nelson? The captains probably knew the school rules about displays of affection only to witness Coach do just that with my partner. I was thinking, “Here we go …” And nobody had even burned the net or gone out of rotation, yet there had been some prolonged contact. And who knows how many parents were looking up the superintendent’s number on their speed dial?

The issue of the propriety of any two human beings touching one another runs the gamut of the human condition; from liberal to conservative, man to woman, western to eastern. It has become a particular lightning rod in sports because at times it pits the perception of the officials’ impartiality against the notion that sport is a social endeavor, where human beings express themselves, sometimes by quasi-intimate contact. Nonetheless, the refereeing authorities will tell you that the best policy is to avoid touching players, coaches and each other as much as possible.

Oh, there are some exceptions and some issues of common sense, but many officiating leaders feel that drawing the line at zero is the best way to avert two issues. One is with officials who don’t see potential problems that could result. The other is with coaches, players, fans and media who are either paranoid enough or jaded enough to believe anything more than a handshake is proof of collusion.

“Because officials are under a microscope from the time they step onto the court until the final buzzer, it is best if they refrain from touching fellow officials, players, coaches and those working around the game due to the sensitivity many have toward touching,” says Debbie Williamson, NCAA women’s basketball consultant as national coordinator and secretary-rules editor. “Officials have numerous ways to communicate during the course of a game and when we can avoid touching others, it is best to do so.”

Times Have Changed

Randy Krejci is commissioner of the Mississippi Valley Conference, an enclave of 14 major high schools in eastern Iowa. He’s a recently retired middle school principal but also a veteran of numerous state finals as an official in football, basketball and volleyball. He’s been on both sides of the mirror.

“In Iowa, some officials have gotten in trouble for even inadvertently touching someone of the opposite sex,” says Krejci. “In the school setting, you have to be very careful that any kind of touching isn’t misconstrued.” He believes that most instances arise from perfectly innocuous events, but since officials are held to a higher standard, they receive less forgiveness.

“It can certainly ruin someone’s career if it gets embellished in the media,” he explains. Whether an official is exonerated or not, the mere publicity can be detrimental. Early in his career, Krejci says, he thought nothing of helping players up off the floor or, as an educator, driving a student home if he or she had missed the late bus. Those days are gone and his school district, as an example of most, has very clear policy on when, how and with whom present, to interact with students in any situation. In his own case, as with many of us, it’s led him down the road of having to modify little behaviors that had been natural to him.

“If you’re doing things the same way as you did five years ago,” says Dave Libbey, “you’re not keeping up with the times.” Libbey is an eight-time veteran of the men’s basketball Final Four and now the officiating coordinator for the Big West Conference.

It’s his perception that the attitude toward personal contact between officials and participants has changed that quickly. It has reached the point that his instructions to his staff are simple: If there’s no management purpose to touching a player or coach, don’t.

Avoid Buddy Perception

That plows a lot of acreage. Does it mean that from the time the crew walks out on the floor until it zips closed its overnight bags, it should avoid all physical contact with any and all life forms?

No, from his point of view, it means that his crews should do whatever is necessary to avoid any situation putting their impartiality or liability at risk.

Actually, that allows some leeway. If one of his officials is at Gonzaga and Coach Mark Few thrusts out his hand, is he supposed to spin move away from him? No, says Libbey, because that looks just as suspicious as what he witnesses more often, which is schmoozing ad nauseum. Is the touching that happens normal for the situation?

“It doesn’t look good when you’re out there being buddy-buddy (with a coach),” explains Libbey. Coaches at the college level are paranoid of the forces — imagined and real — working against them, he says; seeing the other coach apparently planning his next hunting trip with the zebras gets them going. Libbey even knows of some teams who have their ever-charting assistants keep track of the amount of face time the other coach spends with each official. What Libbey wants is a simple greeting and handshake with a coach and then to get across the floor to make some space.

Once there, the next inevitable challenge is the assistant coach who wants to sidle up while the officials are observing the warmup. A friendly handshake is OK there, too, but that’s when Libbey wants his people breaking it off if any attempt is made to start chatting them up.

“I just tell them to say, ‘Look, it’s good to see you, but I’ve got to go over here and watch this,’” he explains. That way, onlookers witness that the referee isn’t totally antisocial but is also present to do a job, which doesn’t include exchanging baby pictures.

More and more, players on some teams, during introductions, will shake hands with their opponent, the opponent’s coach and then work their way to the nearby officials. The traditionalists will see that as a simple act of sportsmanship. Others may see it as an early indication of one-upsmanship. Officials are again in a bind, because they can more easily look silly rebuffing the overture than they can look suspicious by accepting it.

Hands-Off is Best

Some of his officials, Libbey says, are still “old school” and used to a more familial approach, including man hugs and friendly pats. Taking the hands-off approach is one of the things both he and John Adams, NCAA men’s basketball national coordinator, look for in sizing up officials. As far as touching players, Libbey says he can see the point of prudently getting between two players if it helps avert a fight but, other than that, you should never touch them. Laying hands on players who have hit the floor, for example, is definitely out because it might make an injury worse. That’s a good thing to think about the next time you want to help untangle a pile of football players, too. Libbey also reminds us that players and coaches have varying responses to any kind of physical contact when under duress; why risk a short left hook?

OK, basketball’s a sport in which the opportunity for physical interaction between officials and participants isn’t great when the clock’s running. There are other sports, like baseball or softball, in which the proximity of the umpire to the catcher, for example, can invite contact, but is that a good thing? Gene McArtor doesn’t think so and, in his role as national coordinator of NCAA baseball umpires, he carries some weight. He agrees with Libbey that there are few good reasons to be touching players or coaches.

Baseball, in one respect, is different from other sports because it traditionally tolerates heated confrontations between umpire and contestant. As a Band-Aid, it also promises that touching an umpire will earn a quick thumb and the promise of further penalties. For McArtor, it’s fair, then, that the umpires shouldn’t touch players or coaches, either.

Often, though, we’ll see the plate umpire gently lay a hand on the back of the catcher to line up his strike zone, for example. McArtor understands that mechanic but doesn’t want the umpire to maintain that contact. In his view, it would be better if it didn’t happen at all, but he definitely doesn’t want it to persist once the pitcher begins his delivery. It’s an invitation for coaches to claim it distracts their player.

“My policy is not 100 percent agreed with by everyone,” McArtor admits, “because it differs from how some of them learned the job.

“In my view, though, that’s not the way the game is anymore.”

There was a time in soccer when officials in some parts of the world would give players a little shove to get their attention. Italy comes to mind, where some of the greats like Pierluigi Collina could do that and keep their jobs. It seems like wearing water skis to detect land mines in today’s world, but the prevailing powers accepted that the passion on a soccer field sometimes required a more personal touch.

Today, players have to settle for a shaved head and menacing look from the likes of England’s Howard Webb, and certainly the USSF frowns on touching, like everyone else. Tony Crush is a national level official with MLS experience and is responsible for referee instruction in Kentucky.

“It’s been U.S. Soccer’s position from a liability and game management perspective that we shouldn’t be touching players,” Crush explains. “It can be misconstrued.

“Our society asks us to be on the field what we would be in our normal lives. That’s what humanizes us and the players appreciate it.”

We also should consider whether touching a crewmate is out of bounds. Certainly, putting an arm around an official of the opposite sex isn’t likely to look much better than attempting the maneuver with a coach. He or she is simply a co-worker, not likely to be your spouse and not likely to appreciate the attention. When it comes to officials of the same gender, the best policy is to handle them no differently than the contestants.

Obviously a handshake or a fist bump, appropriately rendered before or after the contest, is sensible, but remember that fellow officials are under stress, too. If an arm around the shoulder, for example, is calculated to “relieve tension,” it might backfire if your confrere feels patronized, demeaned, cornered or worse. It also doesn’t portray any confidence in your fellow official to the players and coaches if you do that while huddling to discuss a play. It gives the impression that the official is weak and needs a helping hand. A good policy is to treat your relationship with your partners no differently than anyone else.

Another Rule to Enforce

Sport, all the way down to Little League and Pop Warner, has become big business; an eating machine consuming the passions of all involved, including officials. In anything other than professional wrestling, the arbiters play a big part — and more frequently the decisive part — in maintaining a measure of sanity when the ball’s in play. They help protect the legitimacy that doping, huge salaries and overstated egos have been eroding. Officials are on a big stage with big people and maybe it isn’t asking too much for them to accomplish more by actually doing less when it comes to fraternizing with the participants.

Fans are more willing to cast a jaundiced eye on what takes place on the court or field. Psychologists can tell a lot about people by handing them a picture and asking them to make up a story about it. Then they’ll hand the subject a blank card and still hear moving commentaries, but from a much smaller group. More often, the blank card gets no reaction because there’s no stimulus to the imagination. Officials must be that blank card today.

Whenever they’re in public they must portray impartiality. Supervisors are telling us that touching a person any differently on the field than you would in the office or gym or church can bring that impartiality into question. Like Krejci says, that question of propriety doesn’t have to have an answer. Like Crush says, people want to see us fit the bill, so back-patting, group hugging or an arm around the waist doesn’t cut it anymore.

Many of the referees who would push back on a hands-off policy would argue, “I gotta be me.” Asking them to keep their hands in their pockets would be like asking them to work the game on crutches, as the rationale goes. Crush, for one, disagrees. He sees all sorts of Type A personalities walk in off the street and manage to comply with federation policy. It’s just another rule to enforce, albeit a personal one.

The reality is that 50 people could have been interviewed for this story with the likelihood of few, if any, disagreeing that an absolute no-touching policy is best. Most people at a game have no idea what officials are thinking and few can hear what they say, but they can see what they do and what they look like. Body type is equated with fitness. Sculpting of signals is a measure of commitment. Mannerisms are a predictor of emotion. Invading someone’s personal space with a pat or a full-length hug is an indication of what?

Those other things tie to what people expect an official to do, while touching a person goes outside the lines. It’s more likely to be considered a sign of personal interest: That’s not the image assigners want, nor is it what most officials want. Not touching someone, other than when it’s the polite thing to do, is the order of the day.

Remember this: What would someone you care about think if they were told where you had your hands on another person, without telling them you were working a game when you did it? If you would have some explaining to do, you probably shouldn’t have been doing it.

Use your head, not your hands.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 4/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Unwritten Rules

Every official knows the importance of the rules of the game. Regardless of sport, there are some unwritten rules you should follow as well.

The-Unwritten-Rules

By the Referee editors

 

1. When you “think” you saw something, YOU DIDN’T.

There are times you will be focused on action in your coverage area but something on the farthest edge of your peripheral vision will draw your attention. “Gee whiz,” you’ll say to yourself. “That looked like a foul, but I didn’t see the whole thing. My gut says it was a foul. Better safe than sorry. I’m gonna call it.”

Missing a call is never a positive thing. But most assigners, coordinators and observers will tell you that failing to call something that did occur is more acceptable than calling something you aren’t absolutely positive happened.

Gut feeling is a valuable officiating tool. Many times your instincts will guide you in the right direction. But your eyes trump all. See what you call and call only what you see. Period.

2. The CAPTAIN is not always the team leader.

For whatever reason, the so-called team leader or “captain” can sometimes be anything but a player that will help you to defuse a situation and respond positively with other players during a game. That player can often be the one causing problems for you and others.

When that’s the case, make every effort to demote that captain. Tell the coach that you need another player to serve as captain because the current captain isn’t doing his or her job. Or tell the captain that he or she will no longer be serving as the leader for his or her team for that game because of his or her actions.

Just because a player attends a captains’ meeting before the game doesn’t mean that he or she will be the player with the best sportsmanship.

3. Keep the game MOVING.

There are few officials who want to be on the field or court for a really long game.

However, there are some games that are just going to be longer than others. That football game that features two teams that throw the ball on every down and have porous defenses can result in a 63-60 shootout that legitimately takes every bit of three hours to finish.

What is not acceptable is for officials to be the cause of a game going long. Do everything possible to make a dead ball live again or to get the clock running as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean neglecting important duties or rushing teams. It does mean being efficient with recording substitutions or enforcing penalties, hustling to your next position and getting the next play started or the next pitch thrown.

4. Provide COURTESY to players when it’s needed.

While an official should strive to keep the game moving, there are times when you need to it slow down. A baseball or softball catcher works extremely hard during a game and that hard work generally keeps you from getting hit.

So when you see him or her get hit and in pain (but not enough to bring out the certified athletic trainer), take some extra time — dust off a clean plate or walk the ball out to the pitcher.

Buy that catcher a few minutes and, in turn, he or she will probably appreciate it and work even harder for you the rest of the game.

The same thing can sometimes apply to other sports when tensions get high. Take a moment to put the ball in play and use that time to give a friendly reminder as opposed to a premature penalty. When you feel the situation has had a moment to calm down, blow the whistle and get the game moving.

5. Give a LONGER LEASH to those in charge.

Maybe more important is the flip side of this rule: Those who aren’t in charge don’t get a long leash. Yes, you should listen to head coaches and managers who give their thoughts to you about a call or situation — as long as they don’t cross the line. Communication, including listening to perceived grievances, is part of game management.

But assistant coaches, players and other bench personnel should not be given the same patience or privilege. Unsportsmanlike talk and actions by those individuals need to be addressed right away. If warranted, you can give head coaches a chance to take care of other game participants. But if they don’t take care of business, you need to step up and penalize appropriately.

There has to be some form of hierarchy of tolerance. And head coaches are at the top. Use preventive officiating whenever you can and tolerate a bit more from them. Work with them until their behavior becomes a distraction.

6. Give the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT to those who have earned respect.

There will be times — probably in every game — when you get questioned on a decision you made or a penalty you called. How you respond to that question should be determined in part by how you are asked.

Think about the ranting, raving head coach. Anything that doesn’t go exactly how he or she wants, and the blame is pointed toward you or your crewmates. You are to blame for his or her team’s woes. Now think about the coach who worries about his or her team throughout the game but doesn’t get upset at you when penalties are reported. Instead, that coach focuses on “coaching” his or her players.

In a tight moment, both coaches question a call. The coach who doesn’t go ballistic on every call deserves a more thorough response than the lunatic. It is as simple as that.

Because it is so out of character for that calmer head coach to question a call, maybe he or she saw something that didn’t make sense or was done wrong by the rule. Taking the time to acknowledge the concern or clarify a ruling is time well-spent. The ranter may have seen the same thing, but doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt since that coach has been on your case about everything.

7. Look COACHES in the eye.

Police will tell you that suspects who lower or turn their heads when providing alibis are withholding information. It is difficult to obfuscate when you are looking someone right in the eye.

Whether you are introducing yourself to the coach before the game or answering his or her question during the course of play, communication should be done face to face and straight on. Even if you are delivering bad news, you will have more credibility and gain more respect by looking the coach in the eye.

Understand that advice applies only when the ball is dead, such as during a timeout or other intermission. If you need to communicate with the coach during play, keep your eyes on the action and wait for action to cease.

8. WHEN IN DOUBT, do what is expected.

An official takes on the task of applying mainly descriptive rules to fluid situations, but there are times in games when that official may not be immediately certain what action to take after observing a play or an incident. Rulebooks will spell out the intent and guiding principles of the rules and the better officials figure out how to apply them equitably, in context. But there are times when an official faces doubt at the moment he or she is expected to make a call or no-call. When that happens, it’s best to do what is expected.

Does it appear that a player sustained a possible concussion even though he or she does not have a loss of consciousness after a play? If there is any doubt, it is best to take that player out of the game to get checked. Should a baseball or softball umpire call a borderline pitch a ball or strike? It is expected that the umpire follow through by calling that pitch a strike. A basketball referee may have doubt when two players collide and go flying to the floor. Block or charge? Rule one or the other.

In any event, do not try to run away from the play or shrug your shoulders. You’ll lose credibility fast.

Officials will never be 100 percent sure of what they see 100 percent of the time. That’s not humanly possible. In those gray-area moments when a call is necessary, do what is expected and make the call or ruling with a clear conscience.

9. Answer QUESTIONS, not statements.

“That’s a bad call.” “That was a interference.” “He pushed him.”

What do all those comments have in common? Ding, ding. You’re correct if you answered, “They are statements that coaches say/yell/shout, etc.”

Coaches say a lot to officials during a game. And much of what they have to say, whether it is a valid point or not, does not need a response. Statements don’t need an answer from officials. Often the only time you need to respond to a statement is when you are delivering a warning or a penalty for one that crosses the line.

What deserves a respectful response when time permits is a legitimate question. Officials can save themselves a lot of headaches and heartburn by answering only what is asked.

10. Don’t answer the questioyou  don’t have INFORMATION about.

You don’t need to answer every question, though. That most often relates to a coach asking a question about a play called by a crewmember. If you don’t know what happened, don’t guess. If you don’t have information, tell the coach you’ll find out for him or her at halftime or suggest the coach talk to your partner. Whatever you do, make sure you are supportive of your partner.

Sometimes a coach or player may ask you about a rule or situation that you are not sure about. If you don’t have the knowledge or information you need, don’t guess at the answer. You’ll lose all credibility if you answer the question wrong. Instead, seek assistance from a partner or find out the answer after the game and get back to the coach. Then vow to study the rules more, so that you can answer that question that might come up in the future.

11. Get the game going after a MISTAKE or EJECTION.

Sure, ejections and mistakes are a big deal. But it is the responsibility of officials to make sure they don’t become a huge deal and negatively impact a game.

When your game has a situation, such as an ejection or a rule controversy, the best thing you can do is to get the next pitch thrown or the next play started. Once game action resumes, players, coaches and fans will typically worry about that action and forget about the situation that caused the problem in the first place.

While participants will be forced to move on when action resumes, officials should keep the mistake/ejection in the back of their mind. Don’t dwell on what happened but keep in mind that it could lead to future issues. Managing the game by making sure your presence is felt even more after ejections for fighting, for example, is a good way to prevent future problems.

12. CREW TALKS should lean toward official with angle or experience.

Because coverage areas sometimes overlap, there are going to be situations in which more than one official has a call. What happens when you’re the other official and those calls conflict? If you are in the role of ultimate decision-maker, which way do you go?

To begin, the officials involved must express certainty. If either indicates doubt, go with the other crewmember. “I think” is not acceptable. There is a difference between calls and opinions.

If neither backs down, consider the angle or proximity to the play. Was one official significantly closer than the other? Was one straightlined? Position and distance are key considerations.

If you’re still at an impasse, lean toward the more experienced official who has likely seen that play more often and knows how best to cover it.

13. Be 100 percent sure if makinthe UNEXPECTED CALL.

Several years ago, a baseball state championship turned on a base umpire’s call. With two out, a player whose double seemingly drove in the winning run was called out for missing first base. The run was nullified, the inning ended and that team wound up losing the title.

The coach argued, but within the bounds of sportsmanship, asking the umpire if he was certain. “I am positive,” the umpire said. “I would never make that call unless I was absolutely sure.”

Afterward, the coach acknowledged the umpire. “He’s a good umpire,” the coach said. “If he was that sure, he must have seen it.”

It’s never a good idea to enforce an arcane rule just to let everyone know that you know the book. But if it needs to be called, sell it and be prepared to back it up with confidence. The more unusual the situation, the more sure you must be.

14. Don’t insert yourself or disrupt GAME RHYTHM if it’s not necessary.

Back off. If you’re an official — no matter the sport — and you somehow don’t feel “in the game” because little if anything to rule on has occurred in your coverage area, back off. Don’t be that official with a quick whistle or flag, looking for something, any kind of violation or penalty, to make it look like you’re “in the game.” Back off. It’s better for you, the crew and the game.

Many officials think they aren’t doing their job if they don’t enforce the rules, especially if they haven’t been heard from early in a game or an extended period of time during the game. It will be an uncomfortable situation for many, but the better officials know when to stay out of the way and call only what needs to be called. Under no circumstances should an official ignore fouls that involve safety of the players, but being too quick to insert yourself when you don’t need to will result in too many flags or whistles for minor violations or for phantom violations that are better handled with preventive officiating.

Making a call or ruling can be very straightforward and easy. But withholding a flag or whistle in a situation that is close but doesn’t warrant you to stop the game takes discipline and confidence. At some point the game will need you and when it does, be ready. In the meantime, back off.

15. Let the PLAYERS help you make the call.

Generally, players are not award-winning actors. And as you go down from the professional level, to college, to high school and eventually to sub-varsity, the acting skills are dramatically worse.

One of the toughest calls to get right in baseball or softball is the high-and-tight pitch that may have hit the bat or the hand first. Read the batter’s reaction: If the batter immediately screams, “Ouch!” and drops the bat, there’s a pretty good chance it hit his or her hand. But if the batter doesn’t react as the ball rolls into fair territory, in all likelihood, it’s a fair ball. Read the reaction of the player and use that to provide you the additional information to make a correct call.

If a player hustles to save a ball from going out of bounds, even if you didn’t see which player it touched last, you have an indication of the right call.

In this age of flopping and diving, the “rule” is a little tougher, but reading players’ initial reaction to many plays will often still help you when you need it.

16. When a game is obviously over, CONCENTRATION needs to be stronger.

In most any sport, there are games that are decided early on, sometimes in the first quarter or early innings. It’s about that time when teams will start going through the motions, if they haven’t already, and that makes it easy for officials to do the same.

Thoughts of home, work, meetings or your next game can easily grab your attention instead of the game in front of you. That’s the time to increase your focus as much as possible. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything. Focus on the game and use it as an opportunity to improve.

A blowout situation offers officials the perfect time to work on certain mechanics or habits or to experiment.

Above all, don’t physically quit on the game. Continue to hustle even though you may have the urge to loaf. Apply personal pride, vanity or your competitive streak. Draw upon any inner strength or collection of emotions or memories to stay in the game. Do anything necessary to keep your focus and not let up.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 6/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – I’m Working With Who?

By The Referee Editors

Officiating is never boring, especially when it comes to those we officiate with. Good officials can adjust to their partners … no matter who they are.

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Partners and crewmates come in all different shapes, sizes and personalities. There are a lot of good ones out there, but then there are others who will try your patience and test your ability to officiate nice, because their “offenses” are pretty bad. You probably have or will run across all of them during your career. … Hopefully it’s not because you’re seeing one in the mirror.

In life and officiating, you can’t always choose who you work with. So you have to deal with it. Since we’ve run across our share of unique officials working games in various sports, we’ll pass along some sure-fire counterattack plans you can apply if Grouchy Greg or Clyde the Clown walks into your locker room before a game.

Dominator Dan

Dominator-Dan--This guy is part control freak, part loudmouth and part overconfident. He dominates the pregame with partners, dominates in the pregame meeting with coaches and, of course, makes every effort to insert himself and dominate in the game.

If there is a problem in the game, even if Dan is remotely a part of the problem, he will “come to the rescue” whether welcomed or not and, in his eyes, save the day. Dan’s listening, but he really isn’t. He’ll do it his way always.

Counterattack

Do what you can to get a few words in during your pregame. Even if Dan doesn’t end up really listening, it’s important to at least try to get through to him. Conduct yourself in a professional manner, even if Dan doesn’t get the concept. It’s OK to let him have control, as long as he isn’t doing anything wrong. If he does and the rules permit a correction, it’s your responsibility to step up and play superhero, whether Dan likes to share the spotlight or not.

Techie Ted

Techie-TedHe is an enthusiast who is highly proficient about the technical field and how it relates to officiating. Ted’s smart phone has all the officiating information he needs to receive assignments, view video, take tests, study and communicate with other officials and assigners. That is all great. The problem is he is on his device all the time, checking email, texting and searching the Internet. He says he’s listening during the pregame and postgame, but it’s hard to tell because the latest text message from a friend or family members has his attention as well.

Counterattack

A partner with the latest in officiating technology is a positive. Use that technology as part of your pregame, showing video or utilizing a pregame board. If you’re not using technology in your pregame, make the extra effort to engage Ted more in the discussion. It doesn’t hurt to flat out ask him to put the device away. There may be some withdrawal shaking at first, but eventually Ted will be OK, and your prep for the game will be a lot better.

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Give-Me-My-Paycheck Peter

Give-Me-My-Paycheck-PeterPay me now or pay me now, preferably in cash. In Peter’s world, there really is no good reason why a school or organization doesn’t show him the money the moment he pulls into the parking lot. And if the game administrator doesn’t have a check ready and waiting, Peter will politely joke (but not really) how it sure would be nice to have received a check on game day, then ask when he can expect to receive the check.

For Peter, getting his hands on the check is seemingly more important than the game itself. His passion for collecting checks and cash on game days often supersedes his ambition to officiate.

Counterattack

There is nothing wrong with officiating to earn money, but a passion for the game and exhibiting professionalism for those surrounding the game are also important. Asking Peter why he started officiating might help to bring him back to the love of the game that probably got him into the avocation to start with.

Sal the Slob

Sal-the-SlobYou walk into the locker room with your neatly packed roller bag. You shined your shoes twice last night. Your pants are pressed. You even took the time to iron a crease into the sleeve of your striped shirt. You’ve heard it before — perception is reality. You’re controlling the things you can control; you’re really looking the part! As you begin to unfold your meticulous uniform, your partner barrels through the door in one big dust cloud.

“Hey there, name’s Sal!” bellows your partner as he extends his mustard stained hand. Sal looks frazzled at best. His hair is a mess, his dirty shirt is partly tucked in and it’s obvious his holey and untied shoes have seen one too many Guns N’ Roses concerts. Absolutely zero attention has been paid to his unkempt appearance and it quickly becomes evident that he does not care one bit. He unzips his bag and pulls out a balled-up shirt that looks like it hasn’t been washed since opening day, three years ago.

Counterattack

We might be embarrassed working with Sal, or be embarrassed for him. Part of being a (successful) sports official means taking pride in one’s appearance. Being a good partner might mean casually speaking up in the locker room before the game. “You know Sal, I’ve learned that my shirt best stays tucked in when I tuck it in my tights.” Unfortunately, having to take the floor with Sal can give a negative first impression of the entire crew. Expect it, and plan to work that much harder to gain respect.

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Grouchy Greg

Grouchy-Greg“Can you believe they gave him the championship game this year!? I can’t believe it, it’s all soooo political! I guess I gotta kiss more butt.”

Ahh, the always-exasperated Greg has entered the building. Some people see the glass as half-full, some see it as half-empty; Greg sees the glass as all-angry. The sun may be shining outside, but it is always miserable in Greg’s world. “I don’t know about you but I can’t stand this coach, he’s a real piece of work.” Greg’s partners often aren’t exempt from his wrath either. “Why do you guys go to those clinics anyway, you don’t learn a darn thing from those knuckleheads!”

From the weather being too cold, to the game check not sitting next to the water bottle and towel as you enter the locker room, Greg will always have that negative attitude: “All right, let’s get out there and get this thing over with.” For everything wrong in Greg’s world, someone else is always to blame. Heaven forbid it is ever his own fault.

Counterattack

Kill him with kindness. For every angry and negative comment, reply with something positive. Don’t stoop to Greg’s level; that just gives him more ammunition. Nothing can wear you out quicker than the guy who is negative 24/7. Our officiating careers (and life in general) are too short to be mad all the time. Ask Greg why he officiates? If everything is so awful and bad and wrong, ask him why he continues to do it if it makes him so miserable? Maybe you’ll finally hear something positive come out of his mouth.

Just-in-Time Terry

Just-in-Time-TerryEverything is last-minute for Terry. She’s the one who shows up 15 minutes prior to a game, even though she isn’t coming from work. Because you don’t want to walk on the field without her, you are taking the field late, making coaches wonder if you are even there.

If there’s paperwork to be filed, Terry’s waiting to the last minute as well. And then when her email system is down or she can’t find a fax machine or scanner that works, it’s your fault that her form isn’t in. And you are expected to understand that the world has to work on Terry’s time — Terry is a very important and very busy person and without her, things just wouldn’t be as good.

Counterattack

As long as everyone continues to cater to Terry, then Terry will never change. Deadlines must be enforced. Late arrivals must be pointed out to assigners. And even most drastically, go to the field at the right time, and let Terry be late. You can’t let Terry drag you down.

The first time Terry doesn’t get a playoff game because she inadvertently didn’t get the test taken on time, she’ll learn the importance of meeting the deadline. And when enough partners call the assigner or report back on an evaluation that she was late to the site and isn’t doing a proper pregame, it will start to hurt her schedule.

Everyone runs late every once in a while. But if Terry’s always behind and always pushing things to the very last minute, it’s going to look very bad for her eventually. Be proactive and don’t let Terry dictate your schedule or the way you do things.

Captain Obvious Orv

Captain-Obvious-OrvOrv oversells everything and must be seen doing it. The over-the-shoulder out pump when the play wasn’t close. The dramatic long whistle followed by the over-exuberant touchdown signal when everyone knows it was a score. Or the screaming of “FOUL BALL!” when it flies quickly over the fence behind the plate and into the parking lot.

Orv makes it a point of explaining even the most basic calls to players, coaches and even fans. He wants to make sure everyone knows that he knows what he knows and that he saw what he saw. Of course, then when Orv has to really sell a call, his credibility is in question because he can’t do anything more dramatic than he did for the super obvious calls.

Counterattack

Find someone that Orv looks up to and get that person to mentor Orv. Have Orv watch how officials at the higher levels and respected officials at his level use other techniques to command a game. Orv is probably a pretty good official who just hasn’t been shown or doesn’t realize the harm he is doing to himself by overselling the obvious calls.

Big-timer Bob

Big-Timer-BobBob isn’t shy about relating his experiences to people, selling himself based on the levels he’s worked, not his actual ability. In a meeting of high school officials, he’s not afraid to tell people, “This is how I do it when I work a college game.” Or, “This is how we did it when I worked with that professional official.”

Bob is also known to cite the experiences of his friends. “My buddy Larry told me that his crew in the college conference does it this way.”

Bob thinks the levels he’s worked means that he should get automatic respect at the lower levels and that his ways are always the best.

Counterattack

Put Bob in his place. Respectfully stand up to him and let him know that what is important is how we do it at our level and the proper rules, mechanics and philosophies for our level.

If your association has too many Bobs, it can fracture the association. People will want to do it Bob’s way, or worse yet, will want to adopt their own “higher level” mechanics. Soon, there will be no consistency in the way games in your association are called.

Long-for-the-Good-Ol’-Days Larry

Long-for-the-Good-Ol-Days-LarryRemember when gas was 50 cents a gallon? When a portable communication device was two tin cans and a length of string? When the games lasted only an hour and 15 minutes and the coaches never complained about the calls?

Larry does, and he reminds you over and over. And over.

He not only regales you with tales of how games used to be officiated, he actually employs those outdated mechanics and philosophies. Rulebooks? He don’t need no stinkin’ rulebooks! One of his favorite questions is, “When did they change that rule?”

Counterattack

For heaven’s sake, don’t enable Larry by asking him to elaborate on any of his stories. If he’s holding court before you hit the court, try to bring him back to the here and now by getting him involved in the pregame discussion. If it’s halftime or after the game, direct the conversation to situations that occurred today.

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Clyde the Clown

Clyde-the-ClownAs you watch both teams warm up, you can’t help but notice your partner Clyde down by the baseline. What the heck is he doing? Clyde is going through an elaborate (and very attention seeking) stretching routine. All of his jumps, twists and turns would make any yoga instructor proud. You shake your head as Clyde yuks it up with players and fans alike. Once the game starts, Clyde’s act doesn’t stop. His foul calls are theatrical and any time he blows his whistle you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next. Give this guy a red nose and some oversized shoes and you’ve got a real-life clown on your hands.

Working with Clyde can start out as comical and lighthearted, but it can quickly become too much. Clyde is often someone that’s been around awhile — and he has a reputation. Fans laugh at him, coaches tolerate him and partners shake their heads.   

Counterattack

When you work with Clyde, it’s best to stick to your game. Don’t change the way you officiate because you’re working with an amateur comedian. Go out and work hard like you always do. Clyde’s antics will eventually catch up with him. You should enjoy officiating, but don’t become a sideshow; just stay focused on the task at hand.

Invisible Ike

Invisible-IkeIke shows up for the game on time, looks the part of a solid official and says all the right things in the pregame. You have confidence going into a contest with him, but when it’s game time and the pressure is on, Ike is nowhere to be found. Where’s Ike?

When there is a crash and a call could go either way, but there should be something, Ike will often no-call it. When a coach is bashing you from the other side of the field or court right in front of Ike, you won’t be able to count on him for backing or for penalties. Ike likes to get through a game with as little controversy as possible by making as few decisions as possible. Ike follows the wrong thinking that “the best officiated games are the ones in which you don’t know the officials are there.”

Counterattack

Ike is a dangerous partner to deal with because he often won’t have your back. Plan on having to step up more during a game. You don’t want to overstep your coverage responsibilities, but at times, you may have to if it’s warranted. Encourage Ike to step up when it’s needed. Go over the importance of having a presence at halftime or after the game. The best officiating games are the ones that are actually officiated. Lead by example and call what needs to be called.

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Wanna-Be Willy

Wanna-Be-WillyMany are called to officiating. Few are chosen for the upper levels. Willy isn’t one of them, but that doesn’t stop him from dressing or acting the part.

To Willy, the approved signals and mechanics aren’t nearly as good as the ones the pros or college officials use. So he goes off the book and does it like the “big boys” do. The manual says white or blue beanbags. But Willy sports the black version used by college officials because he wants to draw attention to himself. The state has a “clean shirt” policy. Willy wears numbers on his sleeve so people will think he’s taking a busman’s holiday from the semi-pro league to work the youth contest.

Counterattack

When Willy is on your crew, let him know in advance he needs to bring the proper uniform and equipment, and that his nonsense will not be tolerated. Bring some extra equipment in case he “forgets,” so the crew can go out looking proper.

Fake-Hustle Harry

Fake-Hustle-HarryMaybe instead of Harry, we should call him Hurry or Harried. That’s because this guy moves like Jell-O in an earthquake. Problem is, all that energy is expended whether or not he’s covering plays. Someone watching Harry gets exhausted as he sprints to his between-innings spot in the outfield after the third out is made, flies from the goalline to his position on a kickoff (never bothering to slow down or stop to clean up the sideline along the way) or imitates Usain Bolt while doing the dreaded (and incorrect) long switch.

Counterattack

Not every Harry understands subtlety, so you may have to (figuratively) hit them over the head when you explain that he is hustling at the wrong times. False hustle is like yelling: If you do it all the time, people won’t be able to tell when you mean it. Harry needs to understand that.

Lackadaisical Len

Lackadaisical-LenThis character is cool as a cucumber when the heat is on. Or off. Also during the pregame. In fact, sometimes you want to shake him to make sure he’s still awake. Nothing fazes Len. He’s happy to let his partner or crewmates handle anything that may come up during the game. He just wants his check and a quick finish so he can get on with his life.

Counterattack

The remedy would seem to be a swift kick in the slats, but even if it weren’t wrong, it wouldn’t help anyway. Asking Len questions or soliciting his advice will get him involved in the pregame. Engaging him in quick conversations (“How’s my strike zone?” “Did you get a look at the block in the back I called during that kickoff return?” “Is it time for me to give a red card to number 10 if she pops off again?”) when appropriate during breaks in the action may light his fire.

Cocky Carl

Cocky-CarlConfidence in your officiating abilities is important, but Carl goes beyond confidence. If he is your partner, expect to hear about a great call or two or three that he made in previous games. Expect to hear that the game ahead should be no problem. And with all that talking, expect that having a proper pregame may be difficult. If fact, Carl may not think it is necessary. Many games at the high school level may actually be beneath him. So going through the motions with little focus or energy is something you will regularly see.

You might be a decent official, but Carl will likely know more than you and you can expect to hear his expertise offered in full following the game. There is no need to repay the critique, though. Carl won’t think it’s necessary.

Counterattack

Fight cockiness with humbleness and patience. There are some who can and should put Carl in his place (supervisors, coordinators, etc.), but you don’t need to be one of them. Try to do the right thing by pushing for a pregame and listening to Carl’s advice after the game. Present yourself in a friendly way to coaches and players, so the cockiness that Carl exudes is not reflective of the whole crew. Work hard no matter what the level or score, because Carl likely won’t.

Sam the Schmooze

Sam-the-SchmoozeCoaches, players, supervisors, officials, you name it, Sam will schmooze them. He knows the coaches’ names and nicknames, and probably even their kids’ names. Sam has the gift of gab and he’s not afraid to use it to further himself in a game or his career. Unfortunately the schmoozing doesn’t endear Sam to his fellow officials, because they can see right through it. By chatting up the coaches or complimenting the players after good plays, Sam often presents the crew in a bad light. While he’s an equal-opportunity schmoozer, a particular team often doesn’t see it that way and the objectivity of the officials can be called into question.

Counterattack

Sam is mostly harmless. If you’re his partner or crewmate, you just need to keep an eye on him and stress the importance of not talking to players and coaches too much during a contest. Sam should have a short leash. If you’re the one he’s complimenting, understand the source and don’t let your head get too big.

Gotta-Go Gabby

Gotta-Go-GabbyThere are very few postgame meetings that Gabby can’t weasel her way out of. She can’t stick around, because she has to go to a wedding or a funeral or her husband’s birthday dinner, etc. … You get the idea. Gabby likes officiating games, she likes working with the kids, exercising and getting her paychecks, but getting better is not all that important to her and it shows.

Counterattack

If Gabby is on your regular crew, make the postgame meetings mandatory. No excuses. If you just happen to have Gabby as your partner once in a while, it might be tough to counter the excuses. The best you may be able to do is try to talk her into at least a short postgame. Whether your partner stays or not, you should at least mentally review your game or watch video later, if available. Make sure improvement is important to you.

Maybe some of your partners look pretty good right now. … Or maybe not. At least you’re armed with some sure-fire ways to handle the bad ones.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 8/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Unwind Then Rewind

By Tom Schreck

When the final whistle or buzzer sounds or the last out is recorded, you’re not done yet. Here are five postgame discussion strategies to follow.

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It’s been a long day. There was the travel to the event, the pregame meeting, a long grueling contest, some testy coaches, an opinionated crowd and some challenging rulebook interpretations. Now the game is over and you’re sweaty and hungry and all you can think of is the condensation running down the side of a cold refreshment.

Not so fast.

If your focus is on slipping out of the locker room door before a postgame debriefing critique, you’re robbing yourself and interfering with a chance to improve your career.

“I spend a lot of my time mentoring new referees,” Eric Proctor said. Proctor is an NCAA Division I soccer official and MLS official.

“The postgame critique is a great learning tool. The best referees are the ones who are open to what you have to say and those that are willing to learn new things,” he said.

Organizing and participating in an effective postgame critique doesn’t just happen. Like all things in officiating, they take knowledge, preparation, sensitivity and, perhaps most importantly, good social skills. Fall short on any of those components and you can count on a meeting that not only is unproductive but may even leave the officials involved less prepared and more confused the next time they head out on an assignment.

Whether you’re the head official, an evaluator or a referee or umpire who worked the game, you can make the most out of a critique by keeping a few important things in mind.

1Know What to Cover

It may seem like stating the obvious, but knowing what you’re going to talk about after the game when you address the team is crucial. It isn’t the time to work off the cuff. Make sure you have something relevant to say and that you can convey it in a way that the team will understand.

“As a crew chief you have to know what you want to say and have a strategy for drawing each official out. You always have to have a plan for what you’re going to talk about,” said Barb Smith, an NCAA Division I women’s basketball official.

For many officials who conduct postgame critiques having a routine assures them that they cover the things that are important to each game. Having a structure with some flexibility built in is one of the keys to making it work. It’s a mistake to count on total recall after working, particularly a stressful game and in a situation where everyone involved is exhausted. Instead, rely on your structure to make sure that you cover everything that needs to be addressed.

“When it’s time for our postgame we look at the things that were most important,” Proctor said. “We examine any major decisions the team made that affected the game. We talk about how we communicated and ways we could’ve done it better. We talk about all red cards or anything that involves a misconduct and why the red cards were issued. We evaluate any critical match incidents and we take a good look at any game- winning goal controversies.”

By covering the same points at the end of the game with room to be flexible you can make sure that each member of the team can learn and improve their game. Taking the time to plan your meeting in advance will pay dividends and make it more productive for everyone involved.

2Prepare Your Message

You may have more knowledge than any other official on the planet but if you can’t express it in a way that others can hear it, understand it and receive it, all your knowledge may be for naught. First of all, it is important to realize that this isn’t the time to go over every tick of the clock and every play of the game. There’s simply no way you can do it and even if you did, it wouldn’t be digested. If your drive is to be comprehensive, you may need to check your own motivation and neediness and question what you’re trying to fulfill by keeping everyone for an hour after the game.

The best crew chiefs and supervisors focus on a few pointed and important items to cover at the end of the game.

“I don’t think they have to be long but they do have to be focused,” Smith said. “I like to start out by saying something like, ‘Give me three to five minutes of your time. Let’s look at two or three things we did well and two or three things we didn’t do so well.’”

Don’t mistake Smith’s approach for giving the topic short shrift. She knows where she wants to go after the game and structures her meetings in such a way that the important messages are conveyed and, even more importantly, received.

“I always prepare how I’m going to address the crew and I have a strategy for how to draw them out so we can talk about the game. They aren’t allowed to get by on yes or no answers.”

Some situations call for more detail and more formal review. In those cases the meetings go on longer, not so everyone can hear themselves talk, but because there’s important material to cover. When you’re in the role of evaluating others you may feel the pressure to go deeper in detail than an average crew chief, but remember to be focused on what needs to be said and not just taking up time so that you can feel good about going on for the longest.

“When I evaluate a basketball game from the stands I take copious notes of what I see and I use a Dictaphone to make sure I get everything recorded that I want to address,” said George Drouches. He’s a Division III baseball national coordinator and a supervisor of men’s and women’s basketball for the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Upper Midwest Athletic Association.

“I don’t rely on my memory nor do I want to improvise,” he added. “I want to be able to present my material clearly and be able to structure my points in an organized fashion.”

Drouches’ preparation means that when he enters a locker room, his words carry not only the weight of his title but they also instantly have credence because they are factually dead on. When an official knows an evaluator has prepared and studied the game, they pay attention to the feedback they receive.

Crew chiefs and officials can’t prepare quite as much as evaluators, but they can still have a sense for what should be covered and a strategy going in.

3Take a Positive Approach

If you’re leading the postgame meeting, your goal is to help everyone improve from analyzing the team’s performance. Undoubtedly, there were mistakes and those mistakes provide everyone with teachable moments. That is where your greatest opportunities lie, but the message has to be received for it to be worth anything. The messages must be delivered in a way that the team members can process them.

“I start out by asking the group what we did well,” Smith said. “I want them to tell me two or three positive things to get the meeting off on the right foot. It might be something as simple as dealing with an angry coach or that we rotated well.”

Unwind-Then-Rewind-SidebarThe practice of starting off with the positive sets a tone and lets the officials relax their defenses. It lets the participants know they aren’t getting ready for an inquisition where everything they did for the last three hours will be called into question. It also gives them a chance to feel good about themselves.

“All of it needs to be presented in a positive manner,” Drouches said. “You should not be negative and should never be demeaning. I try to employ some of the same strategies I used as a coach and present everything as a challenge to get better.”

That balance of presenting the positive along with the challenge to improve is the crucial focus point. There are always errors, even from the most experienced and skilled officials, and avoiding the discussion of those errors is a huge mistake. Even though some officials can be extremely sensitive, don’t make the mistake of not talking about what needs to be covered.

“I let them know during a critique that we’re here to get better not to feel better. I ask them about what calls they’d like to have back and we review the plays in question. It is kept positive but the mistakes need to be covered,” Drouches said.

It is not enough just to have postgame critiques so you can check it off your list as another completed task. Though they may need to be tactful, they still need to be meaningful, even if that means making some officials a little uncomfortable.

“I think the most useless meetings are the ones where everyone gets together and congratulates each other for being wonderful. Some officials don’t like to give anything up, but there’s always something, and not discussing things doesn’t help anyone,” Smith said.

4Exercise Sensitivity

Those meetings can be particularly anxiety-provoking for the young officials who are so eagerly trying to improve. They may not be overtly defensive but their drive to excel can actually get in their way and they may get crushed with criticism, constructive or otherwise. You may not be in there to make everyone feel good, but breaking down a sensitive official focused on self-improvement isn’t your goal, either. It takes some thought in how to approach officials with that mind-set.

“I think you start out by being open,” Proctor said. “I try to draw a young official out and ask them how they thought they did. Then I move on to what they think they could improve on. I use what they bring up as a lead-in to a discussion.”

For Proctor it’s about getting to the important points so someone can improve and not about showing who is boss and establishing a power structure. The goal isn’t about ego; it is about helping someone become the best official he or she can be.

“I try to stay away from a lot of ‘shoulds’ because it doesn’t help. Instead I think the critiques need to be an exchange of ideas,” he said.

5Know Your Audience

Officiating is one part knowing and executing rules and another part understanding people. Our people skills help us handle the irate coach, the frustrated players and the angry crowd, but they are equally or more important when it comes to working within the officiating team. When you’re leading a team, just like in any other leadership position, you need to be part boss, counselor and friend to those who you are charged with leading.

Perhaps the most challenging officials encountered are the ones who believe they haven’t made any mistakes during a game and who resist any criticism at all. They may be good officials, but with that attitude they will never meet their full potential.

“The most difficult personal attitude without question is the one held by the officials who think they know it all, that they are already great and the only thing they’re really interested in hearing is that they are great,” Proctor said. “It’s a real problem because I know I improved by listening to senior mentors in difficult situations. You have to realize you’re never going to experience everything.”

You may want to blast an arrogant official across the room, but resist the urge to serve up some humble pie. Their arrogance is often a cover for insecurity. Using a little psychology may be the best move and a way into someone who seems a bit closed off to feedback.

“I use open-ended questions to get people discussing things even if they don’t want to. It doesn’t have to be harsh, and by using open-ended questions you can draw someone out who may be resistant,” Smith said.

Open-ended questions are inquiries that require a full answer and are impossible to answer with one word.

Try structuring a question like, “Could you tell me what we could’ve done better in that situation?” Rather than, “Did we do anything wrong in this situation?” or even “Is there anything we could’ve done better in that situation?”

The open-ended questions begin a dialogue in a non-threatening manner. Starting a sentence off with “Could” will elicit the least defensive responses. Be careful when using questions that start with “Why” because they are the questions most likely to be perceived as accusations.

Even with your best communication skills in place you may have to address some officials directly on their attitude and response to criticism. It’s not about showing who is the boss or looking for a fight, but it is about doing your job as a leader. Confrontation can be a tough but necessary part of the job.

“I have to let them know this is not a debate. When you start getting into debating it stops being about getting better and becomes more about feeling better and as I said that’s not why we’re here,” Drouches said. “The officials who are going to be the best are the good listeners. Let’s face it, this isn’t easy … so it is all about improving.”

Unwind-Then-Rewind-Quote

If you’re a part of a postgame critique, it is important to not only soak up the feedback from more experienced officials, it’s also important to demonstrate that you bring an open attitude and that you want to improve. Even if you’ve had an awful game, the postgame meeting is a chance to impress.

“Situations reveal character,” Drouches said. “The officials who really take advice to heart are the ones who will get better. I make sure the next time I see an official I point out their improvements they’ve made since the critique and it means a lot to them.”

Don’t forget how you are perceived when you’re a leader. The group will take its cue from not only what you say, but how you say it and how you behave. Treat a postgame meeting like a presentation and be aware of the messages you are conveying with your words, your intonation and your body language.

“I’m very aware of my body language,” Smith said. “It depends on the locker room but if there’s a chair, I’ll sit down and lean forward and talk directly to the officials with good eye contact. I don’t like to do it standing or while I’m getting dressed. I make sure I’m not slouching. I look folks in the eye and I use a strong voice. I give it my full attention and keep it short.”

Smith’s postgame meeting may only run three to five minutes but she makes the most of the time and gets respect because she gives it by being serious, prepared and sensitive to her audience.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Locked Out

By Jeffrey Stern (Published in the January 2013 issue of Referee Magazine)

*To view the magazine-formatted version of the Lockout story, click HERE

Late on the evening of Sept. 24, 2012, three men enjoy a nightcap at a New York City hotel. On the TV, the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers are battling it out on “Monday Night Football.” The trio — Scott Green and Jeff Triplette, NFL referees and the president and vice president, respectively, of the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) and Mike Arnold, the group’s legal counsel — are taking a break from discussions with the NFL aimed at ending the three-month-old lockout of NFL officials.

Their casual discussion comes to a halt when, on the screen, the game ends with one of the most controversial calls in NFL history. Replacement officials rule a simultaneous catch, giving a touchdown to Seattle rather than an interception to Green Bay. Within seconds, their cell phones are buzzing with calls from NFLRA members watching the game, certain that the egregiously incorrect call will hasten their return to the field.

They also take a call from the NFL, confirming that negotiations will resume in the morning. Two days later, the sides reach a tentative agreement on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA), ending the lockout.
Here is how it all went down.

The Negotiations

Triplette spoke exclusively to Referee on the record on behalf of the union. Jeff Pash, NFL executive vice president and chief legal counsel, presented the league’s viewpoint. It was one of few interviews he granted.

The two sides began formal negotiations in October 2011. Triplette said the existing CBA called for talks to begin in the spring of 2011, but at that time the league’s focus was on agreeing to a CBA with the NFL Players Association. “When they got that settled in the summer (of 2011),” Triplette said, “we finally got together for our first session.”

Lead negotiators for the officials were Triplette; Green; Arnold; Tim Millis, NFLRA executive director; and back judge Tony Steratore, who serves on the association’s board and its negotiating committee.

Representing the NFL were Pash; Ray Anderson, executive vice president of football operations; David Gardi, NFL legal counsel; F. David Coleman, director of officiating; and Doug O’Connell, vice president of compensation and benefits. Carl Johnson, vice president of officiating, was not part of the negotiating team because it is not part of his duties. “Similar to coaches not negotiating player contracts,” explained Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of communications.

Others, including Commissioner Roger Goodell and representatives of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, sat in at various times as well.

Pash also represented the league in the two previous negotiations with the NFLRA. The last CBA, signed in 2006, was achieved with relative ease. The 2012 situation was similar to 2001, when the league locked out the officials and replacements took the field.

“The thing about 2001 is it was overshadowed by the (9/11) terrorist attacks,” Pash said. “We had the terrorist attacks early in the regular season, then we took a week off, and … in that two-week interim, we reached an agreement with the (NFLRA) to bring them back.”

As in any CBA, compensation was a part of the 2012 discussions. In particular, the officials’ game fees and the type of pension were at issue. But that was the tip of the iceberg.

“Economic issues tend to dominate the discussion, on the outside, at least,” Pash said. “But from the perspective of the owners, the non-economic issues were actually more important. Those included things like the proposal we had to hire some number of full-time officials (and) the proposal we had to hire additional officials to sort of serve as a bench, if you will, as a training development tool.”

The “reserve squad” was a contentious issue. According to profootballtalk.com (PFT), Anderson broached the topic at a Sept. 4 meeting with NBC producers and broadcasters.

Arnold responded to that report by contacting PFT via email. “The concept of hiring an additional 21 officials was raised for the first time by the NFL by a letter dated July 19, 2012,” Arnold wrote. “It proposed that the NFL could hire 21 additional officials but not pay them — it wants the current 121 officials to pay them. This is not fair or reasonable and demonstrates that it is a negotiating ploy not a serious proposal.”

The NFLRA also desired codification of issues apart from finances. “We spent a good bit of time talking about the training program that had started under Bill Lovett, and preserving and enhancing that program for existing officials,” Triplette said.

The training program is under the auspices of nine former NFL officials, covering each officiating position and representing a combined 265 years of total service. Prominent on the training staff are legendary referees Jerry Markbreit and Red Cashion.

“All of these retired NFL officials were kind of a confidential training resource for officials on the field,” Triplette said. “So that if you had a problem or you wanted to talk to someone that wasn’t a supervisor and evaluating you, there were some folks that had great expertise. We wanted to be able to continue that program.”

While Triplette said the league didn’t indicate it wanted to eliminate the trainers, there was discussion about modifying the program.

“The league felt, ‘If we’re paying for this, we at least ought to have some input into who the trainers are,’” Triplette said. “They had some ideas how they wanted it to evolve, and of course we had some other ideas. Our big one was to preserve the confidentiality, and make sure there were no written reports. The training program was not something that would be used to figure out how you terminate somebody.”

Another sticking point was an NFLRA proposal to remove Goodell from the loop when it comes to disputes involving officials.

“The commissioner … has a very significant authority with respect to disciplinary matters, and with respect to dispute resolution,” Pash said. “There were proposals basically to eliminate that authority or very sharply limit it in certain contexts. That was something that was just not going to be acceptable to our ownership, because they felt as though everyone should be operating under a common set of rules — owners, coaches, team staff and game officials. They were not prepared to change that simply for one category of employee, so that was a significant issue that we had to work our way through.”

The sides met periodically throughout the fall and winter. Storm clouds began to form in spring of 2012. The NFLRA negotiating committee met with owners Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons), Bob McNair (Houston Texans) and Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs).

“The meeting didn’t last very long,” Triplette recalled. “Both sides had stated their positions, and at that point it looked like we were pretty far apart on some pretty significant issues.”
The CBA expired on May 31. The lockout was on.

The Replacements

The NFL began looking for replacements before the lockout began. ESPN reported that Ron Baynes, officiating recruitment coordinator, sent an email to scouts on May 3, directing them to contact collegiate officials who had either retired or who had not been rehired by their leagues, or other potential candidates. Ironically, Baynes was looking to hire officials to step in for his sons, Rusty and Allen, who were among the locked-out NFL officials.

According to Aiello, “We began the process of hiring and training replacements to ensure that there would be no disruption to NFL games. … The non-union officials were all experienced football officials at various levels.”

Before the season, Green gave a warning. He told USA Today, “The folks that are going to be on the field are not NFL-quality officials that fans, players and coaches are used to seeing. … If calls aren’t being made, there will probably be additional things going on out on the field and that potentially could lead to … player-safety issues.”

Most of the replacements in 2001 were officials from the major collegiate conferences. The NFL could not dip into those ranks this time, in large measure because several of the coordinators of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences are current or former NFL officials. To assist the NFL by signing on as a replacement would mean losing 2012 assignments and possibly beyond.

Each replacement signed an officiating agreement dated June 2, 2012, that included the following provisions:

  • $5,000 if the official attended league training clinics, passed a physical and passed a background check.• $500 per day for each clinic or training camp session attended.
  • $2,000 per preseason game. An official who worked a preseason game was guaranteed three more game fees. (For the regular season, replacements signed a different contract. Game fees for the regular season were raised to $3,500 for referees, $3,000 for the other six officials and $2,000 for alternates.)
  • Coach airfare, ground transportation, hotel rooms and $75 per diem.
  • Two tickets per game.
  • Two hats, two shirts (one long-sleeved, one short-sleeved), one pair of officiating pants, a pair of shoes, flags and beanbags. (The agreement specified the replacements were to return those items when their employment ended. The league later rescinded that order.)

In July, the NFL conducted three training clinics for the replacements, two in Dallas, one in Atlanta. There were approximately 300 applicants.

Starting with the preseason, to help the replacements navigate the NFL’s complicated penalty enforcements and timing rules, the league put an eighth official, another replacement, on the sideline. Information and instruction from a member of the NFL officiating department stationed in the press box was relayed to the onfield officials through the alternate, who was outfitted with a headset.

When training camps opened, the NFL issued a memo to players, coaches and other team personnel that it was “imperative that your entire staff welcomes these officials and provides them with an environment that maximizes their training opportunities and encourages their development.” The memo also had talking points — scripted responses — that could be used when comments on the lockout were sought by the media.

Criticism of the replacements began right after the preseason opener. In an interview on WSCR-AM in Chicago, Fox Sports officiating analyst and former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira had pointed comments about one referee in particular.

“They’ve tried to say that Craig Ochoa, who worked the (Hall of Fame) game, was a (major college) official, that he worked in the Big Ten,” Pereira said. “He didn’t work in the Big Ten. He’s not been a major college official.”

Ochoa is the highway commissioner for the township of Hanover, Ill. His biography on its website lists him as a “professional football and basketball referee working mostly in the Big 10 Football Conference.”

The Big Ten Conference confirmed that Ochoa was never a member of its football officiating staff.

Aiello told ESPN that the replacements “have backgrounds similar to current NFL officials.”

Arnold, in the same story, disputed those assertions: ”It is unfortunate that as referees’ responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, under-qualified referees to administer professional games.”

Pereira added that further proof of Ochoa’s unfitness to work in the NFL was that he had been fired from the Lingerie Football League (LFL), a circuit featuring scantily clad women playing an indoor version of the game. LFL Commissioner Mitchell Mortaza didn’t name names but released a statement that read in part, “Due to several onfield occurrences of incompetent officiating, we chose to part ways with a couple (officials who) apparently are now officiating in the NFL.”

Another hire that raised eyebrows  was the selection of Shannon Eastin, who became the first woman to officiate an NFL game. In her 16 years as an official, the highest level she had worked was the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a Football Championship Subdivision league one step below the Football Bowl Subdivision.

But what alarmed many was the fact that Eastin was a professional gambler. She had participated in a number of tournaments, including a 17th-place finish in an event during the 2007 World Series of Poker. The CBA that expired in May included a prohibition against gambling by officials. The subject was not covered in the agreement with replacements. But in this post-Tim Donaghy world, the idea of even a replacement official with a gambling history led many to question whether Eastin should be working in the NFL.

The league was aware of Eastin’s gambling. Michael Signora, NFL vice president of football communications, told PFT, “Past participation in an event such as a poker tournament does not disqualify a person from consideration as an NFL official.”

Two other officials came under fire for perception problems. Jeff Sadorus worked a Seattle game although he had been on the team’s payroll as an official for scrimmages. There is no evidence that Sadorus showed favoritism to the Seahawks in the game. Brian Strapolo was pulled from his New Orleans-Carolina assignment on gameday because his Facebook page indicated he was an unabashed Saints fan.

Referee requested an interview with the NFL’s Anderson for information on the selection, training and qualifications of the replacements, but the request was declined.

The Regular Season

The replacements received kudos from the top for their work in the first week of the regular season. “Our officials did a more than adequate job last night,” Goodell said after the Thursday night season opener. “I think we’ve proven we can train officials, get them up to NFL standards, and we’ve done that in a three-month period. These officials will get even better as time goes by.”

As the rest of the first week played out, TV announcers, while not effusive in their praise, did not heap criticism on the replacements, either. After the lockout ended, however, at least one analyst said that was by design.

On Dan Patrick’s radio show, Fox’s John Lynch said the NFL encouraged broadcast teams to “go easy” on the officials. “I know Week 1 the league kind of duped every network and called and said, ‘Hey we’re close to a deal so have your guys go easy,’” Lynch said. “And so that was kind of the edict from up top.”

But as the season progressed and the lockout dragged on, the era of good feeling came to an abrupt halt. Calls were dissected, scrutinized and ultimately demonized by fans, media, coaches and players.

Emotions boiled over during games on Sept. 23. New England Coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 for making contact with an official following his team’s loss to Baltimore and Washington Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan was fined $25,000 for chasing officials off the field after the Redskins’ loss to Cincinnati. Other coaches were shown on telecasts berating officials, though none was fined.

That led the league to issue a memo reminding teams that unsportsmanlike conduct would not be tolerated. Anderson told ESPN, “We contacted them to remind them that everyone has a responsibility to respect the game. We expect it to be adhered to this weekend and forevermore.”

Play became increasing rough in the intervening weeks. Some of the hits were flagged and others were not. The perceived inability of the replacements to control the games led the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to send two letters to the league, urging a resolution to the lockout.

A letter to Pash dated Sept. 5 from Tom DePaso, NFLPA general counsel, asserted the NFLRA would “take appropriate action to protect our members” if the union determined the replacements could not ensure the health and safety of the players.

A second missive, titled, “Your Lockout of the NFL Referees and the Negative Impact on Football,” was posted Sept. 23. NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth and New Orleans quarterback and NFLPA vice president Drew Brees were among those signing the letter, which read in part, “Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity.”

The NFL’s Johnson declined a request to discuss the evaluation and performance of the replacements. However, Pash said the league was pleased. “Our own perception is that the replacements performed really in an entirely satisfactory way, and about what you would expect,” he said. “I think no one could have possibly expected them to perform at the level of the regulars. We certainly didn’t.”

The Salvos

Pash and Triplette acknowledged the negotiations had a sharper, nastier edge than those in 2006. “Sometimes in a negotiation things get said, and you probably wish they hadn’t been said,” Triplette said. “I think both sides probably had some of those on occasion.”

For the most part, NFLRA members avoided public comment on all things lockout. “We decided early on that it was probably best that Mike Arnold be the principal spokesperson for us,” Triplette said. “We made sure that those were strategic in nature and very specific when we wanted to have that happen,” Triplette added. “It’s more or less along the lines of controlling the message that we wanted to convey, and having a single person do that for us.“

The NFL wanted the nine position trainers — Markbreit, Cashion, Ron Botchan, Ben Montgomery, Dean Look, Tom Fincken, Bill Schmitz, Jim Quirk and Sid Semon — to assist in the clinics. But when they refused out of loyalty to the NFLRA members, they were told their services were no longer needed.

When word of that action broke, Markbreit was besieged by interview requests. The trainers are not voting NFLRA members and thus had no official spokesman. Markbreit became the de facto voice of the trainers as well as the union and sharply criticized the league for the lockout. His strongest comments appeared in an interview with USA Today published Sept. 21. Markbreit said the replacements’ inability to keep games under control jeopardized player safety. “My only conclusion,” Markbreit said, “is that (NFL executives) just don’t care.”

Negative comments were being issued by the league as well. PFT reported that at the aforementioned September meeting with TV personnel, Anderson claimed some officials become complacent once they know they won’t get a postseason assignment and that, while some officials are in condition when the season begins, they gain weight and fall out of shape by the end.

Anderson wrote a guest editorial for the Sept. 26 edition of USA Today. Anderson offered that the “short-term discomfort” caused by the player lockout of 2011 led to a harmonious settlement. “We have approached the dispute with the game officials union with a similar game plan to achieve long-term stability and improve our officiating,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson took aim at the NFLRA members when he added, “No one wants to see the outcome of a game determined by an official’s call, but it has happened several times in the past. Officiating is never perfect.”

On Sept. 24, it was far from perfect, and it resulted in the most talked-about and debated call in recent memory.

The Call

Week 3 of the season concluded with that nationally televised game between Green Bay and Seattle. Green Bay held a 12-7 lead with eight seconds remaining in the game. Seattle had the ball, fourth and 10, at the Packer 24 yardline.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took a shotgun snap, dropped back, then sprinted to his left. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, he heaved a pass to the end zone. In football parlance, it’s known as a Hail Mary: throw the ball and pray a teammate catches it.

In the end zone were four Green Bay defenders and two Seattle receivers. As the ball neared the cluster of players, Seattle’s Golden Tate gave Packer Sam Shields a two-handed shove from behind, sending Shields to the ground. Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings, the player in the rear of the grouping, leaped and got his hands on the ball. Tate in effect caught Jennings, wrapping his arms around the opponent and getting at least a partial grip on the ball.

Side judge Lance Easley arrived at the pile a few seconds ahead of back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn. Easley looked at the pile, glanced at Rhone-Dunn and threw his hands in the air to signal a touchdown. At the same instant, Rhone-Dunn gave the stop-the-clock signal. While time had expired, that signal is proper when an official believes he and a crewmate need to confer before arriving at a decision. Bedlam broke out with Jennings and Tate still grappling while Seattle players swarmed the end zone to congratulate their teammate.

Instant replay is used on all scoring plays; thus, the call was subject to being reversed. However, referee Wayne Elliott determined there was no indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call on the field. The touchdown stood and Seattle won.

The NFL released a statement three days after the game, affirming the call but noting that Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference for shoving Shields.

Despite the NFL’s affirmation, few non-Seahawk fans believed it was a correct call. For the next 48 hours, it was impossible to watch TV, pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio without seeing or hearing about the call.

Not only was Easley seen over and over covering the play, he later made appearances on The NFL Today and the Today Show. Any time he has been interviewed, he has maintained his call was correct.

The national outrage reached a fever pitch. Ending the lockout became not so much a wish as a demand.

The Agreement

Negotiations had been ongoing for more than a week before a final deal was struck.

“We had been meeting I would say for the better part of 10 days,” Pash said, “close to on a daily basis, either meeting or phone conversations. My own feeling is that we were very likely — not 100 percent — but we were very likely to come to an agreement that week.”

Triplette agreed, saying, “We were in very sensitive negotiations prior to that Monday night. … We were on the road to probably reaching an agreement. Was it the agreement that we ended up with? That’s hard to say.”

In a nutshell, these are the key points of the new CBA:

  • Five-year continuation of the defined benefit retirement plan.
  • A ratification bonus of $2.5 million to be distributed based on seniority, either as a 401k deposit or cash. The payment equaled what the league saved by using non-union officials.
  • An average defined contribution of $22,000, based on seniority, starting in 2017 and continuation of the current 401k match contribution of $3,750 per year.
  • Hiring of seven NFLRA members as full-time employees. “In terms of who the full-time officials will be, that’s up in the air,” Pash said. “I don’t know who they are at this point. I would expect it’s much more likely that it will be implemented for the 2013 season.”
  • Continuation of the trainer program in its previous form.
  • Formation of a labor-management team to handle disputes and work together on officiating improvement.

There will be a “reserve list” of officials, but they will be officials identified as future prospects. Triplette said the idea of sitting “struggling” officials died. “Officials don’t get better sitting on the sidelines. You also don’t sit down Peyton Manning when he throws three interceptions. When it got serious in the last week, I think the commissioner came to the realization that we, just like him, want to see the game get better. There are ways we can do this without using a hammer.”

The agreement is for eight years, longer than any previous CBA. Both sides see benefits in that.

“The league wanted a longer term deal than we wanted, but we got some things that we wanted in exchange for that longer term deal,” Triplette said. “The league has … stability, and our members have stability in knowing this thing is not going to last just five or six years.”

Said Pash, “We’re more and more moving toward longer term deals with key partners and participants in our business. I think, frankly, we would’ve signed a longer deal if they had wanted to. It would give us enough time so that everyone could get their blood pressure back to a normal level before we had to gear up for another round of negotiations, and also because we had a longer term deal it allowed us to say to our ownership, we can go another year or so on maintaining the pension plan in place to allow a longer period of time to transition out.”

The league was able to get the NFLRA to back off its demand that Goodell be taken out of the officials’ discipline loop. Triplette said the union wanted those cases heard by someone more independent of the league heirarchy as opposed to the man at the top. But practicality ruled the day in that case. “The commissioner said, ‘I don’t understand why we’re spending time on this. I’ve been the commissioner six years and I’ve never heard one of these grievances,’” Triplette recalled.

The CBA had yet to be approved by the NFLRA members, but the association’s board unanimously endorsed it. Goodell insisted that, in order to reach an accord, the regular officials had to work all Week 4 games, including the one the next night in Baltimore. That posed a potential problem for both sides. If the NFLRA did not ratify the CBA at its Sept. 28-29 meeting in Dallas, seven members would have worked while the others remained sidelined. The league could have faced a situation in which NFL officials worked one game but replacements worked the other 14. Moreover, with a Saturday vote, the league would not have had time to dispatch replacements to cover the remaining games.

Gene Steratore’s crew was assigned the Thursday game, in part because of proximity and convenience; he could drive from his home near Pittsburgh to Baltimore. Some other members of his crew, however, were unable to work due to business or other commitments. Several late-night phone calls were made and the openings were filled.

“(The NFL) had identified several crews that were in close proximity, where most of the crew members could probably get there on an early morning flight to get to the game site,” Triplette said.

Steratore and his crew were greeted with a thunderous standing ovation from more than 70,000 fans. Two days later, the officials approved the CBA by a 112-5 vote.

The replacements were paid for Week 4 despite the settlement. They returned home to work high school or college games. Many, like Easley, did interviews to describe the experience. When asked by The New York Times about the criticism heaped upon the replacements, Sadorus evoked a higher power. “Everyone wanted perfection,” he said, “but come on. The last guy who was perfect, they nailed to a cross. And he wasn’t even an official.”

The Aftermath

There was joy and relief among the officials that they were going back to work, but there was anger and bitterness as well. Anderson, whose comments throughout the lockout infuriated the NFLRA, was not greeted warmly in Dallas.

An official at the meeting, who requested anonymity, said Anderson’s comments kept the union unified and committed to its positions. And the hard feelings toward him will not go away any time soon.

“Ray spoke when we voted on the ratification and we came back on that Saturday morning for the vote,” the official said. “Immediately after the vote they had a mini clinic for a couple of hours. He spoke at the beginning of that clinic, and there was dead silence in the room. That tells you all you need to know.”

PFT reported it is likely Anderson will be reassigned and given different responsibilities which do not include officiating. Referee was unable to speak to Anderson to confirm or deny that report.

As in Baltimore on that Thursday night, fans in other cities greeted the regular officials with applause and signs welcoming them back. The Oct. 8 issue of Sports Illustrated heralded the settlement with a cover photo and feature story on uberbuff referee Ed Hochuli. The cover carried the line, “Oh, Now You Love Us.” Indeed, those inside and outside the game were pleased to see NFLRA members return to the field. From Triplette’s view, that includes the NFL.

“In my opinion, they have a better appreciation for what we do,” he said. “They were very complimentary even before the lockout of our work and what we do. It wasn’t that we were bad. In the end, everybody probably learned something out of this.

“We learned that we have to do a good job and a better job of not only working the game on the field, but also helping folks understand the difficulty of what our job is,” Triplette added. “It’s like in anything: When you do it well, folks get accustomed to you doing it well and they don’t appreciate how well someone does it until you don’t do it anymore.”

Jeffrey Stern is senior editor of Referee. He is a veteran high school and college football official.

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