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Mike Conlin wears a number of hats when it comes to officiating. Along with being an active official and having assigning responsibilities ranging from the Division I level down to middle school basketball.

Conlin shared his thoughts on assigning as part of a panel last July at the Sports Officiating Summit.

“Unfortunately, I think as assigners sometimes we get too caught up in all the numbers,” Conlin said. “It often becomes just a business about trying to fill a slot.”

Conlin likes to focus his efforts on the assignments and has his schools help him out with some of the other administrative tasks. In addition to making initial assignments, he is used to having to replace people as well.

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“I made about 6,000 assignments last year between football and basketball,” Conlin said. “That’s just counting the assignment the first time. That’s not counting having to replace people.”

Turnbacks

The issue of turnbacks obviously doesn’t pose as much of a problem at the higher levels for Conlin, as the officials he uses often jump at the chance to work the more advanced contests.

“I don’t do a real good job about keeping track of the declines and the turnbacks because I really don’t think I want to know the number,” Conlin said. “It’s too many, as most of you know. I have another website or Arbiter group that’s just my college officiating. It’s a small group, as far as the assignments go — smaller than high school. But I still have about the same number of officials. So I’m dealing with the better part of 700 officials on a regular basis.”

As both assigners and officials figure out what does and doesn’t work when it comes to assigning, the process becomes less hectic and more manageable. 

“In regard to turnbacks, I think as we get better at the assigning piece and the officials get better at their calendar, we get less and less of that,” Conlin said. He also stresses to his staffs that he prefers to only assign a game once. “I try to tell my officials that this is a business for me as an assigner. If it’s a varsity girls’ basketball game, I get paid to make three assignments. When I make assignment number four, I’m working for free, and nobody realistically wants to work for free. 

“If you let the officials know that, it becomes a little bit easier. I’ve been trying to use that take with them for a number of years, and they now have a tendency to do a better job. I also tell them they move to the bottom of the ladder when they do the decline thing on a regular basis.”

Payment

The method in which officials are compensated is another area of concern that assigners need to figure out. Conlin uses RefPay (now ArbiterPay), a third-party entity that specializes in the payment of sports officials. 

“One thing that I’ve tried to get my schools to do that I think has made it a lot easier on everyone, and especially for the officials, is to get as many of them to use RefPay as possible,” Conlin said. “It’s a lot easier because they know the money’s going to the right person, and they don’t have to worry about the wrong people cashing the check.”

Game fees can greatly differ depending on what sport and level is being worked. Conlin continued, “At the high school level, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. But if the wrong person gets a check that’s got a comma in it, there are certainly tax implications.”

Technology

As a veteran assigner, Conlin has seen a number of positive and negative trends over the years. Technology has made assigning a much more manageable undertaking. “One of the positive things is the use of websites,” he said.

Conlin feels that as new officials and administrators enter the world of officiating and assigning, they tend to be more technologically savvy than previous generations.

“The younger people coming in have grown up using the Internet, so it’s not intimidating to them,” he said. “I’ve found as the staffs get younger, and it’s also true at the high school level, that we don’t have the problems we once had.

“In the beginning when we were trying to use the Internet, you had a lot of athletic directors that really struggled with any of the assigning programs. It’s not so much chronological age as the fact that you’ve now got people that are not technologically intimidated. It’s a much smoother process.”

People Business

Another negative trend that Conlin sees happening in the industry is that officiating is becoming less and less of a people business and more of a filling- the-slot business. “In the ArbiterSports system, it’s a bunch of slots,” he said. “I think we get away from the people business part of it. It’s just about filling a slot. 

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“The reality is, if I’m trying to assign you to a game and you can’t, I don’t (unfortunately) have time to shoot the breeze. If I’m looking for a football crew, I really don’t care. I just need to move on.”

Some officials on the receiving end of that can quickly label an assigner as being arrogant or uncaring. That’s not the case, according to Conlin. 

He thinks that it is important for both assigners and officials to recognize where the other is coming from. Working a number of sports with various coordinators has made Conlin recognize that the people side of assigning should never be lost. 

“One of the reasons I’ve stayed connected to the local high school association as the assigner is to be at meetings and have people see who it is that’s on the other end of the assignment when they decline,” Conlin said. “Overall it’s a really good business and I still really enjoy it. You meet a ton of great people, and I wouldn’t know most of the people in this room if it wasn’t for officiating.”

This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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