As a sports official, you’ve been there. You’ve fought the traffic to show up to a field on a cold, rainy day, in plenty of time to do your game.
One team is there, ready to go. You do your own warmup and go through your pregame mechanics with your crew but as game time approaches there is still only one team present.
Right before the scheduled start time, a caravan of cars or perhaps a school bus comes racing into the parking lot.
The coach of the late-arriving team finds you, apologizes for being late, tells you the reason why they couldn’t get there on time and asks, “Do you mind if we start a little late so our team can warm up? Because, after all, it’s cold and rainy out.”
What is your role here? Do you have the power to delay the start of the game? Do you have any legal liability if you tell the coach, “No, we are starting on time today.” What if you are willing to delay the start but the “on time” team insists on starting on time?
What’s a referee to do?
Use the following decision formula.
Follow the league rules
First, know, understand and follow the rules of the competition or league in which you are officiating. Those rules may call for an on-time start, no excuses. They may provide for a grace period, after which the game will not be played at all.
This is especially true in a “showcase” or “tournament” situation where there may be games scheduled back-to-back all day long.
Allowing your game to start late may have many repercussions later in the day, including added costs to the game organizer for field rental.
If there are no established rules for the competition, but there is either a school administrator or a tournament official present, let him or her make the call, because this is his or her job.
While you are the “judge and jury” on all of the facets of the game once it starts, you should let an administrator sort out the bona fides of the excuses given and weigh the pros and cons of starting late. Then, you just do what the administrator asks you to do and include that information in your match report.
With no rules and no administrator, have the opposing coaches discuss the issue and come to an agreement if they can. You won’t go wrong abiding by whatever agreement they reach.
If the coaches cannot agree, err on the side of safety and allow a reasonable time for a warmup, again noting the issue in your match report.
As a referee, you have broad discretion on matters of player safety. While legal claims against referees are rarely successful, you lessen the risk of a claim even being made by making a decision that, in your judgment, is based on player safety.
For the coaches who don’t like your decision to start late, simply inform them that you will write up all the facts in your report.
Assuming that you have followed this formula, the overwhelming likelihood is that the league/tournament will back you up, players will be safer, and the risk of a legal claim for injury being made against you for making that particular decision goes down to just about zero.
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