Niehoff, NFHS Weigh In on Referee Shortage

February 17, 2022 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
No matter where you are in the country, it’s very likely you’ve felt the ramifications of the nationwide referee shortage affecting mainly youth and high school athletics.

Dr. Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), knows the pressure this referee shortage puts on athletic administrations and coaches alike.

In her weekly column for, The NFHS Voice, Niehoff noted that roughly 50,000 individuals have ended their careers as referees since the 2018-19 season — coincidentally the last full school year that occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic.

referee shortageThe column continued by noting NFHS director of officiating Dana Pappas’ report of 43 states totaling a loss of more than 33,000 referees.

“In talking to some of the state directors, many of these losses are people who were probably on the brink of retirement, and then COVID kind of forced the issue,” Pappas said. “Nationally, we’ve gone from about 240,000 to 200,000, which has become an area of concern for states just to cover games at all or with the maximum number of officials on a crew.”

Below is an excerpt from Niehoff’s column on the referee shortage many are facing today.

There is some good news on the horizon, however. After hearing the same message – shortage of officials – from every level of sport in the country, the NFHS is orchestrating and leading a first-ever National Officials Consortium Summit in April to collectively address the concerns.

“What we discovered was that everyone was working on the same problem, but there is no strategic collaboration between the entities,” Pappas said. “We understand that everybody is reliant upon our pipeline at the high school level. So, we want to work together to replenish and keep that pipeline healthy and figure out ways that we can do the work collectively instead of everyone doing it on their own.”

In addition to the NCAA, more than 30 national-level sports organizations have committed to being a part of the consortium hosted by the NFHS in Indianapolis from April 12-14. Various youth, high school, college, and professional sports organizations, as well as national governing bodies for Olympic sports, have expressed an interest in coming together to address the growing shortage of officials.

“In our discussions with these groups, we realize that instead of just talking about the problem, they want to be a part of the solution, which is exciting,” Pappas said. “We want to get all hands on deck instead of everyone trying to do their own thing to accomplish the same goal.”

While unsportsmanlike behavior continues to be a major issue, it’s not one unique to high school sports. It will be helpful to address this issue – and others – with ideas on solutions from all levels of athletics.

In the meantime, the NFHS is continuing in its attempt to recruit more individuals to officiate, including current high school athletes and current parents of athletes.

To read the full column from Niehoff and the NFHS about the nationwide referee shortage, click here