PIAA details ongoing struggles with referee shortage

November 2, 2023 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
There is no denying the nationwide referee shortage that’s been ongoing in recent years. That shortage has not overlooked the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), which has seen a decline in high school sports officials for the last eight consecutive years.

A recent story from ABC27.com detailed the issues the PIAA has had with referees and what the organization is doing to combat its shortage. Below is an excerpt from the ABC27.com.

piaa“We lost some officials in 2015,” said the Assistant Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Patrick Gebhart. “Then when the five-year renewal came up in 2020. . . we lost many officials to COVID for a variety of those COVID-related reasons.”

The 2015 referee exodus began after it was ruled that officials would be treated the same as teachers and would be required to go through a clearance process, which they had to pay a fee for. They had to go through that process again in 2020 and even more referees left.

The shortage of officials available has caused many football games, which historically have been held strictly on Friday nights in the Keystone State, to be scheduled for Thursday evenings or Saturday afternoons when the refs are available.

“It might be a benefit to those schools that are playing on Thursday night,” Gebhart said. “If it’s one or two games, they’re now marquee games. They’re not drowned out by the other 10 or 20 games that might be in their locale. So we tried to look at it in a positive manner.”

The PIAA tries to use seven officials for each football contest, but they have the flexibility to play a game with just five referees.

Gebhart says that he cannot confirm for sure because his job is to focus on playoffs, but he believes there have been some regular-season football games that have had to be canceled and/or rescheduled this season due to not having enough referees for a game.

Football is not the only sport that has struggled with official staffing.

Lacrosse is a popular sport in Central Pennsylvania and Southeastern Pennsylvania. It was adopted by the PIAA a couple of years ago and lots of schools chose to add the program. However, many of these schools haven’t been able to pioneer a lacrosse team because there aren’t enough officials to staff the games.

“The number of officials that came on board and continue to come on board does not keep up with the number of schools that want to sponsor lacrosse,” Gebhart said.

In Southwestern Pennsylvania, schools have also struggled with getting enough officials for soccer matches. The schools have resorted to having officials from Ohio and West Virginia, who are also certified PIAA officials, travel across the Keystone State border to work games.

“That’s one area where it’s somewhat remote, so the number of officials [is] not really what we need there,” Gebhart said.

To read the full story from ABC27 about the PIAA’s struggles with referee retention, click here.