The Officiating Shortage, Unsportsmanlike Behavior, And The Players: A Chat With OAOA’s Jack Folliard

Way back when everything was whatever normal means in the world, high school officials were more plentiful and abundant. As time progressed, behavior got worse from spectators and it started to impact numbers, just for COVID-19 to take a drubbing on the profession. As officiating starts to come out in full force two years after COVID shut down the world, the bad behavior has worsened and the officiating shortage has become a borderline crisis in Oregon. On Wednesday, I had an interview with the head of the Oregon Athletic Officials Association Jack Folliard, who was kind enough to spend time talking with me about the shortage, unsportsmanlike issues, and other topics that athletes wanted answered or discussed. Here are the things we touched on and the perspective of an officiating profession about these topics:

Unsportsmanlike Behavior: What types of conduct are the most problematic?

According to Mr. Folliard, the unsportsmanlike conduct is near the top of the list. He credits high school coaches with helping out officials and keeping their players under control, but the parents/grandparents in the crowd are the larger problem. Mr. Folliard explained that officials are bounded by their own rules on when they can intervene in conduct, which would need a game to be halted and the spectator handled by a “event management”, which usually consists of a school administrator. He explained that this is a drastic measure that officials do not like to take, as it deviates away from their job and the athletes ability to play games.

Officiating is also a part-time profession, so full-time careers take priority in the lives of officials, which also plays a big role in the ability to recruit new ones and retain them. When you couple it together with the bad behavior, it makes it harder than it already is to deal with the shortage of officials.

Does OAOA have a desired outcome or desired system of discipline to handle these issues?

Mr. Folliard reiterated that officials are bounded by their own rules on when they can intervene, which places primary responsibility on the coaches and administrators to keep spectators in check. He explained that it is more prevalent in indoor sports where people are closer to the action, compared to more spacious outdoor events where the noise is drowned out by other factors. However, he warned that the shortage is affecting all sports, and that we could see games start to be canceled as high as the varsity level if things don’t improve in regard to spectator conduct.

Credit: Getty Images, Wundervisuals

Officiating Quality: Does OAOA believe there are officiating issues in terms of quality?

Mr. Folliard disputed that there were any issues with the quality, as officials are applying the rules of the game in the way that they are taught to. Additionally, he added that while newer officials are learning the game in the way that players are, more seasoned officials can have different interpretations of a rule in a specific situation. With officials being human, there are multiple ways that something could be called or interpreted based on the individual official, and that it isn’t indicative of a quality issue in officiating.

Evaluation: How are officials evaluated in performance?

Each region has their own officiating body, so each one has their own way of performing them based on their size. According to Mr. Folliard, senior officials are ones that typically do evaluations, but it is also important to keep in mind that they are also officiating games themselves, so those opportunities vary from region to region. In sports where video is available, officials also use that as a teaching tool and a way to self-evaluate performance, which happens both individually and in groups.

Accountability: How are officials held accountable in performance?

Mr. Folliard explains that the standards for officiating haven’t changed, but the bar is held to a reasonable standard. Like he previously touched on, human aspects and interpretations of rules play major roles. In an example, he explained that you could show a situation to a dozen seasoned officials, and you might very well get a dozen separate responses on how it should’ve been called. Interpretation is a major part of officiating, and that it is one that can change from official to official.

In terms of direct accountability, Mr. Folliard explained that if an official is determined to be below standards, that more training is the first resort to resolve the issue. Scheduling could be affected for those officials if it continues, and they may eventually be dismissed for not meeting standards if the body deems it to be necessary. Officials are also provided incentives for performance, particularly by being awarded playoff games and more favorable scheduling.

Credit: Getty Images, Matt Brown

Players and Officials: Could there be a point where athletes and officials can have discussions?

Mr. Folliard took a hard stance against players and officials interacting with one another. In his eyes, there cannot be any benefit to athletes and officials having any interaction about calls, as athletes would only want to talk to one when it would be a negative interaction. Mr. Folliard says that athletes need to focus on playing the game, and allow coaches to interact with officials on calls. In his words, Mr. Folliard asked, “What is there to gain from players interacting with officials? Nothing.”

As for how officials interact with coaches and parents so differently, he explained that they ignore parents as much as possible, and that they do allow coaches to vent about calls even though it won’t change it. He says that players serve in only procedural roles such as pregame meetings, coin tosses, etc., and have no actual ability to dispute anything like coaches do.

Follow-Ups: What types of things do officials have to do before they can suit up?

Mr. Folliard gave an insight on this question: Officials have to pass a mandatory background check, take concussion training courses, study and pass a national rules test, pass all training requirements and attend regular meetings that start a month before the season, and continue to work on their officiating throughout the season.

He also explained that how things are seen on TV is most people’s observation of how officiating works, when in reality it is much different than that for the high school level. He feels that officials shouldn’t be judged by coaches, players, or spectators unless they understand the material and pass everything that officials do before they can do games.

I appreciate Mr. Folliard’s flexibility and willingness to discuss these hot topics that come out every year, along with their impact on the future of things. These are answers through the eyes of a seasoned official, who serves in a leadership position to be a voice for high school officials across Oregon, who ultimately ensure that our athletes play all the games that they can each season.

Footnote: Header Image of Mr. Folliard comes from the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame!

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