HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The lack of officials has become so extreme, high school football teams will have to move games to nights other than Fridays. According to the Mid Penn Conference, there will not be enough officiating crews in the fall of 2022 to cover all the games in a single week, and worse yet, this problem extends to all sports, not only football.

The Mid Penn estimates it needs at least 15-16 crews each Friday night during football season starting in the third week of the schedule (when conference play begins). Each crew requires five football officials.

The Capital Area Football Officials Association is in charge of assigning officiating crews to each game. The group estimates it will only have enough officials to staff 12 crews per week on a single night. That number excludes any injuries to officials throughout the season (thus needing a replacement) or personal events that take an official off of assignment on any given week.

With a clear disparity between the required number and the number available, the Mid Penn says it wanted to be proactive in making sure the league can play all the scheduled games during the season.

Mid Penn proposal to move Friday Night Football games

Proposed by Dave Bitting, Lower Dauphin Athletic Director, the Mid Penn plans to move at least one game per season per Mid Penn division to an alternate day: either Thursday night or Saturday during the day. By moving the entire Keystone Division games, for example, every team in the division would have the same amount of practice and recovery time to keep things fair.

As the plan is still being finalized, the Mid Penn has notified all member schools and plans to vote on March 8th at its conference meeting. It is clear, however, that teams will move games off Friday nights in the fall of 2022, the schedules just have not yet been set.

Full interview with Dave Bitting on proposed Mid Penn schedule changes

This brings up a larger conversation, however, as this marks the first time a Midstate league has had to make a wide-ranging change to a season schedule.

Bitting says the lack of officials has been an issue for a few years, causing teams in all sports to play games on alternate nights. Officials organizations have asked to move certain games during the season due to staffing issues.

In basketball, the goal is to have three referees on the court for each game. Many crews are having to get by with just two, with officials sometimes doing three games per night.

The Mid Penn is exploring all sports playing on multiple nights per week as opposed to just their assigned schedules. As opposed to teams playing the same set two to three nights per week, games would be scheduled on all days of the week to ensure officials can staff every game.

The goal is not to reduce the number of games schools are able to schedule, but instead combat the shrinking pool of officials by allowing more flexibility in scheduling. The Mid Penn is also actively trying to recruit more former players and parents of athletes to begin training to become an official.

Seeing that need for more officials first hand, Bitting signed up to officiate basketball himself. He was a former coach and longtime athletic director and wanted to do his part to help. He says it gave him an appreciation for what officials go through on a daily basis, although a nagging knee injury forced him to retire from officiating.

PIAA & national campaign for more officials

This comes as the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association continues to push for more people to sign up to become an official. In fact, the PIAA saying in a tweet on Wednesday “could you use some extra income? Because we could use some extra help.”

“You [would be] making a difference in the lives of students everywhere, encouraging exercise through competition, and establishing life long fundamentals of fairness,” the PIAA says on its official website.

Just this week the National Federation of State High School Associations expressed concern about the declining number of officials, saying the shortage has reached crisis levels across the country.

“A survey of state high school associations indicates that approximately 50,000 individuals have discontinued their service as high school officials since the 2018-19 season – the last full school year unaffected by the pandemic,” according to an article on the NFHS website.

The NFHS sites some common themes in the departure of officials nationwide including unsportsmanlike behavior of spectators, parents, students and coaches. Another chief concern is the early retirement of many officials due to retirement.

According to a 17,000-person survey in 2020 by the National Association of Sports Officials, there are more officials over the age of 60 than under 30. The study also said the average age of referees polled was 53.

The goal is to get more people, and younger people, to pick up a whistle.

“Many sport parents have been around the sport for 18 years, and then their kid graduates, so we’re trying to reach out to those individuals to get them to stay involved on the field, on the court or on the mat as officials,” said NFHS director of officiating services Dana Pappas.  

Mid Penn hopes to be ahead of the curve on making life a little easier on officials while organizations like the PIAA and Central Pennsylvania Basketball Officials Association tries to drum up more people to start the training to become an official.

Steps to become a PIAA Official

  • Complete the PIAA Officials’ Application and submit to PIAA office
  • Send $40 application fee to PIAA to receive rule book and study sheet for each sport you choose to test
    • This non-refundable fee is applied to first year’s dues
  • Take officials’ sport examination for each sport you choose to officiate
  • Upon successful completion, affiliate with local officials; chapter within 15 business days
  • Obtain clearances required by state law and submit to PIAA

More details on how to become an official can be found on PIAA’s website by clicking here.

The Mid Penn is home to 37 schools for football after absorbing the Tri-Valley League into the Liberty Division. The conference began in the 1982-83 school year and is the largest athletic conference in Pennsylvania.

More information on how to become an official in the Mid Penn can be found on the conference website by clicking here.