Under the direction of David Pierce, Ph.D., IUPUI’s sports management capstone class changed its usual approach in response to the officiating shortage. Instead of consulting with a local sports organization to help it overcome a specific issue affecting its business, the fall 2019 cohort sought a deeper understanding behind the root causes of the officiating crisis and created solutions to increase stability within the American sports ecosystem. Over the course of the semester, students were able to find key insights and statistics that lie at the root of the shortage.
The FactsThe population of officials is growing smaller and older. The average age of officials in the 1970s was 21 years old, but, in 2018, the average has increased to 43 years of age (DeNisco, 2018). The current state of officiating is pushing young people away from the job. However, the issue goes beyond the aging population of officials. Retention is dropping at a dangerous rate, with 70 percent of officials quitting the profession within three years of starting (Seifert, 2019). Officials are leaving the job every day, and the margin of retention for new officials is resulting in the shortage.
Across the nation, states are seeing a recession in the population of officials year after year. Michigan saw its high school official population fall roughly 23 percent over a ten-year period from 2009 to 2019 (Lacy, 2018). From 2010 through 2018, the total number of high school officials in Florida dropped by 30 percent (Barnhouse, 2018). Indiana has seen an eight percent drop in officials over the past four years. Across the country, each state is showing an annual decline in total sports officials.
Human-centered DesignStudents used human-centered design to uncover the key problem spaces in the recruitment and retention of officials. First, the students engaged in contextual inquiry observing officials in their game-day environment and then interviewed Indiana-based officials from different levels of play and across sports. These interviews revealed several key pain points that were repeatedly discussed by the interviewees as factors that led either themselves or their peers to walk away from the job. These pain points included verbal abuse from fans and coaches, the flawed system used to assign officials to games, gaps in training and education, and poor support from the organizations that employ the officials.
Second, students engaged in facilitated ideation sessions to develop creative and innovative solutions to the problems. With a greater understanding of the shortage of officials and empathy-based thinking, the students began the ideation process to create solutions with the needs of the official at its core.
It's the Person, Not the StripesVerbal abuse is a major factor that pushes sports officials to leave the profession. The large number of officials leaving the field each year is putting a strain on sports in America. The goal of this team was to get people to see the person that is behind the calls of the game. With this goal in mind, It’s the Person, Not the Stripes was developed. It’s the Person, Not the Stripes is an empathy marketing campaign with the objective of showing what officials endure by using firsthand interviews, day-in-the-life videos, ways to look at officials differently, and salute-to-service drives. To protect the future of sport, accentuating the humanity of these men and women can aid in minimizing the behavior that is detrimental to officials.
Eyes and Stripes
Ref-n-MotionRef-n-Motion will expose students to officiating at a young age by showing the benefits that can build excitement behind officiating as a potential career path. Ref-n-Motion is a curricular addition that brings the profession to the students. Through physical education curriculums and eventual high school athletic association adoption, the students will be exposed to the profession throughout their academic careers. Students who show an interest and want to enter the profession will also have the chance to extend their exposure into college through an academic minor. During college, these students will have the opportunity to become licensed officials and learn the business side of the profession. Through Ref-n-Motion, the younger generation will be heavily impacted and be more likely to fill the shoes of the older officials who are hanging up their stripes and whistles.
Between the Lines
Giving Referees and Officials Wellness, Training, and Health (GROWTH)
Two-way Mutual Rating System
Barnhouse, W. (2018, September 20). High school sports struggling with shortage of officials.
DeNisco, A. (2018, September 28). Referee shortage hamstrings high school sports.
Lacy, E. (2018, October 11). Why referee shortage may have long-term consequences for high school, youth sports.
Seifert, K. (2019, June 19). A 'crisis mode' at all levels: How technology put officials in a tough spot.