Game officials pay raise proposals discussed _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Doyle principal Tommy Hodges speaks during a meeting of 2A schools, Thursday, January 28, 2016, at the LHSAA Annual Convention held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge, La.

While the split playoff format for football (and possibly other sports) has received the most buzz at this week’s LHSAA Convention, there is another just as important vote on the agenda for Friday morning at the Crowne Plaza.

Principals will vote to approve or deny a pay raise for game officials.

The LHSAA reached a deal with the Louisiana High School Officials Association in July to give officials a raise, helping prevent officials from walking out of games. But now it’s up to the principals to approve the deal.

The pay raise was one of the major topics discussed in the class meetings held on Day 2 of the convention.

Doyle Principal Tommy Hodges spoke on behalf of the officials’ pay raises during the Class 2A meeting.

“I ask you to please consider voting for this, even if you think the quality of officials is not as good as it should be,” Hodges said. “I’d hate for our teams to miss out on a chance to play games, and that could happen.”

If the four-year agreement isn’t approved, there is a chance the officials could refuse to work like they threatened to do last summer.

“I don’t even like to entertain the negative side of things,” said Airline principal Jason Rowland in the 5A meeting. “I know it’s reality, but let’s see where we are and then figure it out. It’s nothing extra that we haven’t already been doing this year.”

Football and volleyball officials were given the raise this season in the fall and basketball, soccer and wrestling coaches are benefitting from it currently. But the handshake agreement, which would be good for four years, could all come to a halt if the principals deny it.

Keith Alexander, assistant executive director of the LHSAA, also wants to see the raises approved.

“I spend a lot of my time in the month of June to the middle of July trying to recruit officials and trying to make sure that we get better,” Alexander said. “… You’re not paying them $1,000 a night like the (Southeastern Conference) does. I don’t want to see us get in the same boat as our neighbors in Mississippi or Arkansas where it has become a privatized organization where the big schools can pay the bigger bucks to get the best officials. Sometimes 1A games are just as big as 5A games, so we want to try to keep it as even as we can.”

Alexander also said the LHSAA is putting systems in place to help improve officiating.

Crowley principal Perry Myles expressed concerns.

“You want to get paid for a job, you better have some improvements,” Myles said. “Instead of just coaches critiquing these people, and you’re asking us to give them a raise, we need to do the critiquing. We’re the ones that need some say-so in their ability to come to our places. … I don’t think anybody in here is against giving them raises, but the officials have too much power.”

LHSAA assistant executive director B.J. Guzzardo said Louisiana is one of just three states in the nation that tests its officials.

“They get on the court and on the field experience and they go to camps, so they (the officials) are doing things to get better,” Guzzardo said. “I’m not going to say they’re all great, but if you watch college and pros, those guys get more extensive training and they screw up every week.”

Guzzardo said a bigger problem is that some of the older officials are retiring and the job is attracting newcomers.

West Ouachita’s Joey Pender was also in favor of the raises.

“I know it’s going to cost a little more. I think they’re going to work out some of the details about rating the officials and things like that,” Pender said. “But a four-year plan that we wouldn’t have to deal with every time we turn around and worried about if we’re going to have officials or not — I think this is the idea time to step up and say, ‘Let’s vote for it, let’s get it behind us and let’s go play ball.’ ”