Oftentimes, it is a thankless job. They are criticized, ridiculed, and social media always has something to say. Being a sports official is not easy.
Whether it’s being yelled at by fans, or being treated poorly by officials, there have been many viral moments from social media that have come out. One of these viral moments happened just a few weeks ago during the NFL playoffs, when video surveillance showed Dallas Cowboys fans throwing trash and other objects at the officials as they jogged off the field. It became an even bigger topic of discussion when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott acknowledged the fans for that incident. A couple of days later, Prescott apologized for his comments on the matter.
Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new issue has come up in sports that has not been addressed as much. An article from the Washington Post brought up the issue of a growing shortage of referees in youth sports across the country in the last few years.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, intramural sports have been back for over a year. However, due to the different circumstances, there had to be adjustments made to adapt.
“We just have had to be willing to adapt and change given the circumstances we have been given,” said Zac Brost, the assistant director at the Campus Recreation Center.
Brost helps oversee intramural officials and has worked vigorously the past year and a half to provide students a fun atmosphere for intramurals. The work environment around him is what got Brost to continue working at the Campus Recreation Center after he was finished with college.
Brost originally got involved because he happened to see an advertisement looking for intramural officials, and it immediately caught his eye. “I was involved in sports my whole life, so it just seemed like a natural fit.”
Brost was a transfer student looking for work on campus when the ad officiating intramurals caught his attention. Eventually, after having enjoyed the experience, things fell into place where Brost continued to work his way up to his current position. Now, Brost is up to a much more difficult and stressful task.
Part of the stress with intramurals now is the fact that there are not as many intramural officials as there used to be pre-COVID. Current intramural officials have carried this burden of being understaffed while also being full time students.
When Jayden Brown started college, he knew that he needed to get a job. Having grown up as an athlete with a father who was an official, applying to be an intramural league official was an easy decision for Brown. He quickly realized this would be a fun job that he would enjoy.
For both Brown and Brost, being a part of intramurals and officiating seemed like the natural thing to do, given their experiences prior to college being around sports. Intramurals offer students an opportunity to be involved on campus and meet new people. It also can lead to something that could end up being a part of your career, as was the case with Brost.
As Brown had anticipated, he enjoyed being an official, getting to meet new people and being around the sports that he grew up loving. Like Brost, he enjoyed the people that he got to work with, making his job more enjoyable than the average college job. But since COVID has hit, the job has added stress and has changed from what it was previously before the pandemic.
“There’s a whole new set of rules that we have had to go through in compliance with the university, so that has made it a little more difficult,” Brown said.
Like everyone else, UNL Campus Recreation has had to comply with the university, be willing to adjust and be flexible with the circumstances they are given.
According to Brost, that has meant offering activities and sports to anyone who may enjoy them in an environment they feel comfortable in.
“We have been doing plenty of virtual activities and contests as well to make it more interactive for students, as well as continuing to expand on the number of intramurals we have to offer,” Brost said.
Some of the more recent activities added to the list for intramurals that have grown includes the interest in video game tournaments such as NBA 2k and Mario Kart, as well as increased popularity in virtual chess.
Because of all the new activities that are being offered despite a decreased number of workers, students such as Brown have seen themselves having to work much more and with smaller crews.
Brown had to officiate some intramural games by himself, because they did not have enough people to work a certain night. While he does not mind the extra work, it does mean Brown has to be more cautious with how he uses his time.
“I have to be very diligent and organized with my school schedule, and make sure I hold myself accountable to get all my assignments and studying done,” Brown said. “Because sometimes I might not be getting home until after midnight.”
Intramurals are meant to be fun and offer students an escape from the stresses of college life. The campus recreation is known for offering all kinds of different activities to gain student interest. Due to staffing problems, there have been times where it was difficult for Brost and the rest of the intramurals team to navigate how they were going to offer these activities, whether it be virtually or in-person.
“It’s just an ongoing uncertainty, and that is not unique to only us here at intramurals. It is going on everywhere,” Brost said. “But all we can do is our best to navigate a way for students to take part in activities they love.”
The future of officiating is unknown. As the Washington Post article points out, people have begun to realize that there are other jobs available that pay just as well (if not better) than officials do, all without having to deal with the negatives.
Angry youth parents complaining about a strike three call, football fans throwing trash at officials, and fraternities disputing a call made by a referee. A lot of these instances play a role in why there is a shortage of officials. While COVID has played a part, it certainly is not the only explanation for the shortage.
“Sometimes you do have the occasional intramural player who argues with you about a call,” Brown said. “But as I have gotten older and more experienced, I have handled it much better through the communication skills I have learned and being more confident in myself.”
As for the future of officiating here for intramurals, Brost knows it will not get any easier for them. But he is hopeful and believes that the campus recreation center still has a lot to offer students.
“We are going to try our best to promote the advantages that we have to offer, despite being a part time job here on campus. To remind and inform students about our fun work environment,” Brost said. “A flexible job, and the opportunities for students to work on skills such as communication and leaders. At the end of the day, I do believe that does speak to some.”