Florida has a high school basketball officiating shortage

There is a shortage of basketball officials in Florida, and it’s getting worse, making it difficult for high school games, leagues/associations, and tournaments to run smoothly throughout the state. 

The causes are many, including changes in society, logistical difficulties, and a lack of incentives.  

Ares Infante is a decorated referee with 32 years of experience. He has officiated 14 years at the NCAA Division I level (SEC, Conference USA, and SunBelt), 10 at the Division II Sunshine State Conference, and over 30 years of high school basketball. 

“The process of recruiting and training new basketball referees can be difficult, labor-intensive, and time-consuming,” Infante said. “Without adequate resources and support, potential referees may be deterred from entering the profession.”

The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) oversees referees. It administers and requires an annual rules exam covering new and fundamental topics. Officials must pass with a minimum score of 75% to officiate high school basketball games at the varsity level.

The demand for officials is growing while the supply is decreasing, Infante said. 

“The popularity of basketball in Florida has led to an increased demand for referees across various levels of play, including youth leagues, high school competitions, and amateur tournaments,” he said.  

“The supply of qualified, experienced officials has not kept pace with the growing demand and popularity of our sport.”

Nick Agress, who competed at the Division II level at Eckerd College, started officiating 11 years ago and has worked college games for eight years. He says poor treatment of refs is also a factor. 

“Coaches, players, fans, etc., have a major lack of respect for officials,” he said.

“While it’s typically been verbal in the past, we are seeing more and more videos surface on social media of officials in all sports being attacked physically during games. This is at all levels.

“I see some of the worst in fans and coaches at the lower recreational youth leagues. Parents and coaches are not setting the example, and it’s trickling down into our youth.”

There are financial factors as well, Agress said.

“While the payment has improved, the Florida High School Athletic Association pays amongst the least in the country,” he said. “With the price of gas rising all over the state along with general inflation, the FHSAA has not kept up. The compensation does not match the demands of the job, making it less appealing than other employment opportunities.”

The job is more complicated than it looks, referees said.

“Misconceptions about the role of a high school basketball referee can deter potential candidates,” Agress said. “One common misconception is that refereeing solely involves enforcing rules and making calls on the court. While this is a significant aspect of the job, refereeing also requires strong interpersonal skills, conflict resolution abilities, and the capacity to manage high-pressure situations effectively.”

Leo Marshall, who has been officiating for 26 years, expanded upon the referee shortage. 

“The three main factors I see that play a part in the shortage are a lack of security, proper accommodations at game sites, and finances,” Marshall said. “Abusive fans and coaches with little to no security for the officials at the game sites have also played a major role in the reduction of officials.”

There are some possible solutions, said referee Alan Austin. He added that organizations like the FHSSA need to “highlight the career path that sports officiating could provide.”

Austin has over 30 years of basketball officiating experience. He has officiated at  Division I (Ivy League, Ohio Valley Conference, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, etc…), Division II, and in the Puerto Rican Professional League and Puerto Rico Women’s Professional League). 

He currently officiates in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Florida Junior College (JUCO), and is a Miami Dade Basketball Officials Association official.

Austin suggested stressing the lasting friendships and relationships that develop over time and the benefits that result from these partnerships.

“Not everyone will make it or get to play professionally. However, sports officiating, if done right, could open doors that are unimaginable.”

Jordan Lopez is a Cuban-American digital journalism student who intends to pursue a career as a sports journalist and writer, combining his passions for sports and writing. Lopez currently writes for FanSided’s Predominantly Orange (Denver Broncos) and VerdictMMA (UFC). He hopes his writing informs fans and South Florida residents about their favorite sports teams.