Sports Commentary: TSSAA needs to take steps to improve officiating pool

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Joe Williams

Joe has been a contributor at the Herald since 2006. He took over as Sports Editor in 2013 and helped launch our Live Streaming games in 2015. He has more than 20 years of experience broadcasting sports, including 10 years at WAKM-AM 950. Follow him on Twitter @whsports. 


So far, the most “entertaining” part of the high school basketball season may well be the poor level of officiating. There are still great officials working, but their numbers are dwindling as fewer and fewer are accepting the challenge.

Those who are working are becoming more reactionary than preventative in their work. Never was this more obvious than the recent Middle Tennessee Invitational Tournament at Franklin High School.

Over the course of three days, there were at least five technical fouls issued, more than I’ve seen the past two years combined. It was the first time I’d ever seen a team manager receive a technical foul. It was also the first time I’d ever seen a team scorekeeper threatened with ejection.

Lack of officials, especially good ones, is a national issue. The pay isn’t bad, but not many are willing to put up with the entitlement society we live in today. Parents and fans believe they can say anything — sometimes do anything — they wish at a game. And the career path and training for new officials is, in many cases, suspect.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a tremendous group of dedicated, committed, very good to excellent officials in this area and throughout the state. But their ranks are being stretched thin, and the replacement pool is dwindling.

The high school system is convoluted, giving each cog in the machine plausible deniability if something goes wrong. Officials are approved by the TSSAA but not employees of the association. Schools contract with local “associations” that assign officials, who are then paid by the schools directly. Because of the many degrees of separation, accountability and professional development are perceived to be lacking.

How do you motivate a younger, or even older, group to get involved? Three things need to happen.

First, parents and fans have got to lighten up. Yes, there have been some glaring issues, but in 99% of the cases, it’s just not that critical. If you’re that good, get out of the stands and get on the field or court.

Secondly, the TSSAA has got to restructure its relationships with the assigning associations. The quiet little secret most don’t want to talk about is that many of the associations are still running on a variation of the “good ol’ boy system.” Sometimes it is not so much what you know as it is who you know, at least to get in the door.

Finally, the TSSAA has got to create structured training for officials of all sports, and under its own banner, not just farmed out to individual “camps.” The current system of paying a fee to the TSSAA, passing an open-book test and joining an association just isn’t working. It is time for the central office to take a more direct, proactive, responsible approach to officials than the system currently in place.

This is not an immediate fix, but we didn’t get here overnight either. 

Moving to three-man (or woman) crews and the explosive growth that has created more schools, especially around Middle Tennessee, are things that have been years in occurring. But those changes are going to force a new look at how officials are made.

Really good ones are still going to be poached by colleges. There will still be bad calls, and there are still going to be some who just shouldn’t be officials. But the time for a new paradigm on recruiting, training and accountability for prep officials has arrived.



Joe Williams is the sports editor for the Williamson Herald. Contact him at

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