The head of the Texas Association of Sports Officials says we may be on the verge of seeing our first instances of football games being cancelled for lack of referees, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
As football practice is about to start for the 2018 high school season, Michael Fitch says one thousand veteran and trained referees have quit across the state since last year, and they have been unable to find replacements.
"By far the number one reason they don't return is the horrible abuse they get from the fans," Fitch told News Radio 1200 WOAI. "Sometimes from the parents, but mostly the fans."
Fitch says the incident two years ago when a Jay High School player allegedly punched out a ref, apparently with the approval of an assistant coach, was seen by many refs as the turning point, and convinced them that for all the hassle that comes with being a high school referee, from travel to low pay, it just isn't worth it.
He says the comments from the fans have turned from disagreements over the calls to threats, bullying, and attacks on the referee's family on social media.
"It is certainly more aggressive than it has been in the past," Fitch said. "If you sit back and look at the world we live in, that's kind of the way things have been going."
In addition to out of control parents, Fitch says there are several other social trends which are cutting down on refereeing.
He says today's far more 24/7 world means many people who twenty years ago would be able to leave work at 5PM and prepare to drive thirty miles to referee a high school football game are now working non traditional or extra hours which make that commitment far more difficult.
In addition, younger people are not stepping in to replace men who are simply ageing out of their ability to run up and down the field for two hours every Friday night. Also, the increased population in Texas simply means there are more high school football teams playing more games.
Fitch says the idea of refereeing games with fewer referees is not an option.
He says the Friday Night Lights will first go out on Junior Varsity, Freshman, Middle School and B League high school games, and there is the possibility that smaller high schools could be feeling the referee crunch as well as we prepare for the high school football season.