Referee Mark Moser works a game between Ursuline and Caravel

Referee Mark Moser works a game between Ursuline and Caravel

'We all have the same goal in mind. We all want the student-athletes back on the fields and courts, but we want to know what rules are there?"

That was the key question raised by Walt Conner, a member of the Delaware Interscholastic Officials Council, and a veteran basketball referee as they presented concerns to the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors Thursday.

Officials weren't mentioned much during the last two months as the DIAA first voted to move fall sports into the second semester, and then slipped them back into the fall beginning on Monday.

There has been an officials shortage in Delaware for several years, but they have been able to work around it with scheduling and enough recruiting, but in a COVID environment, some of their numbers could be depleted.

The Northern Delaware Football Officials Association, which handles games in New Castle County, told WDEL earlier this week they had just 21 referees who were willing to work games under the current mask mandate.

Conner said IAABO Board 11, which covers basketball in New Castle and Cecil Counties, had just 19 officials willing to work in an environment without masks, and 24 if masks were being used.

One answer suggested by some is to take advantage of high school sports still being paused in some neighboring areas, but Conner said it's not just as simple as tapping a registered PIAA ref on the shoulder and pointing them towards a court in Delaware.

"They're going to need what the requirements are that they're walking into, and we're going to need to know what they need to do, what we need to do, to get them registered."

Among the issues being raised are the rising population of officials, often into the higher-risk age range for COVID infections, a much greater concern than the younger athletes they are officiating.

Dr. Bradley Bley, a member of the DIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said that officials might be at a lower-risk of infection, especially if using masks. 

"By definition, a close contact is about 15 minutes of exposure time within six feet. I can't imagine any official being that close to a player or athlete for that length of time within six feet."

Mask use by officials needs to be defined, but also for the athletes. 

DIAA's board debated whether masks should be required to be double layered, a suggestion of the SMAC committee, who has been trying to translate protocols from Governor Carney and the Division of Public Health into policies for DIAA.

Referees also asked whether they are part of the uniform, which would mean they would need to match their team's colors, plus whether they will be in charge of enforcing whether they are being used, and what penalties could be for non-compliance with mask mandates. 

Greg Bulger with the Delaware Lacrosse Officials Association wanted to make sure DIAA is being consistent, because if one referee ends up being perceived as being stricter than other schools are with mask rules, it's yet another way referee abuse could begin.

"Officials want to officiate, but they want to do it safely. Consistency is our big concern, too. With social media, if something happens at one place, they want to know why it didn't happen or did happen here, enforcement is different, and then that puts us in a bad situation as officials."

DIOC plans to meet with SMAC, and get more guidance from the Division of Public Health, as they aim to make as many officials as possible confident to work.

Conner said it will ultimately have to be a DIAA decision, whether through DPH, SMAC, or their own call, and not the individual referees association.

"Not being employers, there's nothing we can mandate to our officials, but we can tell them what the regulations are from DIAA, and we can say as a DIAA certified official, this is what DIAA is requiring you to be, and you have to make a choice whether you're going to do it or not."

It's a series of choices that could mean whether games can take place as scheduled in Delaware.