Shortage of officials impacting basketball games across Basin

Kenneth Smith, president of the Permian Basin Basketball Officials Association, hates picking up the phone to inform a coach that there aren’t enough officials available for a game, but he has no choice.

With not enough basketball officials working for a game, Smith has to make these calls almost every day. Most affected by this shortage are sub-varsity level games, but there are times when varsity games are affected. In some cases, the shortage has forced some coaches at their respective schools to fill in and officiate the games. If no one can fill in at the sub-varsity games, the coaches may have no choice but to cancel.

Smith said the entire chapter has 79 members and the PBBOA needs 120 members to comfortably cover one of the largest areas in the state, stretching west to Van Horn, to Lamesa and Denver City, to Sanderson and south to the Presidio and as far east as Westbrook and Colorado City. In the past, the chapter averaged about 90 members, but those numbers have been declining, Smith said.

“We have several games where we can only send one official to a game,” Smith said. “A lot of times we have to call that coach and say, ‘Hey coach, I’m sorry, but we don’t have any officials for you tonight.’ It’s very frustrating, I know, on their part, but especially on our part.”

Smith, they have attempted to recruit new members, but the association has not seen that number increase in the two years since he has been President. This problem is not limited to the pool as there is a national shortage of referees working not only for basketball but for other sports as well.

Smith said some parents’ behavior at games made it harder to recruit new members. Smith, a former boys’ basketball coach at Midland Christian, said he tried to recruit some of his former players to become officers, but because they saw how some officers were treated, they turned it down. And Smith, this behavior by some fans has only gotten worse over the years.

“I’ve done my research and 70% of officials don’t make it past year three and a lot of that is because of the way they are treated by the fans,” Smith said. “It’s very difficult when you’re trying to go in and recruit and you’re trying to go in and build your chapter.”

Smith said the pay is competitive enough and it’s a chance for people to make some good extra cash during the season. A varsity official earns $75 per game plus travel expenses, while sub-varsity officials also earn $55 plus travel expenses.

“During the COVID situation when people were laid off we thought our numbers would skyrocket but a lot of people didn’t want to risk going out on the pitch and things like that when COVID is circulating and that’s understandable. ” he said.

Smith said it’s also important to recruit new members soon as the chapter ages.

“We need a big, strong youth movement to give them experience and to replace all the veterans when they retire,” he said.