Football coaches are not the only ones who will need to get accustomed to change as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association transitions from their longstanding NCAA rules to those that guide the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Hundreds of referees from around Massachusetts, including those who work with both the Hockomock and Tri-Valley leagues, will have a hefty offseason workload. Like their counterparts on the sideline, referees will need to adapt to the 238 rule changes that accompany the transition.
Mike Rayberg, president of the Massachusetts Independent Football Officials Association (based in Mansfield), highlighted a few areas of concern. Rayberg has been an MIAA referee for 12 years, serving on the MIFOA board the entire time.
“I understand that a lot of guys don’t like change and this is a major change for us,” Rayberg said. “There are some minor modifications, but there are also some major ones from NCAA (rules) to Federation. The time table seems rushed to us, but at some point, I guess we all kind of figured it would come to this with the other states.
“Our major concern is losing college officials, veteran officials. We have some really good college officials that are saying, ‘I’m not going to jeopardize my college official career by having to learn Federation rules.’ I understand that.”
Darrell Benson, the football commissioner for the Hockomock League, Bay State Conference and Tri-Valley League, agreed. He said it should not be dramatic, but is still worried about officials dropping their high school duties.
Benson said veteran officials could ultimately drop out because, simply, they would not want to learn a new set of rules. College officials, meanwhile, would not want to put themselves in a difficult spot having to differentiate between one set of rules for high school games on Friday night and college game rules on Saturday.
Benson said it could exacerbate an existing trend.
“We’re losing refs anyway,” Benson said. “They’re dropping out because they don’t feel the pay is adequate, or they’re not treated fairly. But it’s thought that this could further impact (the situation).”
Benson, who has been the assigner of the Hockomock, Tri-Valley and Bay State for more than a decade, in addition to some 25 years as an official, said the areas south of Boston could see less impact than those north of the city.
Rayberg agreed, as the largest board of referees in the state covers the North Shore with approximately 400 members and it has the most college officials.
Officials also brought up the issue about longer quarter length. Benson said it's just putting an added burden on them.
“I don’t know any labor union in America that would do 20 percent more work and just say ‘Sure, we’ll do it,’” said Benson, who equated the difference from four 11-minute to four 12-minute quarters as approximately a half hour of additional time.
It’s not up for debate, however. The quarter length was a discussion at a meeting with the football committee on Tuesday in which committee voted 16-0 against modifying the 12-minute, Federation assessed quarters. The states will not make modifications because it could cause them a loss of vote at Federation table.
Rayberg said he has not refereed football games out of state, but does know others who have. He said while it’s not rocket science, it could take at least two years to be fully engulfed in the transition, but still has confidence officials will do so.
“The biggest thing is going to be the enforcement of some penalties, ones that are so engraved in our blood and are now a 180-degree turn in enforcements,” Rayberg said. “That will be the biggest challenge.
“We’re taking action, holding classes and basically cramming for a final (exam),” Rayberg said. “We’re just trying to digest and process as much as we can. There’s going to be a learning curve and there will be mistakes made, but fortunately, we and the coaches are going through it at the same time. Hopefully, there can be some cohesion, but there’s going to be some bumps in the road.
“We just want to provide a good game for the student athletes because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”