All school administrators interviewed by Florida Today agreed that sports officials in their state deserved more money, but some question the large jump in pay approved by the Florida High School Athletic Association and how it will affect athletic budgets.
In November the FHSAA announced an increase in the maximum per-game rate for officials in 12 varsity sports that averages 43.6 percent and 55 percent or more for six sports.
The biggest raise in terms of dollars and percentage comes in football. The issue of a pay increase came to the surface last fall with a work stoppage in Lee County that caused the cancellation of several preseason games, as well as threats of strikes from other officials groups in the state.
The new FHSAA officials' fees were created by a task force that included five officials and five high school athletic directors. The per-game fees were decided upon by averaging the officials' pay rate in eight Southeastern U.S. states, then adding $5 plus the $10 travel fee.
Florida lagged behind neighboring states in what it paid sports officials. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina all paid officials at least $8 more per game (12.3 percent). Six of those states paid at least $25 more (38.5 percent).
“The problem is this is catchup pay, because (the FHSAA) has been delinquent in giving a raise for so long,” said Robb Mackett, president of the Greater Naples Officials Association. “That’s why this is so dramatic. It looks dramatic but it’s only the average of what other officials (in other states) are getting.”
Cocoa High School athletic director Mark Carstens said his department spends $25,000 per year on game officials, and he estimated the raises could increase that by about $6,000.
Officials in Lee and Collier counties estimated the cost could increase by as much as $30,000.
“With the shortage of officials that there is, increasing pay could help them to recruit," Heritage High School athletic director Ajay Ulmer said. "I think it's justified in that case. As an AD, I'd be all for it if we get more officials out there and it helps them do their job.”
Many high school athletic budgets are mostly self-funded. The sports programs run on money from ticket sales, fundraisers and sponsorships.
Ulmer said the two biggest costs are officials and travel. An increase in expenditures for game officials could mean cutting travel budgets or other expenses.
Cocoa's Carstens suggests the answer might be in adding income. "We're going to have to absorb that cost or charge more for tickets," he said. "For me, the big concern is how its going to affect attendance if we have to raise ticket prices."