OFFICIATING! FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: PART 2
WHEN LOOKING AT ALL SPECTATOR SPORTS IN THE UNITED STATES, THERE ARE ABOUT 15,000 TO 16,000 PEOPLE TASKED WITH BEING UMPIRES, REFEREES OR OTHER OFFICIALS.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL In baseball, “America’s Game” probably has more levels of competition and leagues than any other sport. In 2020, there were only 76 individuals who served as umpires at the top level in baseball’s Major League (MLB). These 76 people draw an annual salary of between approxi- mately $110,000 and $500,000 per season, based on their performance, seniority, number of games, and other con - siderations. They all must have certified 20/20 vision. They must be athletic, in good health, and possess great commu - nication skills. They must also be highly principled people and will have graduated from the MLB Umpire Training Academy, which takes several weeks and costs about $2,500 to attend. There are thousands of individuals who aspire to be an umpire in MLB, but the road is long and there are many steps along the way. The youngest person to ever achieve the MLB level was Lance Barrett who, at 29 years old, made it after serv- ing only seven years in the Minor League system. In baseball, the system starts back in T-Ball and Little League, where umpires may be volunteers or those who draw a payment of between $15-$50 per game. Some also do various men’s, women’s, and co-ed leagues of varying levels at similar rates. The next step is high school, where an umpire will earn $50 and up for each game. Those reaching the college level usually receive a fee of $100 and up per game. But for those who aspire to make the “big leagues,” the journey starts in the rookie and short-season leagues. The next step is Long Season A Ball, Advanced A-League, and Double- A, with the last stop being AAA. Before moving on to the “big dance,” they may get a tryout in MLB Spring Training leagues, the World Baseball Classic, or the Arizona or South- ern Leagues. MLB employs a rather large Major League Baseball umpire development staff. The staff scouts all the various leagues and evaluates the officials in those leagues. Based on the evaluations of the scouts, individuals are recommended for promotion to the next level based on their knowledge and performance in actual games. Progressing through the system is slow. Those who are fortunate enough to meet the criteria and advance are a very small number. For the 76 who made it to the MLB dance in 2020, the journey has usually taken about 10 years. Baseball is also the sport with the longest season and the most games per year at the Major League level.
THE NFL In the National Football League (NFL), an officiating crew is made up of seven people. These crew members typically officiate the now 17-game season. The average salary for NFL officials is between $200,000 and $250,000, and there is extra compensation for pre-sea- son and playoff games. There are just over 100 certified officials in the NFL. These include umpires, referees, and head linesmen. As with MLB, officials must attend training and have a minimum of 10 years prior experience at the lower levels of competition. They must also be in excellent physical condition and provide full records of their past officiating experience. The NFL also has a group of 65 people who make up the officiating scouting team that searches all levels to seek out those with the most potential to meet their needs. In the United States, there are about 4,000 individuals who are rec- ognized officials at various levels for football. They start at the youth level, where an official may earn about $10 per game, and proceed to the high school officials who earn between $45-$100 per game. The NCAA level is considered the top level below the NFL, and these leagues have their own different staffs, requirements, and regulations along with financial considerations for their on-field as well as off-field officials. THE NBA Making it to the National Basketball Association (NBA) is a very similar process to the previously mentioned leagues. Starting with various club leagues before advancing to high school and on to col - lege is the usual course of progress. Officials must sit for the NCAA exams when they get to that level. The fast pace of basketball further stresses the need for individual physical and mental fitness. The usual minimum requirement to call lower-tier games is 6-10 years of game experience. Entry-level NBA officials earn about $600 per game and have an 82-game season. The average pay for a proven official can reach $550,000 per season in the NBA. OTHER LEAGUES When looking at all spectator sports in the United States, there are about 15,000 to 16,000 people tasked with being umpires, referees or other officials. In the five major sports (baseball, soccer, football, basketball, and ice hockey), the average annual salary for officials was $27,000 in 2010, with a few states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York reporting a higher average of $42,000 to $60,000 per year. While researching this information, it was noted that each sport and most leagues have a code of conduct and accountability within their system. Any official can be fined, suspended, reprimanded or dis- missed for violations.
82 | SHOWSIGHT MAGAZINE, MARCH 2022
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