A new football season has rolled in but for the Northeast Georgia Football Officials Association the problems of old have followed them up the road into 2019.
The past few years NGFOA and other official associations around the state have been battling a shortage of football officials to cover games on Friday night.
Last year, the shortage came to a boil with a few games having to be moved to a different date to allow time for officials to be assigned to cover the games.
The offseason began very promising for the head of NGFOA Bill Palmer. There were a bunch of applicants that expressed interest in becoming officials for the upcoming season, but by the end of the summer there was only a net gain of four officials for the 2019 season.
The Athens area has always been a unique area in that the NGFOA relies heavily on the University of Georgia as a feeder system for officials.
That also means that there is a high turnover rate among officials once UGA students graduate and move on.
“In Athens we always have a high turnover rate because students are helping us out in officiating then when they graduate and of course they leave and we get more students in to help us out,” Palmer said.
The time commitment that it takes to become an official seemed to wave off much of the interest and momentum that had been picked up after the issue was brought to light last season.
“Our offseason efforts we thought would be productive, but it turns out not quite so much,” Palmer said. “We had a lot of people who expressed interest and we had a lot of people contact us after the publicity from last year when we had games that we had to move. A great many of those that expressed interest realized what the commitment was, most of them have not followed through... We’re still in the same boat and most people in the state are still in the same boat. I’ve spent a great deal of my preseason administrative effort working with other associations trying to swap games around on nights that we’re heavy with associations that aren’t as heavy. At this point I think we’ve got everything covered.”
Palmer and the NGFOA have found a way to get every varsity game covered for this upcoming season, but getting the junior varsity games officiated may take some stretching this season.
“The non-varsity games are the biggest problem,” Palmer said. “The ones on Thursday afternoons where people who have regular jobs can’t get off work in time to be at a game 4:30 or 5 p.m. That’s a challenge. In our area we travel all from Hancock County, Putnam County and up to Jackson County, Barrow County and Franklin County. It’s tough to get somebody that can get off work in time to get to those places to officiate. So, we’re right back in the same boat we were in last year.”