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McGair: Plenty of blame to go around in R.I. high school football officials saga

April 14, 2013

A little of this, a little of that …

There’s plenty of blame to go around now that a Massachusetts group has been given the responsibility to assign, evaluate and train officials for Ocean State-based games.
It’s the result of an embarrassing fallout exposing unfortunate and regrettable decisions made by all involved parties in the saga over the fate of Rhode Island high school football officials.
The state’s football coaches could have prevented the situation in the first place by taking a look at the Rhode Island refs’ proposal and recognizing that it contained clauses that the coaches have long been yearning for – the ability for officials to be held accountable.
The officials, who should have acquiesced to coaching evaluations long ago, could have also taken preventative measures. Of the 90 members of the Rhode Island Football Officials Association, coaches have expressed that a dozen or so fall into the category of “bad apples.”
Citing a unified commitment to one another along with the belief that you can’t get rid of someone simply without just cause – this is where an evaluation system would have had serious merit – the R.I. officials adopted “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” as their unofficial slogan. Translation: A coach is better off with an official who he’s had past dealings with rather than some out-of-state type who could prove less willing to tolerate in-game questioning of rules enforcement.
Who performs the evaluations? The Rhode Island officials were prepared to ask retired members if they wouldn’t mind going to games during the 2013 season for the sole purpose of observing and analyzing the five-person crew. In theory, such implementation would serve as a jumping-off point next offseason when assessing who should be allowed to continue and who should go.
No matter the number of bullet points the R.I. officials stressed in their proposal, the coaches were of the mindset that a changing of the guard was necessary. To the leaders of young men in helmets and shoulder pads, new and foreign blood was an enticing proposition and should be greeted with open arms.
Be careful what you wish for.
By entering into a two-year agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts Football Officials Association, it would seem the coaches got exactly what they wanted. Take off the party hats and put down the noisemakers; it’s clear that there’s a long way to go before we’re out of the woods.
In order for this new officiating agreement to work, SEMFOA would need 52 Rhode Island officials. What happens if these same officials who have had their zebra stripes removed take the tenor of jilted lovers and decide that as a “one for all, all for one” organization, we refuse to cross the line?
That, my friends, could lead to even more a damning mess that goes well beyond whether a holding call was made or missed.
If SEMFOA can’t round up enough officials – word from the weekend is that the new group in charge reached out to officiating groups in order to gauge possible interest and availability – the 2013 schedule could be tweaked to the point that you may see Thursday night games. Thanksgiving and playoff games could also become subjected to scheduling alterations based on accessibility of officials.
The officials from outside Rhode Island aren’t just at this state’s beck and call. They have other assignments to consider, ones that make more sense to them from a geographic standpoint. Can you picture an official who lives in Bourne, Mass. driving to Burrillville for a Saturday contest that kicks off at 10 a.m.?
The group that could have nipped all of this in the bud is the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics. They could have told the football coaches and athletic directors that seeking officiating alternatives carry more risk than reward. The fact that the PCOA engaged in lengthy discussion following last Wednesday’s hearing that was granted to the Rhode Island officials suggests that consideration was given to potential ramifications.
The PCOA didn’t have to cast a vote Wednesday; the matter could have been tabled and the parties directly affected told to somehow arrive at a conclusion that all could live with. Alas, the final domino fell by virtue of a 15-1 vote in favor of entering into the agreement with the Massachusetts group.
Bottom line? There is no one who covered themselves in glory throughout this highly necessary and sad turn of events. Now that Pandora’s box has been officially been opened, what’s to prevent other R.I. coaches’ associations from taking measures to replace the officials in their respective sports? Would that register as a surprise given what we’ve just seen transpire?
In a word, no.
The belief here is that the end of the stranglehold Ricky Ledo has had on the Providence College basketball program is a good thing. Holding out hope that the hometown kid was going to someday suit up for the hometown team … in the end it was nothing more than a fantasy.
Now that a clean break has officially been established, it’s best to turn the page and look ahead. The questions that have followed Ledo – “Is he coming?” or “Will he be eligible?” along with “Is he sticking around?” – gave the impression that he was bigger than the program itself. That should never have been the focal point, no matter how talented the player-in-question is perceived.
In the end, the time had come for Ledo to chase his NBA dreams. It may not have been the result that Friar fans had hope for, but for the first time in a few years, at least there’s no need to wonder.
In the press releases that accompanied the contract extension announcements for PC’s Ed Cooley, URI’s Dan Hurley and Bryant’s Tim O’Shea, it was made perfectly clear that each school’s administration took a similar oath of loyalty and support. Where this commitment of additional years figures to come in handy is on the recruiting trails.
Coaches armed with lengthy pacts have the staying power to go out and assemble as much talent as they can without the threat of expiration hanging over them. In this day in age where college bosses are making inroads with prospects earlier than ever, it’s imperative that they be granted the peace of mind that can only come with a strong pledge from the school.

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