OFFICIATING THE PANDEMIC: How the pandemic has affected referees and umpires

Local Sports

ODESSA, Tx (ABC Big 2/Fox 24) – The COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down the sports world in March of 2020, and has reshaped the way sports are played since then.

Almost every team, sport and season saw the impact of the virus. Seasons were canceled, specific sports were shut down and games are still being postponed because of COVID-19. And while athletes and coaches were obviously affected by the virus, what about the people who make sure the rules are being followed?

Referees and umpires also took a big hit with the loss of games last spring. Texas Association of Sports Officials President Dal Watson said many of them rely on officiating as a supplementary income. And along with lack of games, many were hit doubly hard by the oil economy collapse last spring.

“We got the one-two punch out here, right,” Watson said. “We got the double-digit unemployment when our area was leading the nation in unemployment for a long time.”

Because of the oil bust, however, TASO saw an increase in referee and umpire applications. Which was helpful when sports finally kicked up again in the Basin at the start of football season.

While football flourished for officials, basketball season has presented its own set of problems. Watson said many referees opted out of this season because of the virus. He said this time last year, the league had about 130 referees signed up for basketball season. This year, only 98 are signed up.

Basketball official Kenneth Smith said there are some weeks nearly 30 members aren’t available because of the virus, contract tracing or other commitments. Normally three officials are available for each basketball game, but because of the shortage, many are only covered by two referees.

“That was the biggest challenge for our chapter. Just having to cover so many teams in the Permian so breaking up our three-man crews just to cover games has been very challenging,” Smith said.

But with the completion of a successful football season and basketball playoffs underway, Watson said he is hopeful for the remainder of this season and the future of sports despite the pandemic.

Watch the video above for the full story.

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