The Foothill League has acted in response to a referee boycott of CIF Southern Section soccer games.
The league is adamant about having whatever season it can and is aiming to bring in officials to referee games on its own, going around the current Southern California Soccer Officials Association boycott.
The CIF Southern Section says it cannot renegotiate the compensation of officials at this time due to its own bylaws. However, referees have actively voiced their frustration over payment for more than a year and have since threatened to boycott.
Foothill League secretary Anne Konrad has led the charge of finding replacement referees to keep the season alive.
A press release was sent out to parents from the league regarding the state of the officials, the CIF and the imminent season on Monday.
“Now, because of a pay dispute between CIF Southern Section and SCSOA (the Soccer Officials Association), we are now in a position that we may not have enough officials for games,” the release states. “Knowing this may be a possibility, we have been working with our local college teams to make sure we have our games covered by college soccer athletes as well as district employees. By doing this, we can continue as scheduled so our student-athletes will have the experience we want them to.”
The Foothill League is aiming to zero in on current and former players or staff around the College of the Canyons and The Master’s University soccer programs. It is also actively looking into anyone with experience in the area to ensure the security of the season.
The scramble started about five days ago for Konrad and other soccer athletic directors like Hart’s Craig Williams.
“As for me as an AD, my sympathies are with these guys for reffing our guys,” Williams told the Signal in a phone interview. “We want them to be compensated. They want to be compensated as equivalent to the other sports, and currently it’s not equivalent to the other sports, especially football.”
The CIF has responded to the boycott with a press release including its own Bylaw 1219, which states assistant coaches can officiate games and that it is OK to contact qualified individuals to be referees. Williams and the athletic directors are aiming to fill all three referee spots per game.
“The assistant coaches may be asked to be line judges, which will have much less of an impact on the game,” Williams said. “They’re important but not as much as the center ref. We’re aiming for three officials a game. Our league secretary is looking into getting those refs.”
The SCSOA recently agreed to a new deal in 2022, but after other sports officials received big pay bumps, soccer referees could become among the lowest paid.
“They know their raise won’t be equal to football but they’re looking for more equality in general,” Williams added.
Local high school coaches have worried their seasons may be lost or impacted heavily with the boycott. Golden Valley boys’ soccer coach Stephen Evison believes his season should have adequate referees but also sides with the officials’ pay demands.
“They agreed in 2022 to a new fee structure and to get a pay raise,” Evison said in a phone interview. “Now they’re going against that, wanting more money … It’s ludicrous to me that they can’t officiate under the contract their association agreed on. I side with the refs, they need more money. They get abused by players, coaches and parents. They get so many things that are so uncalled for, and they get treated very badly. I stand with them getting more money, but don’t agree with them getting banned if they referee.”
Evison has been told by officials that they will be banned from the SCSOA if they essentially cross the picket line and referee a game during the boycott.
“I’ve spoken to some refs, they’ve made up their mind saying they won’t ref and some have said they will,” Evison said. “The word strike has been tossed around, but they’re not a union, they’re an association, so they can only boycott. If they do get more money, are they gonna be better? Are they getting critiqued by colleagues? If they’re gonna get more money are they actively trying to get better?”
Evison is one of several coaches asking questions like this. If the referees are being paid more, is it only just to meet the pay curve or will they be earning more pay for more work and a higher level of work?
“I think the refs are using their leverage,” said West Ranch girls’ soccer coach Jared White in a phone interview. “I understand where they’re coming from. They’re one of the few associations not getting a raise. There’s a shortage of referees. A few things have swung too far to the referees’ side, like taking their word for what happens during or after games. I don’t see a whole lot of accountability for poor or disrespectful referees. They’re not evaluated.”
The CIF doesn’t directly pay the officials, nor schedule them. The schools’ athletic directors handle the scheduling and payment of referees.
“I don’t really understand CIF’s stance of a hard line in the sand with no communication to the officials,” White said. “Especially because they don’t pay referees, the school pays referees, not the CIF. I don’t get why that’s in the bylaws.”
The collegiate players being asked to officiate very well understand handling pressure on a soccer pitch. However, navigating angry fans, coaches and players is a whole new world.
“The officiating for high school soccer isn’t that great,” Evison said. “We have some good and OK refs, but we’re at high school games. We’re not getting professional-level refs, we’re getting the appropriate guys. My biggest thing is consistency, call it this way and keep calling it that way. If we get these kids, can they handle the pressure of reffing a high school game? Playing and officiating a game is such a different pressure.”
White also sees a positive light for the future of refereeing with a new wave of officials potentially joining the field.
“I like the idea of trying to get college kids involved,” White said. “Maybe it builds them up to want to work in the field in the future and build the refs’ numbers. We just have a lot to get through with the season.”
The 2024 senior class entered high school during the pandemic and now will have yet another speed bump in the way of a normal high school experience.
“These kids are pretty resilient nowadays with things being thrown at them,” White said. “Maybe it’s not hitting them as much now but when the games are being played, it might hit them hard. These kids are finishing their club seasons and it might hit them seeing mom and dad on the sidelines along with a 19-year-old referee on the field.”
Numerous parents have reached out to their children’s coaches and offered their support for officiating.
“A couple of them volunteered, which is nice,” White said. “I hope the community can rally behind this and step up. It could help parents understand how hard the job of a referee is. This is gonna be hard and difficult … We’re gonna have a season and there’s no way we’re gonna not play these games. We’ll fall short at times, decisions won’t fall our way but it is what is. I don’t see any resolution happening until after the season. We’re gonna play this season and do our very best to give these kids the season they deserve. We had to adjust for COVID, this is different, but we’ll adjust to this.”
The season is just around the corner with a ton of uncertainty. Non-league play begins in about two weeks and there is not yet word how many, if any, replacement referees have signed on to save the Foothill League season.
“The season starts in 14 days,” Evison said. “It’s not real now but when you show up for that first game, both teams are there and no refs show, it’ll feel real. You have two programs and parents that have shown up to matches. I told my guys to just stay locked in, we’ve been going three days a week since August. There’s nothing we can do, it’s outside of our control so we’re going to do what we can to get ready.”
The athletic directors don’t see a possibility of not having a season and will fight for any chance they can to make the season be functional and run smoothly. The SCOSA will likely boycott the entire season as the CIF doesn’t seem like it’ll budge.
“My personal thoughts are that I hope this doesn’t create any injuries,” Williams said. “All of us don’t want the games to be played more roughly because there isn’t a qualified official. We don’t see an alternative other than not playing the game and we don’t want that alternative.”