With the high school football season only three weeks away and officials still set to boycott, Southland schools are searching for emergency replacements.
A recent letter from Southern Section Commissioner Stan Thomas requested that principals locate and prepare persons interested in officiating. The Southern Section executive committee will discuss contingency plans at a meeting Saturday.
"I want to be ready in the event of an absolute breakdown in services," Thomas said. "We're hearing--and I'm being realistic--that the majority of officials appear willing to work. Of course, there are hotbed areas."
Although Thomas believes many officials would break a strike, a spokesman for the Southern California Football Officials Assn. insisted that most officials would honor a boycott for at least the first two weeks of the season.
"The boycott is definitely still on," said Les Bruckner, member of the SCFOA's executive committee. "Membership is very strong on this. The senior officials are adamant. A few would cave in, sure.
"I would estimate 80% to 90% of officials will stay away the first week. By the third week it will taper off because we all like to officiate and don't want to screw the kids out of a season."
Canyon Coach Harry Welch voiced the sentiment of many coaches by saying that although he supports the officials in their demands, he does not condone a boycott.
"They are underpaid and treated unprofessionally," Welch said. "Those are legitimate gripes. But I would withdraw my allegiance if they boycott. There are less drastic ways to get the point across. They could, for example, let games drag on and not cooperate with administrators. This would cost schools hundreds of dollars."
Because schools pay bus drivers, security officers, custodians and other personnel by the hour, slowing games would hurt schools financially and upset carefully planned schedules.
Bruckner and other officials insist that after considering various options, a boycott is the only way to get their demands met.
Thomas recommended that coaches in other sports, and parents with sufficient knowledge and interest in officiating, should be ready to work. "Or, for example, freshman football coaches could work varsity games and varsity coaches could work lower-level games," he said. "Obviously the level of competence would suffer. But we have no choice at this point."
Officials who break a strike and work with an inexperienced crew could be liable in a law suit by an injured player or his parents, Bruckner said. "If a full complement of qualified officials are not on the field, there are all kinds of liability questions," he said.
Thomas insisted that schools are willing to take the chance. "There is risk management in any game--whether it's Jim Tunney or Mr. Jones from down the street on the field," he said. "We're not going to close down the season because officials want a little more money."
Although officials are using the liability issue as leverage, Welch suggested a scenario in which the blame for an injured player could be placed on boycotting officials.
"What if a kid is speared because of a late whistle by an inexperienced official?" Welch said. "Do you think parents are going to say, 'Let's get behind the officials.' No, they're going to say, 'If they weren't so selfish, maybe my kid wouldn't be in the hospital.' "
While officials still object to a pay scale adopted by the Southern and City sections in May, another key issue has been partially resolved. In a change of policy, most Southern Section leagues have agreed not to assign the same officials back-to-back junior varsity and varsity games. However, the City Section, which uses many of the same officials as the Southern Section, has not agreed to split up double-headers.