With the 2019 high school football season set to commence next week with a long list of Preseason Kickoff Classics, a dark cloud has been looming over everything for the past few weeks.
A standoff over pay for referees has threatened to disrupt the start of the football season around the state, but it appears Miami-Dade and Broward counties will not be affected.
The Miami Herald tracked down two Dade officials, Carlos Calveiro and Joe Underwood, along with Steve Epstein, a Broward County referee in the Hard Rock Stadium press box before Thursday night’s Dolphins-Falcons preseason game and all confirmed that registration between Dade officials (with the GMAC) and Broward (with BCAA) has taken place and that the season should start without any disruption.
“We all went ahead and registered last Monday,” said Epstein. “We’ll be ready to go next week.”
The FHSAA announced on Aug. 7 that 22 of its 25 officials associations are fully registered and ready to work games next week. The three areas where there could be a problem might be Palm Beach County, the Treasure Coast (Port St. Lucie to Vero Beach) and Lee County (Fort Myers area).
Football officials, according to the FHSAA Max Game Fee, may not be paid more than $65 for a varsity football game, a number that has been in place since the 2014-15 school year. By comparison, officials in Alabama receive a game fee of $110, Georgia and Mississippi pay their officials $100, and Louisiana pays $90.
Officials associations are pressuring the Florida High School Activities Association (FHSAA) to up the ante. Rather than allow the FHSAA to dictate what participating schools pay them, officials claim they are independent contractors and should be allowed to set their own pay rate.
Prior to the Summer Leadership Conference, many football and other sports associations requested that their memberships withhold paying their annual registration fees to the FHSAA.
After being told there would be no raise in the cap at the conference, a group of officials requested that the FHSAA raise the maximum game fee cap by $10, immediately, for all sports at all levels for the 2019-2020 season, so they could negotiate pay increases with their respective school districts.
The FHSAA stated that it will increase pay for officials in all sports, not just football, for the 2020-21 school year after it receives recommendations from an upcoming Aug. 26 task-force meeting that will include referees and athletic directors.
“The FHSAA has promised at this meeting to begin the process of working towards a solution,” said Phil Serfass, president of the Broward County Officials Association. “I would certainly hope something of substance and progress comes from this upcoming meeting because if it doesn’t, the resolve next year at this time will be much greater.”
Kevin McElroy, president of the Miami-Dade County Officials Association could not be reached for comment.
Serfass indicated that with all sign-ups in place, he does not anticipate any disruption during the upcoming school year, but one unidentified official said something on Thursday night that could loom big down the road.
“It’s not November yet” said the official, indicating various officials associations could possibly wait until right before the start of the state football playoffs to suspend services when they have maximum leverage with the state.
▪ Some of the top Kickoff Classic matchups in Broward will include Palmetto at Western (Thursday at 7), Columbus at Miramar (Friday at 7) and Fort Lauderdale at Dillard (Friday at 7).
Some of the top Dade games will be Norland-Carol City (Thursday at Traz Powell, 7), Killian at Coral Gables (Friday at 4) and an Aug. 17 doubleheader at Traz, Apopka vs. Booker T. Washington (4 p.m.) and Cedar Creek (Ga.) vs. Central at 7:30.