Claremore Daily Progress

June 26, 2014

OSSAA cracks down on public criticism of officials

CNHI News Services

OKLAHOMA CITY — Coaches and other school representatives will be under scrutiny by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association for criticizing contest officials starting this season.

The policy, adopted at its June meeting, gives the governing body for high school athletics the power starting in 2014-15 to suspend a coach or school official for comments critical of officiating made either to the press, through broadcast, or public forums which could include social media.

Muskogee athletic director Garrett Davis said he received a memo on the issue Wednesday.

“Basically we can now get punished and it can be warning or suspension depending on the circumstances,” he said.  “I see this as press, radio, social media, you name it. I think they want to reel certain people in that have issues with it.”

“Until somebody does it and then they enforce it, then we’ll see. Obviously they won’t publicly enforce it, they’d privately but you know how that stuff leaks out.”

Up to now, the association has merely made recommendations to the schools to take action, said OSSAA executive secretary Ed Sheakley. Now, he said, those cases brought to the OSSAA’s attention would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  He noted that already, colleges and professional sports have similar authority.

“We just need to remember that at the end of the day, coaches have bad days, officials have bad days and over the course of a game it all levels out,” he said. “Both are trying to do the best job they can. Making the criticism public is not something we should condone.”

One such example occurred locally last season in Hilldale’s 42-41 loss to Locust Grove that ultimately cost his team the District 3A-7 championship.

Kirkhart described the officiating then as “the biggest joke I’ve seen in my life,” adding that it was difficult “to explain to our players.”

One call negated a Hilldale touchdown reception in the second half, saying the catch was out of bounds. A day after the game, Kirkhart said the video they had showed otherwise and a Facebook post by one of the players also supported that.

Also, a Hornets’ defender was whistled for holding the ball up in the air after what appeared to be a fumble recovery but was ruled otherwise. Also in his comments, Kirkhart was also upset that his players on defense were told to “quit your whining” when asking officials to “slide over” from where they were lined up so as to not be an obstacle between them and the play.

Sheakley said the Hilldale situation wasn’t one of the more serious ones the staff had discussion over.

“The staff just decided it was time to have a policy regarding this,” he said.

Hilldale athletic director Erik Puckett said he understands the need for a rule but in the case of the game in question last season, understood the frustration of his coach.

“There’s probably a more appropriate forum than the press but I understand the need. Officials deal with a lot and not only within the game but also fans,” Puckett said. “It’s a tough job and it’s not like they are doing that full-time.”

Kirkhart declined comment.

• On other OSSAA matters, Sheakley said anything regarding additional split of Class 6A athletics beyond football is still in discussion but would not happen for another year if at that. The matter is in committee. The 32 football schools are in two divisions according to enrollment starting this fall. Additionally, because those playoff brackets will consist of quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, there will be an off week between the semifinals and finals to avoid Thanksgiving weekend and put the championship games on the same week as 5A and 4A. Those two classes will still have four weeks of playoffs while 3A, 2A and 1A have five.

As for that imbalance being a problem, Sheakley said, “we’ll evaluate it based on the feedback after we’ve done this for a season.”

“Any school representative who publicly criticizes a contest official, and any contest official who publicly criticizes a school representative in connection with a contest, meet, or tournament is subject to sanctions.

“The member school represented by an individual who publicly criticizes a contest official may also be subject to sanctions if the school fails to take appropriate action in response to the school representative’s public criticism of the contest official. The sanctions could include warning or suspension. Public criticism includes, but is not limited to, comments made to the media or during a broadcasted event, and comments made in a public forum.”