By: John Van de Vaarst
The intercollegiate official must be of high moral character, always conduct themselves in a professional manner, and as necessary deal with conflict in a way that will bring about a positive result. It is most important that officials remember this both on and off the field.
Officials must maintain a high moral character both on and off the field. The integrity of an official is defined by how one acts even when nobody is watching. A referee may have officiated a highly contested game between two conference rivals. The game was physical and the referee made all the proper decisions. The coach of the loosing team even commented that the referee worked hard and it was the team that lost and the referee had not direct impact on the game. These are very positive comments. Later in the day the same coach took the team for dinner and observed the referee at the bar having a drink with the winning coach and an assistant coach. The loosing coach will now have second thoughts about the ethical behavior of the referee and will be concerned if that referee is assigned a future game with his/her team involved. Referees must avoid these types of situations and ensure that the appearance of a problem is avoided at all costs.
There is an old phrase that perception is a reality. Officials must avoid any conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest. An official should never accept a game at a school which a family member is employed or enrolled. No matter how impartial the official is during the game, anyone can raise the issue of conflict of interest and unfairness. This will become the point of focus of the game and the official will be unnecessarily criticized. A good rule of thumb is when in doubt regarding a potential of a conflict of interest, avoid it. Do not accept the assignment. Rather than having an individual question the integrity of the official, eliminate the problem. In any profession, especially officiating, it takes a long time to develop a reputation and only one incident with a conflict can destroy it.
An intercollegiate soccer official should never criticize another official. With so much information being posted on social media, it is easy to post a comment that is negative and create a problem for everyone involved ( official, assignor, conference official and more). An official should let his/her work be the deciding factor on the skill level and not demeaning others to rise above the ranks. If a member of the referee crew asks for feedback about performance, the crew should critique and be honest in a professional manner. At the same time the crew should be supportive and provide positive suggestions for the next assignment.
Officials should never use social media to make comments about an upcoming or previous assignment. Comments posted on social media are viewed by many individuals, including coaches and assignors. A referee once put up a post that the next assignment was going to be hard and the referee was going to call a tight game and issue cards early and often. The result was that the assignor had to remove the referee from the game. Referees must remain neutral and not post items that appear to be bias in any manner.
It is impossible for an official to complete a career without any conflicts. Most times, conflicts of interest can be avoided. An interesting example is when an official arrives at a game and that a distant relative, who the referee has not seen in years, is one of the assistant coaches. This is a situation that the referee did not create. However, it now must be dealt with in a professional manner. The first step is to advise the other members of the referee team about the situation so that each member is fully aware of the facts. Next, the official must inform both coaches and possibly any school administrators that are present. Everyone must be advised that the referee was unaware of the situation and will remain professional and officiate the game as if he/she was unaware of the situation. The referee should not be over apologetic and defensive. This matter occurred and now must be dealt with in an effective way.
In summary, when there is a potential conflict, the referee should do everything possible to avoid the it. An official should never accept an assignment that might raise a question about the integrity of the official.