By Patrick Rosenow
Successful officials always want to get better and look for ways to improve. They go to camps and clinics, read blogs and Referee, and engage in endless conversations about the best way to work a play or approach a situation. In management-speak, they are always on the lookout for best practices.
The same principle of finding and using best practices applies to managing officials associations. Even though associations have different needs and resources and what works for one doesn’t always work for another, there are a number of best practices that apply across the board, particularly in the area of risk management.
1. Follow bylaws
Have bylaws and follow them. That is easily the most important rule for association management. Officials tend to be people who like structure and believe in following rules, but there are associations where no one has any idea of what the bylaws say or even where to find them. It’s true that associations can go years without ever looking at their bylaws and not have a single problem. Nevertheless, if an official, school, or player decides to take their complaint to court and the association doesn’t have current bylaws or doesn’t follow the ones they have, both it and its officers can find themselves in serious legal trouble.
2. Insurance and affiliations
Have your association become part of a federation or group that provides liability insurance for the association and its officers. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, the legal costs involved in defending a lawsuit can break an association and its officers. Affiliation is a good investment that is well worth the cost and can pay dividends in many areas. For example, the programs available through NASO include access to legal advice and training materials.
3. Critical training
Make sure every official is aware of the rules related to safety. It is essential that associations properly train officials to apply and enforce those rules. Associations also need to be able to document that they emphasize the importance of the role of the official in promoting safety in their annual training. That will minimize the risk that the association will be held liable for negligence in its training programs.
4. Get competent advice
As soon as it looks like there may be a problem, get help from a reliable source. Again, the availability of expert advice is one of the benefits of joining or being affiliated with a federation or group. But even associations that don’t have access to that kind of help must be ready to get professional advice. Associations that don’t know what they would do if served a complaint need to think about it and decide where they would go. Just because you have a lawyer in the association or on the board does not mean you’re properly prepared, since a specialist in family law might not want to wade in on a lawsuit over a broken leg at a football game. On the other hand, he or she may know exactly who to call for help. The important thing is to get competent professional advice.
To be fair, legal problems don’t come up that often. An association might go for decades without ever having to worry about bylaws or insurance. Of course, we can also go years without a fight breaking out at in a game, but we still review the rules that apply if it happens. Preparation for unusual situations is a best practice for officials. It’s the same for associations.
Patrick Rosenow, Mandeville, La., is a retired Air Force judge who now sits as a federal labor administrative law judge. He officiated basketball at the high school, college and international levels. This article is for informational purposes and not legal advice.