In every sport, it is widely understood that there is some sort of referee to enforce the rules of the game and ensure that the competition is running smoothly. This is not the case for PSAC women’s tennis teams.
When playing at the SRU Tennis Courts, The Rock plays without any referees at all, leaving the judgment for scores and close calls up to the teams facing off against one another. This can reasonably raise some questions. As a sport at a Division II University, why are there not always referees supervising these matches? Slippery Rock University’s Director of Athletics, Paul Lueken, explained there is an effective way that the team always uses that has proved to have little to no flaws to date.
“In terms of how score is recorded, tennis is similar to golf. It’s sort of an honors system that the players and coaches here use to keep each other accountable,” Lueken explained. “The players always say the score of the match before they serve and they call their own lines. So, from that point of view, the game really governs itself in a sense.”
However, through explaining the exact reasons why the women’s tennis team sometimes play matches without the services of a referee, Lueken revealed a much deeper dilemma.
“We actually have the budget for officials for tennis, there is just not enough people willing to take the job anymore,” Lueken said. “That’s not to say that we never have an official at any tennis match, but it’s more likely than not that there is not one there. If there were enough tennis officials around, we would certainly have them around more often.”
We have all grown up thinking that referees are just a part of the game, that the human capital is never-ending, just like the athletes who compete year after year. But as it turns out, there are less and less available referees today than there has been in quite some time.
“I am on the Division II athletic directors board and we recently had a conference call and we endorsed a proposal by the conference commissioners on officiating and how there is a shortage of officials in a lot of sports,” Lueken said. “The officiating ranks are aging and there are not a lot of young folks who want to go out and pursue that career.”
Lueken went on to give some reasoning behind why younger generations are often turned away from getting into a career of officiating.
“Even at lower levels of competition such as high school or even youth athletics, fans, parents, you name it can be particularly harsh towards the officials,” Lueken said. “Often in these cases, the officials are young people trying to get their foot in the door. But as they take more and more abuse, these young people begin to realize that they don’t want to be put through all of that, especially at the lower levels where the pay isn’t the best.”
Lueken has even noticed that athletics on the high school level in the Slippery Rock Area are sometimes scheduled just so that there can be enough referees to officiate a contest.
“I know in District 10 (Slippery Rock High School’s district) that they’ve had to schedule football games on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays just so they could bring in enough officials,” Lueken began. “If (Slippery Rock high school) scheduled each of their games on Friday, there would not be enough officials to cover each of those games.”