Mike Kays: HASHMARKS: Per the new edict on abuse of officials, a little clarity is needed

Aug. 11—I can recall 40 years ago chants directed at officials by high school student sections were common.

I was a party to some of those. Recalling the words said — they was tacky and yes, a little disrespectful.

It's always to a certain level, been part of the game, like it or not, as are a few taunts between rival team fans.

But the card has been pushed to the point of extreme verbal attacks, some of which turned physical. People are prone to think this is about basketball, where the closer proximity of the crowd lends itself to such incidents. But it's not exclusive to the hardwoods. One official told me about a football game where an official was followed to his car after the game and attacked.

That's just one such story out there. A tour of YouTube will show you it's ugly all the way to little leagues.

All of those situations are becoming repetitive, and the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, as part of a growing national address, is doing something about it starting this school year.

A shortage of officials threatens to force schools to shift some football games away from Friday nights this fall, and that's only the first level of change out there. A year ago, according to the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), registration of officials across the country fell about 30 percent. Part of that was attributed to COVID concerns, but also to a growing trend of what the OSSAA has labeled "egregious" behavior.

A list that began circulating this week on social media, reportedly by the OSSAA, cited the following examples of "egregious" behavior: — Fans constantly verbally attacking officials. — Fans physically attacking officials. — Fans attacking other fans at athletic events. — Coaches physically attacking or verbally berating officials. — Players getting into fights with other players while shaking hands at the end of contests. — Student sections verbally chanting inappropriate or demeaning chants at individuals, teams, or officials.

Grant Gower, the OSSAA official in charge of officials, said this list did not come from the association and was not "entirely accurate." One sports referee who shared this list on Facebook told me he got it from a previous board president.

Gower said in an email statement "there are some components of it that are good examples, but nothing specifically delineated like that."

As he added, the OSSAA already has standing rules in place for fouls, flagrant fouls or penalties, fights and subsequent ejections and suspensions — all covering action on the field of play. What it doesn't have is rules governing behavior outside the field of play but within range enough to make an impact, and those can involve participants in or out of the game — provided those incidents aren't already covered by the rules of the game.

Gower said incidents believed to fit into the egregious category will be reported to the OSSAA by game officials. The OSSAA, with its Board of Directors, will then determine the action to be taken.

The OSSAA will notify the school that the team and/or individual has been placed on warning after the first offense. The second occurrence will result in the suspension of the team and/or individual in that activity for the remainder of the season.

Well, I guess we get the spirit of it, if not specifics.

But the fact it's not clearly defined leaves wiggle room for interpretation. Don't think so. Ask coaches about the variances they see in illegal block in the back calls.

In this case, though, how much verbal exchange is too much, and to what degree? Also, the incident must be reported in the first place. Will all officials see things the same way? Some are thicker-skinned than others. Some will have a quick trigger.

Viewpoint and assessment is critical. Just saying, a block in the back in the book is clear, but the eyeball test isn't.

In between, there's a lot of people with common sense, whether we're speaking of game officials or school officials, but you always have to be prepared for the fringes.

Several school officials have told me they don't have those specific answers. Some are comfortable with the spirit of the measure, but again, spirit doesn't go far enough.

Clearly, fan behavior has gotten out of hand too often. Doing nothing risks shrinking crews, and if you're critical of calls now, you haven't seen anything like what an overworked, undermanned crew will bring.

More officials are leaving the business than entering. It's hard to train those who aren't there.

And yes, there's some officials who really could use some more training. But that's another discussion.

What's missing is a more clear definition of application. All it takes is one lawsuit to leave that exposed, and we have seen attorneys intervene in playoff brackets before.

Dot the Is and cross the Ts, or someone stands to do it for you.

It may be nit-picking, but it's one less headache to avoid.

Just ask the NCAA about not getting ahead on player compensation.