Basketball refs don’t do the job for the money, either

Basketball refs don’t do the job for the money, either

Last week, I attempted to do the math to prove that no sensible person would coach high school sports for the money.

The paychecks for coaches — for the ones who even receive a paycheck — would be scoffed at by a fry cook.

By my math, Butte High’s boys’ basketball coach makes about $2.80 per hour, and that is a very conservative estimate.

In making that point, I joked that Montana high school referees make about $40 per hour based on the $60 check for a game that usually lasts about an hour and a half.

While most officials realized I was joking based on my line stating that they get a paid 10-minute break at halftime, I fear it might have struck the wrong cord with some of those who wear stripes.

Clearly, basketball officials work way more than the 32 minutes on the clock. They don’t just show up, know all the rules, and run up and down the court.

There’s meetings, study groups, arriving early, travel, etc. to factor in before you can accurately say how much an official makes per hour.

A column about coaches was in no way meant to attack officials for being overpaid because they are not.

One official, who did seem to understand my point, still took the time to send me a very detailed breakdown of his time and money. His 1,300-word email, which was about 200 more words than the column, concluded that he makes about $6.63 per hour.

That’s hardly worth all the punishment officials take, and, in case you haven’t noticed, they take an absolute beating verbally every game.

The official concluded that his time included 12 hours of state study club meetings, 42 hours of game requirements, 24 hours of driving, 36 hours of officiating cap, plus 140 outs improving.

You also have to factor in camp fees and uniform costs. Those shirts and shiny shoes don’t pay for themselves.

The official, though, left out one very important part of the equation. He forgot to account for hair care products.

And, of course, I am talking only about the men officials here.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that most — if not all — of the top officials have impeccable hair.

Well, the either have perfect hair, or they shave their head completely bald.

That kind of hair maintenance isn’t cheap. They have to buy the best shampoo, conditioner and color products.

They have to spend time at the beauty salon, and that isn’t cheap. Sure, some referees get away with going to a barber, but you can just tell that some of these guys are spending a great deal of time with a beautician.

Sure, not all officials worry about their hair. Occasionally, you’ll see a guy with the horseshoe head of uncombed hair and maybe a gray straggler or two. That guy, though, doesn’t get to go to the state tournaments.

Only the best manicured men get those gigs.

Seriously, look around this week in Butte, Great Falls, Billings and Missoula. The men officials will all be perfectly manicured.

A large percentage of these guys also clearly spend a lot of time at the gym. Those memberships aren’t cheap, and those pre-game party pumps take time.

This isn’t to knock the officials. It is simply pointing out a fact the best-looking officials make the best officials.

Why else would the coaches vote in the hansom officials every single year? If there wasn’t a correlation, you’d see a grey-haired guy with a pot belly working a state tournament.

If you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you have more confidence, and confidence is the key to a good referee. Narcissism is the key to refereeing greatness.

Even the wrong call can be the right call if it is made by a guy sure of his call.

If you don’t believe that these officials who make it to the last weekend don’t like being seen, just watch how they relay their call to the official with the scorebook.

Once the whistle blows, the show begins.

Some officials really go over the top that it is clear they have been practicing in the mirror at home.

While the charge call seems to get the best response from officials when they make it, the block call is the best for signaling to the bookkeeper.

That’s when the guys demonstratively bring their hands down to their sides and give a good pelvic thrust to drive home the call. Some officials add the step and slide to that thrust.

It takes time and practice to look that good.

That officials care that much about appearance is a good thing. It really is. Nobody wants a slob making the call in the most important games. The hard-working athletes deserve nothing but the best.

In reality, though, basketball referees should wear masks like hangmen so nobody knows who they are.

As bad as the typical abuse they are put through, it is even worse when the fans know their names.

After the Western AA tournament in Butte, some fans of Browning took a Facebook group to lament about how the officials clearly cheated their team, even though they didn’t.

Fans posted pictures of referees, and others listed their names and where they live, so now the officials have to worry about becoming a victim of mob violence on top of all the name calling.

A reading teacher at the Browning High School took the time to post a picture of one of my friends with the tag line “This guy is incredibly biased.”

My friend is actually one of the best officials in the state. He gets state tournaments all the time, and he has very nice hair.

He doesn’t deserve to have his face plastered on wanted posters.

While it would make more sense if basketball officials were anonymous, the pool of referees would drop even further than it already has. Why would you put in all that work to look good if nobody got to see you?

Like in coaching, refereeing comes with a great many rewards.

The good referees do it because they love the sport, and they thriving on helping make sure our youth has the opportunity to play. Without officials there are no games.

Those officials are rewarded by being booed, jeered, threatened and wrongfully accused of conspiracies.

Officiating high school sports is a thankless job that nobody in his or her right mind would ever do for the money because, truth is, they make little to no money.

When you factor all that all they go through and pay for, the really handsome referees are probably paying $10 per game to officiate, if not more.

Then again, you just can’t put a price tag on people seeing you look good.

— Bill Foley, who doesn’t have the hair or biceps to be an official, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on Email him at Follow him at

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