The 2016-2017 Season March NAC presented challenges for both referees and assigners. The number of referees was barely above the minimum, there was a greater number of referees who worked less than four days, there were more referees who were in and out, working less than a full complement of events, and there were more minors who required early release times. All of these factors created some less than desirable situations. First, referees who weren’t minors and did work a full complement of events were working twelve hour days on average. Second, the changing availability of some of the referees caused confusion regarding assignments, caused more referees than normal to be shuffled around to work heavier loads, and there were delays caused both by the low referee availability for some events and by the shuffling. Finally, as a result of the decreased number of experienced referees, the developing referees didn’t get much access to observation by more experienced referees. This event is specifically meant to be an event that we use for referee development and not only could it not fully be utilized for that, too many inexperienced referees were left in vulnerable situations where the referees, competitors, coaches and family members were all unhappy.
According to the hiring referee, it is well known that the March Youth NAC is a difficult event to staff. Part of the issue is the multiple NCAA events that happen in March. Many of the referee cadre are employed in jobs that have caps on the number of vacation days. As a practical matter, those referees have to choose which events to attend. NCAA events last only a day or two, pay better than USFA events and provide a shorter work day. Additionally, they happen on the weekend, which means referees can work without using vacation days. While there were seven referees at the NAC who also spent one day working at the NCAA Regional event in Detroit, other NCAA events held that same weekend were in geographic locations too far away to enable attendance at both the NAC and NCAA event. The NCAA Regional events represent high level competition that require high level referees, which draws down the number of high level referees able to attend the March NAC. These higher level referees are not only important to adding to the overall number of referees in attendance, but they are typically the mentors. Having a lower number of these referees available impacts the ability to make this event truly a developmental event. Let’s also not forget that many of the midlevel and higher rated referees are also often affiliated with varsity programs in other ways which make them unavailable for the March NAC.
The other part of the hiring difficulty for this NAC has to do with the level of the fencing. Of particular concern and a factor for some referees who have a set number of vacation days they can take off is how to determine the most efficient way to spend their time refereeing. There is deep concern among most referees about either maintaining their rating or increasing it. Referees with a rating of 5 or lower (meaning 4s, 3s, 2s and 1s) will not benefit from a ratings standpoint by refereeing a Youth and Division III competition. While it may sound selfish, there are good reasons to pick and choose in this way. In deciding the cost vs. benefit of working or not working this NAC, those with limited vacation time are more likely to pass it up even if they aren’t invited to work NCAAs. These conditions put the hiring referee in the position of having to give concessions such as allowing experienced referees to both coach and referee, go to NCAAs for one day, and to only come for two or three days, just to get the ‘right’ number of participants – and at that, only barely above the minimum number which, with some being developing lower level referees, is not enough to run a successful event.
The factors that appear to be at play with regard to a March NAC are the issues of NAC vs. NCAA and the many conflicts outlined above related to that choice and the referees’ ability to attend a four day event that doesn’t provide enough incentives for those who have limited vacation time. For developing referees, this event has a reputation for long hours and complaining, aggressive coaches and parents, with a shortage of mentors and a limited support system. This causes some developing referees to want to stay away as well.
One way to provide incentives for participation in this event is to balance the number of events with the recognized availability of the national referee corp. This would mean fewer events for this NAC. This would mean central location by design so there isn’t a factor of referee loss due to travel limitations. This would also mean recognizing that the formula for hiring referees needs to factor in percentages of referees needed to mentor developing referees.
The simple reality is, until there is a large enough pool of high level referees willing to work the March NAC in place of an NCAA event, who have vacation time, and are not also college affiliated in some way that makes them unavailable, the March NAC needs to be reduced to a size that can run with referees available. The other suggestion is to move the March NAC to MAY and not directly compete with the NCAA activities within the month of March. Some scheduling adjustments might be possible regarding the April NAC and an early May NAC could include the appropriate balance of Veterans/Youth/Div2/Div3.