Athletics directors have enough evidence they made the right decision.
Around this time two years ago, following the last round of South Carolina High School League realignment, many of them started to float the idea of changing how they would schedule varsity and junior varsity basketball games. They drafted and then executed a plan they felt worked best.
Opposed to the old system — where the junior varsity teams played on one night and the varsity games another — most of the area schools enacted a quad system. In short, the junior varsity girls tip off, followed by the junior varsity boys, then the varsity girls and the varsity boys.
Four games. One night. One gym.
It appeased multiple concerns.
Varsity coaches could watch their younger talent perform in games just prior to their own games. Schools no longer had to search for volunteers for four nights a week, only two. While gate receipts haven’t changed much, a mixture of parents from four teams has created a carryover effect that makes the stands that often appeared light over the years seem more full. And the savings from security and police officers can pay a number of bills.
But the people who are not benefitting from this system are the ones officiating the games.
“We’re running out,” referee Jake Rosiek said. “We’re running short.”
He would know.
In addition to being a longtime basketball and football official, Rosiek is also the District 11 director for hoops referees in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties. It’s his job to recruit, train and retain the men and women in stripes on area courts. He’s already fighting an uphill battle.
The quad system, also referred to as a four pack, has put an additional strain on an oft-overlooked part of prep sports that doesn’t need to any more reason to struggle.
MAKING THE CHANGE
Like most change in the high school sports landscape, the move to the quad system was spurred by the biggest schools in Horry County.
Region VI-5A and Region VI-4A had tinkered with them in the past, but never like this current two-year block. Following the lead of those two regions, some of the smaller ones followed suit, even in some early season games where teams were playing across regions and classifications.
And now that region play has started, transportation for the four-packs has made it even easier to schedule. There have been very noticeable positive side effects.
“It’s a lot easier to get people to work the games,” Carolina Forest Athletics Director Tripp Satterwhite said. “Ticket takers, concessions, announcers, all that stuff that you have to have in place to have the game. It’s a little easier to get people to commit to that.
“The attendance is probably about the same. It’s negligible. I don't think the number of people has increased a lot. I think the number of people who give you the residual effect has increased.”
At least a few junior varsity parents tend to stick out the first part of the the varsity girls game, when many of the parents who want to only come for the boys game are starting to filter into the gyms. In essence, everything filters up as the nights get later. It builds a better social environment for the sport in an area where football is king.
Players and their coaches have all commented on it this season, as fire codes have been threatened on more than one occasion.
And for the those coaches who are always evaluating their next crop of talent, there is no better way to see what’s coming than to have this type of availability when they’re already in the building.
“I like to have junior varsity and varsity boys playing on the same night and getting on the same bus to go places,” Myrtle Beach boys coach Craig Martin said. “I like them seeing the same things and being able to talk about the differences between junior varsity and varsity.”
Although there is some opposition from coaches, those on the sidelines have supported it enough to keep it alive.
BALL DON'T LIE
Rosiek can rattle off many of the numbers.
They don’t give him a lot of confidence.
Multiple wide-spread surveys conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) have shown catastrophic problems with referee retention. Approximately one-third of officials quit after one season on the job, the reports state; nearly two-thirds are out of the game after year three. At the high school level, where more officials are needed than ever before, any disadvantage is more pronounced.
Rosiek has created a mentorship program of sorts that has referees in stands watching both the younger officials and their more experienced co-workers. They discuss overall methodology and minute details alike, hoping to improve performance.
Getting to that point means convincing potential officials to sign up for a mentally demanding side gig in the first place.
“We’ve got to recruit more and retain better,” Rosiek said. “I need help from schools in a couple different ways. I’ve emailed all the coaches and A.D.s to ask recent graduates to come out and help us. I’ve also got to get them to [practice better] decorum on sportsmanship.”
Referee bullying has been cited time and again by officials who lay down their whistles for good. It’s a cost-benefit analysis, with the pay for doing a basketball game simply not worth the verbal beating handed down by fans and coaches.
Rosiek estimates that an average official in and around Horry County will earn between $2,000-$3,000 over the course of a basketball season. But the number that means more to him is how few co-workers he has at his disposal relative to how much demand there is for the ones on the payroll.
This fall, there are 75 referees certified by the South Carolina High School League working games in District 11. Five years ago, there were 62. However, the increase is deceptive, as those refs are also responsible for three additional Horry County middle schools, seven South Carolina Independent Schools Association (SCISA) teams and a handful of recreational programs that fall under the same umbrella and pay for certified referees. In more direct language: The base hasn’t increased fast enough to accommodate more on-court action.
The buffer under the old scheduling systems was the grinders — officials who could and would work four, five or six nights a week. Those types aren’t common. A good chunk of Rosiek’s pool have full-time work and/or family commitments and are available for only two nights a week. Some aren’t willing or able to officiate sub-varsity games that start as early as 4 p.m. in the quad system.
But for officials who do want to work as much as possible, reducing the opportunities by decreasing the number of available game nights each week produces another side effect: Rotating a relatively small pool around the busiest portions of the schedule while not allowing those who can physically and effectively churn through games to do what they do best.
It also creates the potential for snafus.
That was apparent two weeks ago during the four pack between Conway and St. James. That night, one of the officials drew criticism from Sharks boys coach Chris Tibbits and his counterpart, Mike Hopkins, after working all four contests. The official essentially worked a six-hour on-court day, a rarity that Rosiek estimates happens only once or twice a season. At the time, though, no one was real thrilled that it occurred.
Technically, varsity games are assigned by the SCHSL, while Rosiek handles the junior varsity rosters. They use the same computer software, a program that takes into account travel time to and from locations. But that software must be manually checked to ensure that an average of three automatically scheduled conflicts per week are caught by human eyes and corrected.
“I’ve emailed my staff and told them ‘If you ever get a quad, let me know. You should not be officiating four games under any circumstances,’” Rosiek said. “Four games is too much for anybody to put forth any sort of effort.”
No, it isn’t a regular issue. But it certainly never happened under the old system.
TRIAL AND ERROR?
Various pockets around South Carolina and the Southeast have tinkered with ways of making their basketball schedules work more efficiently for the greater good.
For years locally, the majority of junior varsity doubleheaders would be played on Mondays and Thursdays, with the varsity teams doing their thing on Tuesdays and Fridays. As a change of pace, regions have even packaged junior varsity and varsity girls one night and junior varsity and varsity boys on another so coaches can double up on their current and future players. In Florida, it is common for all four games to be played on the same night, but girls are at one location and boys at another.
The system that was set in motion locally by Region VI-5A and Region VI-4A (and followed by smaller divisions from time to time) was not a reinvention of the wheel. It is already prevalent around parts of North Carolina.
Still, it is used sparingly in South Carolina.
There are pros and cons to any of the methods.
“That’s been a ton of pressure on Jake and a lot of these officials. But if you’re talking about [the different scheduling systems] I’d rather have all four on one night,” said Martin, the Myrtle Beach boys coach. “I think it solves a lot of problems. When it comes down to it, you have to do what’s best for the kids and the program.”
Others, like Tibbits, believe it is detrimental. He had never heard utilizing quads while coaching in Pennsylvania and following other programs in New York and New Jersey.
“It’s terrible,” the St. James coach said. “If you’re talking about what’s best for the student-athletes, it’s terrible for games and practices.”
Specifically, Tibbits cited the abnormally late nights. Boys games frequently extend past 10 p.m., not including possible travel. And on practice days, it isn’t much better, as St. James’ four teams share one gym. Tibbits said the low team on the totem pole on any given week is wrapping up school-night practices at or after 9 p.m.
Regardless, the quad’s appeal to a school’s non-coaching staff still covers a lot of bases.
It cuts down on the number of nights each winter they are locked into a gym conducting their necessary duties, and multiple schools have reported a monetary benefit.
Since the junior varsity games are now packaged with the varsity ones, the parents of the lower levels are paying an extra $1 per night for varsity rates to get into the gym. That may only infuse another $40-$50 per night into the coffers, but it adds up over the course of the season.
Where schools are really seeing the impact, Satterwhite said, is on security. Before, Carolina Forest and its brethren around the county were paying private security and uniformed police officers in four-hour blocks (their contract minimum) four times a week. Now, they pay them in six-hour blocks twice a week. Roughly, that’s a savings of between $80-$160 per quad, or upwards of $1,600 per season.
That and the slight increase in gate receipts is roughly $2,000, the approximate cost to outfit a varsity basketball team in brand new customized jerseys and shorts, according to local BSN apparel sales representative Frankie Everitte.
Representatives from both of the area’s two largest regions have said that nothing is set in stone for the next two-year scheduling block. Once the SCHSL finalizes the next region window later this month, athletics directors will discuss how to approach their hoops schedules for 2020-2022.
All avenues will be vetted.
Just the same, Rosiek and his fellow officials know what they’re going up against. He intends to formally petition local schools to abandon the quad system, hopeful to avoid the taxing effect it has had on his staff.
“If you want your varsity officials to be high quality in the second half of a doubleheader, we really need to get back to Monday-Thursday [for junior varsity games] or split the genders again,” he said. “We don’t have a choice.”