Potential referee shortage in metro Detroit could risk return of high school football

High school football games are set to kick off later this week on Friday after getting the go-ahead from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer - but a potential referee shortage could be just yet another roadblock to game time.

"Most of our referees are saying, 'Nobody thinks about us.' But without us there's no game," said Michael Wynn. He's been a referee for years and says a significant shortage of officials is heading into the first week of high school football because COVID-19 has done a number on their ranks.

"With me and conjunction of probably five other assigners - and assigners are the ones that recruit and assign officials to the high school football games - we're losing probably 200 officials and we've got game one this Friday," Wynn said.

Wynn said the pool of referees is smaller this season because a lot of officials made other plans when the state announced the fall season would be moved to the spring of 2021. Then, two weeks ago, Gov. Whitmer issued an executive order that gave fall football the greenlight

Mark Uyl from the Michigan High School Athletic Association said their officials' registration has been extremely busy since then, with referees looking to get locked in for the season. But according to Wynn, for many referees, the die had already been cast. 

"I don't have anybody as of right now. I'm feeling around and trying to get people but there's no one to get," Wynn said.

And then there's the fear of contracting COVID-19.

"With the chance of going out, doing a game and coming back and bringing it to your spouse, we've had numerous guys opt out," Wynn said.

Wynn is hoping districts are able to move some games to Thursdays when more referees are available.

He believes the worst-case scenario is that some games could be postponed and others could have fewer referees making calls.

"We do need dire need help from the leagues so we can get these games covered and do a just job for the kids that they deserve," he said. "The kids come first and that's what most of these referees do is for the kids - not for the money - for the love of the game and to give back to something that gave you something."

The director of the MHSAA said to FOX 2 he will be looking into the potential ref shortage.