Holding Officials Accountable


If I had a dollar for every time someone said “Why doesn’t the (NHL, KHL, NCAA conferences, etc.) hold their officials accountable” I’d be a wealthy man making money in a rather unusual way. However, the notion that referees and linesmen are not held accountable by various means is false. There are well-defined written expectations and disciplinary systems in place.

I make sure they are followed.

We do not, however, play these matters out in public. I won’t apologize for that.

Do we expect coaches and general managers to tell the public every time they read the riot act to a player or issue a fine? Is there a detailed public explanation issued every time a player is released or a coach is not retained?

Something else we do not do is allow the tail to wag the dog. That means teams do not get a say in which officials get assigned — or not assigned — to their games. This is hockey, not a cafeteria. Issues get evaluated internally and the buck stops with the officiating director.

However, I do think it is fair for people to ask for some transparency on how expectations are conveyed to officials and the how the process works for matters of discipline, up to and including potential termination. As such, perhaps todays’ blog will create some clarity in readers’ minds about how the system works.

The following is the written directive we recently issued the ECAC, setting forth expectations for our officials and laying out the disciplinary system. Similar reminders go out annually. REFEREES’ RESPONSIBILITIES

• The Officials must set the tone for the game the second he or she enters the building. The referees are responsible for establishing the highest level of professionalism and organization for the entire on-ice and off-ice officiating staff, from the moment they enter the arena until the minute they arrive home.

• The referees are the game managers and the trustees of the fairness of rule application and player safety.

• The referees shall enforce the rules under the NCAA guidelines, including points

of emphasis and any league directives.

• The referees are communicators to everyone involved in the game. Team captains are

your direct conduits to the teams. If you feel that a situation is difficult or complicated, you should communicate with the coach directly. If you speak to one coach, make sure the other is addressed as well. Be sure to make this communication directly with coaches a positive moment. Any meeting with a coach should be brief and conducted in a professional and respectful manner.

• When explaining situations to the coaches, make sure that you know the rule! Additionally, this is not the time to debate the rule but to explain it.

• The referees should not be physically involved in any confrontations between players. The linesmen should defuse any player altercations, except those involving an injury.

• During pre-game warm-up, greet each coach(s) but do not linger for a long chat. The perception is not a good one. Treat both coaches consistently.

• During the pre-game or warm-up, linesmen shall each take position across center ice.

The referees may roam. Linesmen should not spend extended periods of time talking

with coaches, assistant coaches or trainers. be professional and polite.

• During the national anthem, take your position at center ice — the referees in the

middle, linesmen on each side facing the flag.

• Officiating is a team effort. The referees will check with the linesmen and goal

judges on a controversial goal prior to utilizing the video replay system if there is one in place. Even if you’re sure, checking never hurts and it promotes teamwork.

• Report all disallowed goals, or if a goal light is turned on in error, you must report the facts to the scorekeeper and instruct them to make an announcement indicating the error or reason for the disallowed goal. DEALING WITH COACHES’ BEHAVIOR

• Officials must realize that when a coach loses control, it may be for just cause. Whether the

cause is justified or not is secondary. The official’s role is to defuse the situation and return the game to normality. There are many acceptable procedures to handle this situation. Ignoring the behavior is not always a good choice. Cool and calm communication always works best.

• Verbal abuse towards officials is unacceptable and must be addressed. There are rules covering this aspect.

• Never argue with a coach. State your interpretation or decision and do not debate the

issue. Always have two Officials present when communicating with a coach or a player.

• Coaches have the right to ask the interpretations of a rule. Don’t refuse to communicate directly to the coach or through the captain. Generally, you should indicate to the coach that you are available to speak to the coach at the start of the next period, or at the end of the game if in the third period is a delay seems longer than necessary. If the captain addresses you too frequently, you may decline further conversation if you deem it to be a stalling tactic or the conversation becomes unprofessional. Keep in mind, too, that every stoppage or every penalty call is not a reason to talk.

• Any coach who approaches an official on the ice en route to the locker room between periods could and may receive a bench minor. All explanations and rule clarifications are to be conducted at the bench area at the conclusion of the period or before the start of the next period. An explanation to one coach must be relayed to the other coach by the same referee in order to eliminate any suggestion of favoritism. LANGUAGE

• Do not, under any circumstances, use inappropriate language before, during or after a

contest. This is one area where there is zero tolerance. Any official who verbally abuses a player, coach or fan will be subject to disciplinary action. PHYSICAL CONDITIONING

• Excellent physical fitness is a requirement for League officials. The ability to properly position yourself on the ice is critical to successful officiating. Poor positioning due to a lack of fitness impacts on the focus and vision of an official and attributes to inconsistency in the management of a game. When you’re thinking about your positioning or your skating, you’re not focused on the game.

Proper positioning becomes automatic once you have gained experience and are in top condition. Poor positioning negatively affects judgment and is the single biggest reason for an official’s decline. Perception is reality. You can make the right call, but if you are not in position, it is viewed as a guess or an opinion instead of a judgment. Players and coaches lose respect for an official who is fatigued or constantly out of position. SECURITY/PRIVACY

• The officials’ dressing room is strictly private and is off limits to all unauthorized personnel. The referees and linesmen are responsible to ensure privacy. Once the pre-game meeting is completed, no one should be allowed in the room. If the officiating team needs to communicate with an off-ice official, please use the head of off-ice officials to contact the individual(s). No one is allowed in the officials’ dressing room without the referees’ approval.

Cell phones are to be turned off after the on ice warmup and must remain off until the conclusion of the game. If after the game, a supervisor is not present and you have had a DQ penalty or an injury or some other situation that should be reported, phone the Director of Officiating immediately or the senior Supervisor of Officials.

• It is the arena’s and the Officials responsibility to ensure the officials’ dressing room is locked while the game is in progress. Any problems with security should be reported to the Director of Officiating immediately. INJURY/ILLNESS/LATE ARRIVAL

• If you sustain an injury or illness and are unable to officiate any assignment, notify the Director of Officiating immediately.

• If an official is injured and unable to complete a game in progress, the remaining officials shall utilize the system outlined in the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules book. DO NOT delay the game if an official becomes injured or ill. Make sure the official is receiving medical attention and then go back to the game and initiate the prescribed system.

• If an official arrives on site after the start of a contest, he must adhere to the following:

– Less than 20 minutes remaining in both the first and second period: Assume full assigned


– Less than 15 minutes remaining in the third period: Do not enter contest. DISCIPLINE

• An official may be disciplined for any action deemed detrimental to the League, or in

violation of any of the rules and policies communicated to the officiating staff by memo or by verbal advisement. Discipline may include suspension and or termination. If an official is disciplined in any form for any reason, the official will be notified by the Director of Officiating. It is the League’s policy not to publish these actions. RESIGNATION/TERMINATION

• Any official who no longer wants to be considered for assignments shall notify the Director of Officiating to ensure that games are not assigned.

• Any official’s schedule may be withheld or withdrawn based on the following:

o Failure to adhere to the responsibilities printed in this document, as listed.

o Missed assignments

o Behavior detrimental to the best interest of ECAC Hockey or the NCAA

o Alcohol, drug abuse, pending legal actions, arrests, mental incapacity, illness or injury.

o Refusal to adhere to League policies and written protocols

o Returning assignments to officiate other hockey after accepting ECAC games without approval from the Officiating Director

o Continuous unavailability.

****** Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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