Wednesday’s announcement from the Rhode Island Principals’ Committee on Athletics regarding the awarding of a two-year football officials’ contract to a group from Massachusetts does not automatically spell the end of Rhode Island-based officials from overseeing games statewide.
What remains to be seen is just how many Rhode Island officials are willing to put hurt feelings aside and “break ranks,” those words coming from Bruce Guindon, a Pawtucket native and registered Interscholastic League official.
“We’ve all signed papers saying that we wouldn’t jump ship,” said Guindon upon being reached Wednesday night. “The last conversation that Tom Mezzanotte [RIIL executive director] had with our organization is that he told us to stay positive. He realizes that this is a sensitive time for us and we’re probably a little hurt by it, but we could still be working Rhode Island football games.”
The vote taken by the PCOA – 15-1 in favor of Massachusetts – concluded a 90-minute session that came directly on the heels of several bullet points that the R.I. officiating representatives wished to get across in a last-ditch effort to prevent their jobs from becoming subjected to another state’s officiating bylaws.
The state’s football coaches and athletic directors were considering proposals from associations in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The agreement allows James Ashley, commissioner of officials for the South Eastern Massachusetts Football Officials Association, to work in conjunction with his own membership along with members of other associations “to assign, evaluate and train officials to be used in RIIL games.”
A statement from RIIL headquarters noted, "In this agreement, the SEMFOA and other associations will work with the RIIL to ensure that all requirements associated with the administration of officiating all RIIL football games are met to the highest standard.”
The idea of seeking football officials from outside Rhode Island’s borders first started to gain traction around Christmastime. The Football Coaches’ Association reviewed the three bids in a meeting that took place a few days after the March 18 PCOA meeting; that’s where it was announced that bids had been secured from the three New England states.
The Football Coaches’ Association voted 3-2-2 with Massachusetts finishing ahead of Rhode Island and Connecticut. In a meeting of the football coaches that took place on March 26 at Cranston East High School, 21 coaches voted in favor of Massachusetts with 10 voting for Connecticut and seven for Rhode Island.
Shortly after the coaches stated their intentions, the athletic directors took part in an anonymous online vote. Rhode Island was crossed off the list after finishing third. Massachusetts and Connecticut were then subjected to a second online vote by the ADs with the Bay State coming out ahead.
Part of the reason why Rhode Island officials found themselves in an unfathomable predicament stems from what many coaches feel is “a lack of accountability,” those words used by Mezzanotte at the March 18 PCOA gathering. Guindon mentioned that the R.I. officials worked tirelessly to address any and all concerns that coaches had expressed.
Guindon is one of 90 officials that oversee Rhode Island games. Of that total, there’s probably 10 or 12 who fall into the category of problematic. He was informed that if Massachusetts won the bid, the association would need 52 Rhode Island officials. If Connecticut were awarded the contract, the number of R.I. officials required would be 60.
“If we can stay unified, who knows?” said Guindon.
On the officials’ fees page located on the back cover of the R.I. Interscholastic League’s 2012-13 Rules & Regulations Handbook, it stipulates that football officials are paid $79.08 per game with Thanksgiving games costing an additional $10.