Umpire shortage limiting baseball season in Alabama

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 9:28 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Your son or grandson’s baseball games may be at risk this season because they’re aren’t enough umpires. One game has already been cancelled in south Alabama.

People are pointing to frustrations over pay, per diem, administrative fees and even the length of some of the games. Now between Umpires sitting out, and not enough recruits , several umpires believe games will have to be rescheduled or cancelled.

“I’d say probably 75 to 80 percent will go on right now. The ones that are going to get hurt is the middle schools, 9th grade, and so forth on down the line. Now some of these rural areas aren’t going to have their varsity games covered, because they don’t have enough umpires registered,” said Shelby County Baseball Umpires Association President Owen Butts.

Butts has been umpiring for over fifty years, and says typically schools book umpires through local associations. However this year his phone has been ringing off the hook.

“These superintendents are calling and telling these coaches to go find some umpires. I don’t care what you pay. Some of these schools have called us and offered us one hundred dollars a game for a varsity game. Eighty dollars a game for a JV game, and if we go take it, then we are putting them in a bind and they are putting us in a bind.”

That is because the AHSAA limits how much umpires can make. AHSAA Executive Director Alvin Briggs saying in a page and a half statement that quote “The fee schedule is set in the interest of fair play for all schools.” Briggs full statement can be read below.

The AHSAA also sent a letter out to schools reminding them that they are subject to punishment if they pay umpires more than what is allowed. Butts believes that eventually umpires will receive another raise, but that it likely won’t go in to effect until next year.

“They told us the Central Board has to make the decision and they couldn’t make any changes because if they did it for one sport they had to do it for all three seasons is what it amounts to,” said Butts.

Now the AHSAA Central Board of Control has formed a committee with folks from all sports to study officials’ fees and make any recommendations. That meeting is in April.



The AHSAA appreciates its contest officials in all sports and works diligently to keep AHSAA fees comparable to other Section 3 State Associations while weighing the impact increased fees might have on our member schools and the sports they can offer for their student-athletes. In November, a group of baseball officials met with AHSAA staff to voice their concerns regarding expenses they (officials) accrue in comparison to the pay schedule they receive for umpiring high school baseball games. After much discussion, the AHSAA staff agreed to present the officials’ concerns to the Central Board of Control (CBOC) at their next scheduled meeting.

Alvin Briggs, AHSAA Executive Director, asked AHSAA Director of Officials Ken Washington to research baseball officials’ pay scales from other state associations and to present his findings and the possibility of pay raises for all AHSAA sport officials to the Board in January. After hearing the officials’ concerns, the CBOC agreed to form a committee consisting of board members and contest officials from all sports to study officials’ fees and make any recommendations needed at the next Board meeting in April. Central Board members on the committee include three who have served as contest officials or are still serving as officials. Because schools preset budgets at the beginning of the school year and because the AHSAA operates around a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, if the Board approves a proposal to increase officials’ fee schedules at the April meeting,the adjusted fees would go into effect with the next school year.

Officiating fees should be agreed upon in negotiations between the local officials’ association and the school. However, any and all agreed-upon fees must be within the maximum amount the schools are allowed to pay according to the AHSAA Maximum Fee Schedule (fees for each sport may be found in the current AHSAA Sports Book, which is set by the CBOC). Any school that agrees to fees in excess of the maximum schedule will be in violation of AHSAA bylaws and may be subject to fines, probation (including restrictive probation), and/or suspension from the AHSAA. The fee schedule is set in the interest of fair play for all schools.

Local associations are not permitted to exceed the approved rate set by the Central Board. Furthermore, as outlined on the AHSAA website under Officials’ Requirements and Associations’ Information and Affiliation Minimum Standards, you may find:

5. The association must not adopt any rules or regulations that conflict with the rules and regulations of the AHSAA.

Hereafter, any association found to be in violation of the aforementioned policy is subject to suspension from the AHSAA.

The AHSAA respects the concerns presented by our contest officials and is working through the process to determine appropriate action to address those concerns and the concerns of its member schools. We greatly appreciate our contest officials who are continuing to officiate while we work through this process keeping the best interest of our student-athletes as the top priority. AHSAA baseball officials and all other sports’ officials received their last pay increase in the 2019-20 school year. That increase from $60 to $80 for regular-season varsity games for member schools increased the pay scale by 25% per game. For junior varsity contests, the fees increased by 30.7% and for middle and junior high games, the increase was 27.3%. Furthermore, fees increased even more for the state playoffs – from $65 per official for the first four rounds to $95 for round one (31.6%); $105 for round two (42.9%); $115 for round three (43.5%); $125 for round four (48.0%); and for the state championship series, the fee increased by 100% going from $70 per official to $140 for three-man crews, and from $50 to $100, also 100%, for six-man crews. The mileage fee structure also changed in 2019-2020 from $8 per game per official regardless of distance to $25 per official for travel of 61 to 120 miles; $50 for travel from 121 – 180 miles; and $75 for travel over 180 miles. There is no mileage fee added for travel less than 60 miles.

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