Evaluating officials in sports is a difficult task.
How many times have we seen a play live, either in person or on television, and been certain that the officials missed a call, only to have the call vindicated by replays? It should make you realize how difficult the process is and the skill involved by the best officials in getting themselves in position to make the best possible decision instantly.
There cannot, however, be an assessment that officials are always right. We, of course, also have too many examples on the professional level of overturned decisions based on undisputed video evidence that officials missed the call live.
Nobody can get all the calls right all the time. In part, that is true, because there is not always a definite ‚??right‚?Ě call in some cases where judgment is involved.
Truly evaluating officials therefore becomes more of an overview of performance as a whole than on individual calls.
As hard as it may be to quantify, the view here from someone who has witnessed more than 100 high school state championship events ‚?? and many times more events on the path to those championships ‚?? is that the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association officiating has gotten better over the past two-plus decades.
Although that is just one piece of the puzzle, it is a significant one and one of the reasons the PIAA can point to when explaining its decision to make Robert Lombardi its next executive director.
There remain pockets within the PIAA officials program that are open to question. Overall, however, the group‚??s performance, preparation, professionalism, and the fairness in both the way they approach their job and how they are treated has improved under Lombardi‚??s watch.
‚??He has done a wonderful job expanding a very important part of our process with officials,‚?Ě PIAA Board of Control president Rodney Stone said in a teleconference following Lombardi‚??s hiring last week.
Like other executive-level staff members of the PIAA, Lombardi also has gained plenty of experience running state championships in various sports and dealing with many of the issues for which the organization is responsible.
Lombardi‚??s tenure with the PIAA under outgoing executive director Bradley Cashman has been a time of subtle, but important, change for the organization as a whole, just as with its group of officials.
The PIAA board and executive staff came out of an investigation by the state senate balancing the defense of its past performance with the necessity to make some adjustments based on the input it heard in a very public forum.
In some situations, the PIAA had image problems more than actual problems. A group that was once difficult to obtain any information from has improved and Lombardi refreshingly vows to improve it even more when he takes over upon Cashman‚??s retirement in July.
‚??We have 225,000 athletes, 1,500 schools, and 14,000 officials,‚?Ě said Lombardi, a Wayne County native. ‚??There are a lot of folks doing a lot of great things.
‚??We need to do a better job showing how great this athletic experience is and how it develops lifetime skills and makes them better citizens.‚?Ě
Using the PIAA Web site more, whether it is in distributing information, sharing updates on changes or telling human interest stories about its athletes, are part of that goal.
The other challenges are unlikely to change.
And, like the officials he has overseen, the best answers by the PIAA are not always going to be clear to see.
Lombardi takes over ongoing tasks like the classification of private schools in comparison with public schools and how to treat eligibility of athletes changing schools with a new addition to the mix in challenging financial issues that result from declining attendance in a tough economy.
His work over the past 24 years has earned Lombardi the shot at leading the PIAA‚??s attempt to make the right calls in the future.