The Connecticut Football Officials Association made official Tuesday its decision to refrain from working independent high school-level games unless they are provided insurance against COVID-related lawsuits.
In a statement, the CFOA said it was compelled to put its policy in writing after questions arose among members of the state’s six referee boards about the prospect of officiating independent games last week.
The CFOA, which oversees all referees in Connecticut, released its memorandum following a virtual meeting with the heads of its six regional boards on Tuesday night.
The CFOA cited the Connecticut Dept. of Health’s recommendation against playing 11 vs. 11 full contact football as a “high risk” sport, the CIAC’s subsequent move to cancel the 2020 fall season based on that recommendation, and the lack of insurance against COVID-related lawsuits due to the unsanctioned nature of the independent games.
The statement said lawyers among the CFOA’s ranks also reviewed a legal opinion drafted by Hartford law firm Shipman & Goodwin on behalf of the CIAC that detailed COVID-related legal risks and agreed it applied to officials.
“The CFOA cannot expose officials to possible litigation resulting from COVID transmitted to players, staff, or other officials,” the statement said. “That possibility has become manifest by the fact law firms are beginning ad campaigns specifically targeted for COVID-related situations.”
CFOA would consider allowing its boards to referee independent football games only if they are provided additional insurance against COVID-related lawsuits, the statement said. Several have worked with such an arrangement for the few state prep schools playing football.
The CFOA’s policy, however, does not prevent its officials from seeking work with independent leagues on their own. Those that do, however, would be doing so at their own risk, the statement said.
“We are independent contractors when working games,” the statement said. “Individual officials can determine for themselves if they want to officiate independent leagues or teams; however, doing so is outside the auspices of the member boards, and the officials are ‘on their own’ should any situation arise.”
CFOA president Kevin Moreland told GameTimeCT last week that the state’s referee boards were asked by several independent team representatives to officiate games beginning Saturday, but that they couldn’t provide additional insurance.
On advice from lawyers who were examining the Shipman & Goodwin advice, Moreland said the CFOA declined to work those games and released Tuesday’s statement to explain their position.
Despite this, at least five independent high school-level football games kicked off last weekend. Moreland said he did not know the identity of the officials who did agree to work those games.
Several Connecticut officiating boards have been refereeing youth football games for the past month. While the CFOA statement didn’t mention youth football games, Moreland said Tuesday night they were still looking into the issue. “As of right now, there’s no change,” he said.
The CFOA also addressed criticism it says it received for declining to referee independent games, saying it was “unwarranted” and “denies the reality of [the] current situation.”
“There is a difference between going to trial for a COVID-related situation and getting sued for one,” it stated. “The latter, regardless of the legal outcome, could bankrupt the organizations and the individual members before even going to a potential trial, and officials and their organizations will have to pay legal fees from the first dollar.”
“Our members want to work, our organizations want to service games. But, we cannot do so exposing ourselves to potential lawsuits.”