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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Many college refs not paid in 2009

When the firm that assigns and pays referees for a large portion of college lacrosse games defaulted on payments to the officials this spring, it wasn't an issue that reached the fans or the media. In early June, the season was over, but John Powers of the Boston Globe broke the story, directly affecting about a dozen schools in the paper's coverage area. I started calling around to see if the refs were paid and which schools were affected locally.

The company that owns the AssignByWeb service is called PaymentsFirst. They are in Philadelphia and serviced many schools and conferences in many sports for five years before 2008. Some of their reported customers are/were Quinnipiac, MIT, Mount St. Mary's, York, Johns Hopkins, Amherst, Colby, Army and Navy. They had a contract with conferences like the ECAC and even the college lacrosse oversight body, the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. More than 50 lacrosse-playing schools had paid in advance but were, in fact, not paying the referees that called the games.

The USILA has used the AssignByWeb service for a few years. As you can see in this excerpt below from the USILA Web site, the proposed services were valuable and less expensive that previous methods of assigning and paying lacrosse's college referees. Section II. On-Line Services - The USILA has contracted with assignbyweb.com to provide online services.

1. Services include:
A) Posting all game assignments by date and school
B) Posting all post game officials evaluations
C) Posting all costs associated with officials fees and travel
2. This replaces the ECAC Program used in 2004 & 2005, at savings of over $15, 000 per year.
3. This new system will allow DAA's to precisely judge officials' travel to allow scheduling to be done with school expenses in mind.

The system was working. AssignByWeb was paid in advance by the schools to administer and pay the referees who officiated their lacrosse games. By the way the story goes, the company was paying out to each season with the fees from the next season. When they hit the summer season with no college sports going on, they ran out of money and the spring referees did not get paid. In fact, referees in winter sports stopped getting paid in January when the problem was reported to the ECAC and the USILA along with the individual colleges in many cases.

Powers reported that the USILA "alerted the Athletic Directors of its member schools in mid-April, telling them that it was clear they couldn't expect payment from the company and asking them to pay the officials directly." College referees make between $150 and 250 per game plus mileage.
v And many of them did. Many of the schools were horrified that the refs were not paid and felt swindled by the company that had their money and would not release it to the referees. Many of the schools started paying the referees the wages they were owed and then manually for the games remaining in 2009. They were back to cutting checks and assigning refs and out the $5,000 or more they each had to deposit with AssignByWeb for the services they did not receive.

Roy Condon, USILA's district assigner for New England told Powers that "at least a third [of the schools] have already paid. Another third are sending out W-9s [tax forms]. And probably another third are awaiting a legal response."

As it turns out, PaymentsFirst was not authorized by the state of Pennsylvania to transmit money and has been prohibited from operating until it receives a license, according to Powers. I have copies of some of the e-mails flowing back and forth between schools and referees and have seen evidence of schools attempting to pay the referees promptly, but others have claimed that payment would be forthcoming but they do not know when. They have mentioned possible litigation against PaymentsFirst and have noted the inconvenience this has caused all of the parties.

The only problem with the wait-and-see approach is that the referees don't work for PaymentsFirst and should have been paid immediately after the situation was brought to the attention of the schools. In some cases, the schools kept requesting referees after the problem surfaced and still did not promptly pay them. If the school knows at some point that the ref is not being paid and still assigns the ref without making some other arrangement for payment, then they are somewhat complicit in the offense against the referee, regardless of their initial victim status. I should have to explain this to institutions of higher learning? I won't name the schools that I've been told have not made payments even now, as we end the month of June, but fully expect them to do the right thing.

June 30, 2009
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