Friday, January 31, 2020

GNAC Officiating Q&A: Matt Mason

Matt Mason is one of several officials in the GNAC who also work NCAA Division I games in the West.
We are using this blog during the 2019-20 academic year to bring you profiles on the unsung heroes of GNAC athletic competition -- the referees, rules officials and officiating supervisors without whom the games could not occur. These Q&A's are intended to heighten awareness for this critical aspect of amateur sports while celebrating the efforts of those individuals who are giving back to the game through the avocation of officiating.

This initiative is part of a comprehensive strategy by the NCAA DII Conference Commissioners Association to 1) bring attention to the crisis-level shortage of officials affecting amateur sports and 2) promote the benefits and rewards of officiating by implementing a national recruitment effort within the division.

For more information on how to become an official, we encourage you to visit the following links or reach out to your local officiating organization:

Now, on to our Q&A with GNAC men's basketball official Matt Mason.

Name: Matt Mason
Hometown: Sammamish, Washington
Years as an official: 24

Conferences currently working: Division I: Big Sky, Western Athletic; Division II: GNAC; Division III: Northwest Conference; NAIA: Cascade Collegiate Conference; Junior College: Northwest Athletic Conference.

Describe your competitive background in the sport of basketball.
I was a soccer player growing up. I played some youth basketball as well as intramurals and adult leagues as I got older.

What was it that attracted you to the world of officiating?
I was always a basketball junkie. I loved the sport. The opportunity to serve the community, get some exercise and put a couple of bucks in my pocket all added up.

What were the initial steps you took to pursue a career as an official?
I have worked for the Boeing Company for almost 29 years. When I first started, a buddy of mine that I worked with asked if I wanted to go and earn a couple of extra bucks and officiate the Boeing employee adult basketball leagues. I was single and didn't have a family at the time, so it made sense for me to try it. After that initial opportunity, he suggested that I go and do a tryout for the local high school association in Seattle. I did the tryout and was put on the JV list for my first season (normally a 3-4 year process). After my first year, the group allowed me to try out for the high school varsity list, which I was fortunate enough to make. I then tried out to work college basketball and was selected to start working collegiately in my third season. The rest is history. I was very fortunate with some amazing mentors and training that helped me learn and grow.

What were the preparatory steps you first took to launch your officiating career?
I had some informal training when I started working for the Boeing adult leagues. When I signed up to work in the Seattle high school group, I was an apprentice so they had a formal training process. At the same time, I started going to high school officiating camps, led by the Washington Officials Association under the leadership of Steve Brown, a long-time official out of the Tacoma high school officiating association and now current assignor. I would also keep a journal of every game I worked and identified three areas that I needed to improve on as well as three areas that I thought I did OK. I also watched a ton of games in person and found good mentors that had successful careers in high school basketball.

What do you remember about your first “real” assignment as an official?
I remember working my first high school playoff game. I was fortunate to work with one of my mentors, who has become one of my best friends. We had a tough assignment and I was super nervous to make sure I performed at a high level. We had a scenario that I had not had happen and my partner was amazing. We walked through the process and got the play right. It was a huge growth opportunity for me, one that I have leveraged many times regarding staying calm, trusting your training and being patient in a very tough environment.

What was it that prompted you to move into the intercollegiate ranks?
I had attended several officiating camps to try and improve as an official. I wasn't really seeking out the opportunity to move up the ladder. Like I mentioned earlier, I had a few mentors/senior officials that took me under their wings and really showed me how to be a good official, both on and off the court.

As an official in any sport needs to become a rules "expert,” what approach did you take to learning the rule book?
This is an area of improvement for me. I have strengths and weaknesses in this area. I am a work in progress in this area. One way that I have been working on this aspect is by asking questions, talking about plays and associated rulings. There are rules in there that don't happen often that can surprise you at times. One of the things I do know is if I mess something up, it only happens ONCE. I also leverage my partners in games and we collectively can get to the correct answer on challenging plays/rules interpretations.

What are some of the things an official in your sport does throughout the year to stay up to date on the sport from an officiating perspective?
As my family would say, officiating is a 12-month-a-year activity. I think it is actually an 11-month process. Most officials will take the month of April off to reconnect with families, their jobs and allow our bodies to recover. Once May comes rolling around, the NCAA has usually identified their teaching focus areas and officials start prepping for summer camps. Camps start in May and will run through July. The month of August is usually family time. As I have gotten older, my body does not respond as well as it did when I was first starting, so having to stay in physical shape is a priority. I also will start watching and reviewing my games from the previous season. September we start having our meetings with our respective conferences as well as the annual meeting with the NCAA. October comes around and I host weekly study groups with about 15 young officials in the Seattle area. We do film breakdown and rules reviews. We also discuss special topics that the group presents on that teaches the officials to communicate and be uncomfortable in front of their peers. We have been doing these groups for about the last seven years and we have seen tremendous growth in the group, myself included. I have learned so much. I use the term, "Leaders Teaching Leaders.” We are developing the future crew chiefs as well as having them teaching this old dog a few new things.

Can you outline a typical officiating year in terms of the number of events you typically have on your calendar and the travel involved?
I work 6-10 NCAA DI basketball games. The Big Sky Conference has schools in Colorado, Montana, Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington. The travel to get to some of those schools is very challenging in the winter months. I work a majority of my games in the D2, D3, NAIA, and JC classifications. The GNAC covers Alaska, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Washington. I tend to work an average of 3-4 nights per week.

What have you found to be the biggest challenge as a college official
Balance is really challenging. I have a family and a job that are my No. 1 priorities and I am 100 percent committed to them. I am also very focused on developing the next group of officials in the area. As my officiating journey is winding down, I really want to share my experiences and get that next group ready to take my spot. So keeping all of those in perspective is really important. If you don't have the support of your family and your career, then your officiating career is not going to go well. I have an amazing wife who supports and engages in the process. I wouldn't be where I am without her.

Describe an aspect of college officiating that the average person or fan doesn’t realize?
The time and commitment that we put into working on our craft. The hours and hours of film review, rule review, and physical fitness activities go unnoticed by many. The travel to get to games on time, the lack of sleep one gets, the early flights the next day to get back into your office just to head out early again to get to that next game does not get publicized. The scrutiny by the media along with social media has gotten out of control. At times, the focus has been lost on what the true meaning of collegiate athletics is all about. It is about the student-athlete and the communities in which they reside. I tend to look at the good and try to ignore the negative. Everyone has issues/challenges in their lives. As I always tell anyone who will listen, "Every time I blow my whistle, half the arena loves me."

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in officiating?
There is so much that I have learned as an official, including life lessons that will stay with me forever. The relationships that I have developed and the life-long friendships that have occurred both on and off the court are something that I will cherish forever. I have been able to leverage the communication aspects of officiating in my career at Boeing. I work with executives throughout the company who have forced me to get out of my shell, learn how to tell a story (just like every time I blow my whistle) and have emotional resiliency at every turn. I never officiated for the money, but that is a factor, no doubt about it. As far as first steps, reach out to your local high school group. They have a great structure in place to get you going on the right track. Find mentors and peers that you can share the journey with. But first and foremost, you need to engage with your family and make sure they are on board. It won't work if you don't have that in place. One final thing to remember: enjoy the journey. Remember to celebrate your successes with people you trust, thank those who have helped you along the way and give back to those who want to get better.