Rick Boyages, supervisor of basketball officials for the Big Ten, said an NCAA Division I official can make from $800 to $3,200 per game, depending on the level of experience and type of game.
But being an official at the high school level is no pathway to wealth.
“For most of us doing this at the high school level, we don’t do it for a living," said veteran official Gary Giger, of Moline. “You have to enjoy the game."
“I just like being out here and being around the game," said Davenport official Steve Leabo, who generally works games with his good friend, Roger Youngblut.
“We both just love sports, and this is a way to stay around it," Youngblut said.
There is some pay involved, but it varies greatly by sport, geography and school size.
For example, basketball officials in the Mississippi Athletic Conference are paid $85 a game. Chuck Brittain, who assigns games at smaller schools in much of northeast Iowa, said basketball officials there make $95 for working a double-header.
Varsity volleyball officials in the MAC receive $100 for doing both the sophomore and varsity games. In the Western Big Six, it’s $80.
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In baseball, umpires get $50 for doing a single Western Big Six game. A MAC double-header pays $110. Some small schools pay only $90 for a double-header.
“Basketball is far and away the best-paying sport," said Tim Seward, a vice president for the Quad-City Officials Association. “Football is getting there. Baseball, man, we’re just really underpaid for the amount of money we have to put into it. A basketball game is over in an hour-and-a-half, maybe an hour 45. A baseball game, you could be out there for three hours."
Factoring in the cost of the equipment to be an umpire and the weather conditions they sometimes face, Seward said, “you really have to enjoy being a baseball umpire."
But almost none of the officials do it for the money.
“I do it for a couple reasons,’’ said Ken Ferris, of Bettendorf, who has been officiating baseball and basketball for more than four decades. “I still enjoy doing it. I do not do it for the money. I’m still competing this way. I played all four sports in school, and this is a way to stay in it."
A personal highlights came just a few weeks ago — in a junior high basketball game in which a girl made her first free throw ever.
“The joy of making that shot just lit up her whole face," Ferris said. “It was awful basketball, but seeing how happy she was about that shot was something I’ll never forget."