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Options in Online Officials’ Payment Systems

By Ken Devoe on November 21, 2017 officials Print

In recent years, schools, leagues, sports associations and event venues have had at their disposal the option of using an online system to pay sports officials and other game-site personnel. The presumed benefits of such a system – for the payer – include:

  • Simplifying the payment process
  • Ensuring that the right people are paid the right amount at the right time
  • Making tax compliance and issuing tax forms to payees easier

The presumed benefits of such a system – for the payee (i.e., officials) – include:

  • More timely payments
  • Choice of convenient, secure payment options
  • Ease of keeping track of game fee payments

One issue that online payment can address is the safeguarding of officials’ confidential information – such as Social Security numbers – versus the lack of security that comes with having to fill out a form at the game site and hoping someone collects and secures that form so that no unauthorized personnel can see it. With the rapid rise of identity theft – a problem we’ve covered elsewhere on the NFHS officials’ web site – protection of officials’ information is something that needs to be addressed, and on-line payment systems offer potential solutions.

Not all online systems are alike, and payers interested in such systems have options. 

One is a system that’s been around for a number of years and is fairly well known to the sports and officiating communities, namely: ArbiterPay™ (formerly RefPay). Another is a system that was launched in April of 2017 called Payball™.

The purpose of this article is not to compare the two systems or make any recommendations. The goal is to provide you with knowledge that may help you make an informed decision on whether to use an online payment system and to evaluate for yourself which systems are better suited to your needs.

ArbiterPay™ – a closer look

ArbiterPay™ was created by Daren Jackson, a basketball official in Utah. He initially named the system RefPay.

Here’s how and why it came about. 

In the early 2000’s, while working as a banker, Jackson received training on identity theft. The idea for a secure on-line sports officials payment system came to him after a particularly tough high school game. “The game didn’t go well for our crew, and there were some unhappy people waiting to give us a hard time after the game. We hung out in the locker room for an hour. When we came out, the forms we filled out were still sitting on the scorer’s table,” Jackson said. “I didn’t like it that my Social Security number was exposed and called our state association to tell them that this was a liability waiting to happen. They responded that many people complained, but nobody did anything about it. They said that if I could come up with a solution, they would be my first client.”

He did, and they were. Jackson started RefPay in 2004 and in 2006 integrated his system with Arbiter. In 2009, the NCAA bought a majority stake in Arbiter, and the payment system became known as ArbiterPay™.

In order to get paid by an entity that uses ArbiterPay™ to pay game officials, you must create an ArbiterPay™ account. To do so, you go on-line to: www.arbiterpay.com or www.refpay.com and follow the on-screen instructions, filling in the information the system asks for, including your Social Security number, your bank’s routing number and your bank account number. You can select one of three methods by which to get paid:

  • By bank transfer, which is the easiest way to do it.  This service is free.
  • By transfer to an ArbiterPay debit card that you can request from Arbiter. This service is also free.
  • By Check. There is a fee for this service.

ArbiterPay™ doesn’t actually hold anyone’s money. It doesn’t have the legal authority to do so. Instead, funds are held in escrow at a Trust Bank. The system pays and records game fees electronically and expedites payments to officials without sharing their personal or financial information.

As of this writing, more than 5,200 schools across the country use ArbiterPay™ to pay officials and athletic event workers.

Payball™ – a closer look

Payball™ was created by Peter Makover, a Syosset, Long Island native and current Norwalk, Connecticut resident.  Makover is a long-time lacrosse coach and league volunteer. He approached the idea for an online payment system from the perspective of the payers – schools, leagues, etc.

“Administering the process of paying officials was a nightmare,” Makover said. “It might involve distributing cash to the coaches who in turn pay the refs at the game site. In other cases, it involved writing and mailing hundreds of checks. Most of these leagues are run by volunteers, and this cumbersome process took a lot of their time over and above the duties of running the leagues and seeing that tournaments and other events run smoothly.”

Makover felt strongly that there needed to be a resource to simplify the process for all concerned. He didn’t see anything on the market that did what he felt needed to be done as simply and efficiently as possible, so he took it upon himself to design such a system. Peter drew upon his 20-plus years of experience in software application development and created Payball™.

The Payball™ app is designed to make it as easy as possible for leagues and other organizations to set up accounts and to make and track payments to game officials. Similarly, the app is designed to make it easy for officials to set up their profiles and links to their banks in order to receive game fee payments.

Some features of note to officials include the following:

  • You do not need to provide personal data such as your Social Security number in order to get paid. You only need to provide your banking information.
  • The Payball™ app is mobile for easy access from anywhere at any time on your smart phone or other mobile device. The app download is free.
  • Because of how the app simplifies the payment process for leagues and event organizers, you may find that these entities can and will pay you at the game site.

One element unique to Payball™ is the handling of tax reporting. Payball™ uses a payment engine called Dwolla. Without getting too technical, Dwolla is considered a Payment Settlement Entity, or PSE, much like a credit card, and operates under a different section of the tax code from what a school or league would be required to do. As a result, under IRS guidelines, leagues and organizations don’t have to send out 1099 MISC forms to game officials. Payball™ is responsible for reporting using 1099-K forms. One major difference here is that instead of the $600 reporting threshold for a 1099-MISC, under the IRS code, the payee will only receive a 1099-K form if he or she earns over $20,000 in a year and is the recipient or over 200 transactions.

Recently, Payball™ was selected by the new Women’s Pro Lacrosse League to be their payment provider for all league members and by a major national chain, the Connecticut Rush Soccer Club, to pay over 150 officials who worked a sizable tournament in Wilton, Connecticut.

To learn more about Payball™ go on-line to www.payballapp.com.

The bottom line

Online payment systems offer the opportunity to simplify the process of paying game officials and other game-site personnel and to provide an added level of security to protect officials’ information. No matter who the payer is – a school, a state association, a recreational league, a youth league, or a sports venue that stages hundreds of tournaments and pays thousands of officials and game personnel – until the advent of on-line payment systems, the payment process has been overly complex and time consuming. On-line systems such as those described above are intended to reduce that complexity.

As a sports official, you have no say in how you get paid. That is up to the entity that hires and pays you. If that entity uses one of these on-line systems, you are required to set up an account within that system in order to receive payment. Ideally you will find that you get paid in a more timely manner by those who utilize these systems. Plus you can more easily track your payments – including who owes you what and for how long, and whether you in fact have been paid.

One other note.  Many of you who officiate sports are also involved in helping run youth, travel and recreational leagues and, as such, you have a vested interest in finding a system that will help you and your organization simplify the process of paying officials. In short, it pays (pun intended) to be well informed.