- 20 Years In, and the WNBA is still proving the doomsayers wrong.
- 20 Years In, and millions of men, women, girls and boys have spent hard earned money to cheer on the W
- 20 Years In, and the league has successfully navigated through four presidents.
- 20 Years In, and we’ve survived franchises folding, moving and being rescued (thank you, Magic Johnson.)
- 20 Years In, and we’re seeing former players step into management roles.
- 20 Years In, we’re seeing former players in the broadcast seats. And, considering media-shrinkage, how about a shout out to more “visible” women in sports coverage – Julie, Sarah, Kate, Bonnie, Johanna, Nina, etc.
- 20 Years In, and we’re seeing players embracing their role as leaders within their communities and for the nation.
- 20 Years In, we’re back to sold out Finals – and what a Finals they were.
- 20 Years In, we’re witnessing the on court talent transfer from the “old” guard to the “middle guard” to the “new guard (and posts).
- 21 Years In, we’re set up nicely for the next 20 years, but, Looking ahead, WNBA league pres says, ‘The work is not over.’
As for the ridiculously, fabulously awesome final game…. yowza. Congrats to the (grrrrr… I’m a Liberty fan, this galls me, but my dear friend Maria must be ecstatic!) LA Sparks for winning the championship, for the Lynx for giving it their all, and the amazing fans who showed up to Watch Them Work.
So, since we’ve got three weeks to kill before NCAA basketball starts, let’s revisit that final game:
ESPN: Game 5 was an instant classic in a riveting WNBA Finals
Yardbarker: Best winner-take-all games in WNBA Finals history
LA Times: Sparks win the WNBA championship with 77-76 win over the Lynx
Palo Alto: Ogwumike’s fadeaway gives Sparks the WNBA title
Hoopfeed: Sparks topple Lynx to win WNBA Championship, victory seals a banner season for Ogwumike and Parker
Mechelle: Finals MVP Candace Parker finally captures elusive WNBA title
.com: Candace Parker, At Long Last, A WNBA Champion
Bleacher Report: Candace Parker After Winning WNBA Finals: ‘This Is for Pat’ Summitt
UPRoxx: Candace Parker Emotionally Dedicated The WNBAChampionship To Pat Summitt
FOxSports: Candace Parker pays fond tribute to Pat Summitt after winning WNBA title
BallisLife: Candace Parker & The LA Sparks Win WNBA Championship With A Wild & Emotional Ending
The News Tribune: LA Mayor Garcetti wins WNBA bet with Minneapolis counterpart
Mayor Garcetti: STATEMENT: Mayor Garcetti on the Sparks Winning the WNBA championship
We knew this: FiveThirtyEight: The WNBA Finals Really Are Pitting The Best Against The Best
TMZ (!) L.A. Sparks Raged After WNBA Championship
Young, Black and Fabulous: LA Sparks Win WNBA Championship, Celebrates With Magic Johnson + Nelly Joins
GoDuke: Gray & Beard Lead Los Angeles Sparks to WNBA Title
Slam Online: WNBA Photos of the Week
WBUR: A WNBA Fan’s Quest For Equal (Sports Bar) Rights
ProBasketball.com: If you didn’t watch the final seconds of the WNBA Finals, you should
And then, of course, there was this: WNBA Admits Officials Made Critical Error Late in Game 5 of Finals
USA Today/For the Win: Minnesota coach slams officiating in WNBA championship game: ‘It’s not enough just to apologize’
Star Tribune: ‘Sore loser’ or ‘league president some day’: Reeve’s rant sparks strong reaction
So, about officiating and the WNBA. What you’re seeing is the fiscal reality meeting the meritocracy. Long time readers will know I’ve written several pieces on officiating which gave me the opportunity to speak to some longtime refs and coordinators of Division I (top and “lower”) conferences.
It takes years to train up an official. As independent contractors, they have to pay for that training. Since the pay is crap until they reach to top level, they all have regular jobs. They have to get time off from their jobs to get out to the high school or Div III gig they’re working. If their coordinator spots them, supports training’em up, it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll get headhunted by the coordinator for the next level up. So boom, as a DIII coordinator, it seems like every season you’re back to square one – and let’s not even talk about the impact of geography.
What’s interesting about the WNBA is that they have a hard time getting the best of the best of the officiating corps. Those who work the NCAA season use the summer to spend it with their families (consider how much traveling/time away from home). There’s a short train up time for the W – and they’ve got to adjust to the different rules and the faster speed of the game.
If folks want a “fix,” they need to look to the top NCAA conferences. They have to commit money to develop the officiating pool. This means:
1. Cracking down on diva coaches and players. The disrespect shown to officials on the court and in the locker room means the pool of folks who might become superb officials – players – is tiny. If the officials have to fess up when the make a mistake, so should the coaches.
2. Put your money where your mouth is. Hire an official supervisor and give them sufficient staff to get to ALL of the games and give feedback to ALL of the officials.
3. Speaking of money, make sure your budget is big enough to offer high quality professional development. This means paying folks to attend.
4. Create a paid mentoring program where current officials can coach up-and-coming officials.
5. Commit to transparency. Make sure that you proactively share the hiring, education and review processes. And do this EVERY year.
6. Educate fans. The rules change… and many don’t know the rules. Yah, the NCAA has a wbb website (https://ncaawbb.arbitersports.com/front/104884/Site/Posts) but every program should offer “So you think you can ref?” sessions for fans, players and coaches. How about a “You are the call/rule trivia” contest?
I’d apply this applies to ALL the sports. ’cause if you think this issue is unique to women’s basketball, your head is in the sand….
And, since you care:
“What’s expected of officials now has increased exponentially,” says Dee Kantner, a Division I ref for 19 years and currently Director of Referee Development for the WNBA. “You used to just show up, stretch out a little, go out on the floor, and boom, you’re done,” she recalls. “Not anymore. These athletes are quicker and stronger. They’re doing things that a lot of people aren’t used to seeing. You just don’t show up at the game and expect to be sharp and work the games to the top level it needs.”
“The officials around here usually start out in recreation ball and work their way up from that point,” said John Kirk, now in his ninth year as supervisor of basketball officials for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (D-2). “You’ve got to start somewhere [so] I advocate that they try this out first.” It can be a low stress position that requires a basic knowledge of the rules and might earn them $10-20 a game, but said Kirk, “after a period of time a lot of them we lose because they’re not really interested in it.”
Those who catch the officiating “bug” may upgrade to the high school level where varsity game fees can range between $50-70. To do so requires registration with the statewide or local officials association attached to their state’s high school athletic association, which usually entails an annual fee ($10-$75) and a written rules exam. For some associations that fee might go towards providing rulebooks, support materials, insurance or training, and most require, at the minimum, attendance at a meeting to go over current rule changes. Each state can have different standards and expectations around the skill-level an official might have before they’re assigned to a game. Not surprisingly, that can undermine the experience not just for the teams and coaches involved, but also for the officials themselves.
For some, it’s as much a part of the game as the squeak of basketball shoes. Getting that intangible advantage can be reflected in how a coach works the media, a player, the other coach or, for the purpose of this discussion, an official.
Consider this recent example: Watching a nationally televised game between the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun and Detroit Shock, the Shock were making a furious comeback. On an inbound play, Detroit center Ruth Riley was called for a foul – probably her fourth, maybe her fifth. Immediately Detroit head coach Bill Laimbeer, all 6’11”, 260 pounds of him, loomed over official Lisa Mattingly (who’s got to be 5’8” or so on a good day), saying “Oh, that’s a terrible call. A terrible call! And millions of people are watching on television and seeing what a bad call that is. That’s a horrible call,” he continued, “and it’s all out there on national T.V. for everyone to see.”
Never mind the fact that the replay clearly showed the television audience the correct call was made, it was obvious he was using his physical size, his recognition of the media exposure (both coaches were miked), and the pressure of a close game, (imagine if it had been at Detroit!) to try and influence how the game was being called -– though it is hard to imagine how that might work on such an experienced official as Mattingly.
OFFICIATING UNDER REVIEW: Coaches, Conferences and the NCAA Working to Collaborate
“This is often an area that is misunderstood by coaches as well as the general public” said Mary Struckhoff, the NCAA’s coordinator of women’s basketball officiating, “I think it is natural for people to assume that because the NCAA writes and establishes the playing rules, that it also oversees regular season officiating.
“It is important for people to understand that each conference oversees its respective officiating program, while the NCAA championship falls under the purview of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee,” explained Struckhoff.