On the surface, the 2016 WNBA Finals can be classified as a classic. The dramatic final three minutes of the final game alone, with neither team conceding, along with two-buzzer beaters, easily gave it the necessary qualifications.
“I hope that we gained a lot of fans from around the world, around this country, and they really recognize how well women’s basketball is being played here in the USA,” said Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus after her club’s loss to Los Angeles.
“The basketball was the best we have seen in this league. We want to do it again,” said President Lisa Borders in a quick MSR interview after she presented Los Angeles the league championship trophy in Minneapolis. “These women can play,” she exclaimed.
However, in light of officials’ error in the final two games — the league publicly admitted to errors the following day, which had a possible direct impact on each game’s final outcome — the league must once and for all address the poor officiating. This has been a problem for years, but this year’s playoffs were glaringly bad.
During a Minnesota-Phoenix playoff game, I sat next to a retired official. He tracked at least eight bad calls in the first half alone. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he told me that a prime reason for the errors is because many WNBA officials are college officials as well, and the two games are uniquely different.
NBA officials, on the other hand, are full-time and don’t swing back and forth. As a result, W officials either call games too tight or miss too many calls, which adversely affect the game’s flow, as well as consistently draw the frustration and ire of players, coaches, and fans alike.
You can prepare for most everything, but that’s because each official sees something differently. Each official has their own interpretation of what they see as a foul, or in their sometimes subjective nature, who was fouled. What constitutes as a foul on a rookie or non-descript player or the team as a whole, can look totally different for a star or top contender.
“We study everything every year,” said the president on the changes this season, which included changing the offensive rebounding shot clock to 14 seconds rather than fully reset to 24, as well as the new playoff format. Addressing the officiating problem must be the next step to improving the league.
Why not utilize the NBA Replay Center? The state-of-the-art facility opened last season in Secaucus, N.J. where active referees make decisions on certain replay situations and review other on-court reviews when needed. League officials say the center last season ruled on 72 percent of all replays and nearly 32 seconds was the average review time for all replays, a drop of almost 25 percent from the average 42 seconds in the 2014-15 season.
Since the WNBA games mainly take place in the summer, perhaps NBA officials could get some moonlighting money and work the cameras for W games, to apply their “clear and convincing evidence” standard used in the big brother league for overturning a call made on the floor for their sister counterpart. If this system was in place, the two bad calls — Minnesota not advancing the ball over half-court in time, and Nneka Ogwumike’s shot that took place after the shot clock expired —would have been caught and correctly executed by the game officials, who missed both plays.
The NBA Board of Governors unanimously approved establishing the Replay Center. The WNBA governors must do something similar, including hiring full-time NBA officials to work WNBA games. After 20 years, an officiating upgrade is desperately needed.
“These are 144 of the best athletes in the world,” noted Borders. Don’t they deserve the best officiating as well?
Finals thoughts —
Los Angeles Assistant Coach Tonya Edwards, who was the Lynx’s first All-Star when she played on the team’s first club in its expansion year, and her Minnesota counterpart Shelley Patterson, were the only coaches of color on either bench in this year’s finals. As a result, for the second consecutive season, a Black assistant coach was on the championship bench — Patterson was on the winning Minnesota bench last season.
Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles heads back to China for the off-season. She told the MSR, “I think the league is getting better every year.” Only one American player can be on a Chinese roster. Lynx teammate Maya Moore has played in China for several off-seasons as well.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.