The call that wasn’t

I was as surprised as anybody yesterday when WNBA official Amy Bonner called Phoenix Mercury forward Noelle Quinn for a foul on Lynx forward Maya Moore. It didn’t look like a foul at all. But Moore went to the line with 1.5 seconds left on the clock and sank one of two free throws. Minnesota won, 72-71, and claimed the Western Conference title while defending champions Phoenix saw their season end.

Even more of a shock was getting the official news release from the league just before 9 a.m. Pacific today, saying the WNBA had determined that a foul should not have been called in that instance last night. The league had never retracted a call before, and I haven’t heard of any other professional league doing that either.

The outcry on twitter began immediately. Fans were enraged, disbelieving, and indignant. I fielded numerous questions and was included in a few twit-discussions.

What good did it do to issue that statement? What are they going to do about these horrible, horrible refs?…..were among the most common sentiments expressed.

Like ESPN’s Michelle Smith, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the teams were allowed to play the overtime that was coming. I was so ready for it, pacing back and forth. But when Moore sank the final shot, it was all over, and I felt like the air had been let out of my balloon.

The Mercury might have won it in an extra period. It had been a heck of a game until that last call.

Why issue the statement? I agree with some, including a few coaching friends of mine, that it was good for the WNBA to take responsibility and own up to error in this case. They took accountability for the wrong.

As for the officiating, I can’t get on board with those who say WNBA referees are the worst. They sure used to be, but they aren’t now.

When the league first started, the officials were painfully awful. It seemed like every game I attended (which was the Seattle Storm back then), I was upset at least twice by crappy calls. And I was far from the only one. Often at Key Arena, the fan anger around me was palpable. I knew all the league referees by name, and so did everyone else.

One game in 2002 saw the Houston Comets come to town. The referees botched up that game at the end, similar to the way they did last night. Fans stood on their feet for the last few minutes of the game, booing and booing. Police officers stood ready, because the tension in the place felt like it could turn into a riot. As the officials walked off the court and into the tunnel, fans leaned over the rails to curse and spit at them.

In 2006, WNBA referees were sent back to officiating school. Things have been much better since then. Not perfect, but better. Today I watch games and see officials who keep the game in flow, for the most part, and don’t become part of the story line of the evening match up – as it should be.

Could the referees of the WNBA improve? Sure. But things take time.

We didn’t hear of Phoenix lodging a protest over last night’s call, so I would guess they have begun to move on. We all should.

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