In the early days of the WNBA, the officiating was stunningly horrible. It was to the point where it ruined many a game.
I remember one 2002 contest in particular, where the Houston Comets came to Key Arena, and the three officials basically gave Houston the game. The 10,000 or so fans on hand booed the refs as they put on their jackets, collected their stuff, and all the way off the floor. Some leaned over the railing to shout obscenities at them as they walked into the tunnel, and police and security were holding some people back. The anger was that intense.
Games like those, when the refs decide the outcome, leave not only a sour taste in the mouth, but a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach.
Fans from every team in the league wrote letters to the WNBA calling for new officials, better training or both of the above. Change was achingly slow.
But things have been much better the last few years. Teams are, for the most part, allowed to just play ball, and their actions are the sole determinants of the game.
Lately, however, there seems to be a bit of a backslide. The most notable example was in last night’s Sparks at Silver Stars game, where 27 fouls were called on LA, and 12 on San Antonio. Even more concerning than those numbers is the inconsistency in which they were called:
After calling only 15 fouls through three quarters despite a physical contest, the officials whistled 16 fouls in the final period — visibly frustrating the Sparks, who were assessed 15 more fouls than the Silver Stars. The Sparks had three players foul out — Toliver near the midpoint of the fourth quarter and Beard and Parker in the final minute of overtime. Toliver’s final foul drew protests from the Los Angeles bench, which claimed she had only five.
Note to the WNBA: Make sure the officiating doesn’t slide backwards in time. You’ve made a lot of progress in this area, so don’t ruin it. Keep getting better – not worse.