The WNBA ends with a BANG, on to high school and college by Clay Kallam
The WNBA’s 20th season ended with two great games, both unfortunately marred by officiating issues, and now it’s time to shift gears and get ready for college and high school. But first, some final thoughts…
1. Congratulations to the Sparks and Brian Agler. Yes, Nneka Ogwumike took a huge step forward, Candace Parker managed to find a way to be a team leader and there was a little help from the officials in the closing minutes of Game Five. But let’s give a little credit – no, a lot of credit – to Sparks’ coach Brian Agler. He took a mismatched lineup (too many posts, not enough guards, shaky small forwards) full of strong personalities (Parker, Kristi Toliver, and Nneka too) and got everything pointed in the right direction at the right time.
Agler has been coaching women’s professional basketball since 1997, and he’s won titles in both the ABL and WNBA. Granted, he has a very talented roster this year, but at the WNBA level, pretty much every team has talent. It seems that Agler is getting lost in the shuffle in the postseason praise for Parker and Abu McKay, but he deserves much more than the credit he’s getting for L.A.’s championship.
2. WNBA officiating. I’m generally very supportive of officials, as I staggered out of the court and blew the whistle for eight years long ago. But one thing I felt even I could do – and any official at any level can do – is know the rules. For three highly trained officials not to know how to administer a review in the last two minutes of a championship game, as happened last week, is simply inexcusable.
That said, the blame should not fall on the officials, because the league supervisor of officials is the one who is ultimately responsible for officials knowing the rules backward and forward. There were three officials on the floor, and none of them knew how to administer the rules in the last two minutes. This is a training issue, not a judgment issue, not a failure on the part of the individuals. If the league, if the administrator of officials, had properly emphasized understanding the rules, this error would not have occurred.
Blaming the officials in this case is much like blaming the messenger, as the real flaw lies in the training methods that allow officials to be unprepared, apparently without accountability. Even at the high school level, tests are administered and officials are expected to understand the nuances of the rules. This is a professional league, with professional officials, and they should know the rules – but the responsibility for making sure that they know the rules lies more with the league and the person directly responsible for the officials rather than the individual officials themselves.
Now Don Vaden has only been in charge of WNBA officials since April, so some might say he should get a pass – but I don’t think so. The complaints about WNBA officiating after what happened in games four and five are justified, and Vaden should be the main one to take the heat. And if things don’t improve next year, then maybe it’s time to make another move in his position.
3. The high school season has begun – or has it? The patchwork of rules across the country makes it almost impossible for there to be a level playing field when teams from different states play each other. This of course is reflected in the national rankings, which try in their way to compare teams from different regions of the country. But if transfer rules, the date of the first allowed practice, and practice restrictions very wildly, as they do, then it’s not really fair for a team that is limited in its preparation to play a team that’s been practicing since August, legally, when they play in the first week of December. California is the poster child for this inexcusable variability, as many schools in the largest state in the nation can begin practice in mid-August, and others cannot start until mid-November. And then they play the first week of December, and the results will impact seeding for the state championships in March.
Of course, getting 50 state commissions to agree on anything is all but impossible, and in California, agreement between 10 separate sections on such apparently simple decisions about when to start practice, how many games can be played, and how transfer rules should be applied has proven to be as difficult as guarding Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.
But that doesn’t mean that’s how it should be, and the turf-protecting administrators who can’t come to an agreement should really be ashamed – they get paid a lot of money and the least they could do would be to sit down and agree to compromise on a common set of rules.