By Pat Harty
The games that are officiated the best are those in which the officials are mostly ignored.
Unfortunately, that was not the case in the biggest game of the season for women’s college basketball.
Louisiana State deserves high praise for defeating Iowa 102-85 in the national championship game on Sunday in Dallas.
The Tigers, in winning their first national title, set a tournament record for most points scored in the title game.
And they also had to overcome some questionable calls by the officials, but not to the extent of Iowa, which had two starters foul out, while All-America guard Caitlin Clark played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls.
Fouls, of course, are part of the game, and some are obvious and have to be called.
There were just too many touch fouls called in Sunday’s game, and too many fouls that left you scratching your head in bewilderment.
There were also some obvious fouls on both teams that weren’t called.
There was just no consistency with how the game was officiated, and that ruined the game in some ways.
There were 37 fouls called in Sunday’s game, which is the most for a women’s title game.
And while some were the right calls, and maybe even a majority were the right calls, there still were too many questionable fouls called in the game.
I was reminded that Sunday’s game marked the first time that an all-women officiating crew worked the national title game.
Some will use this game to say that the best officials didn’t call the game because too much emphasis was put on gender when picking the officials.
But I refuse to endorse that narrative because it’s narrow-minded and just isn’t fair.
These three officials obviously are proven or they wouldn’t have been picked to work the biggest game of the season. They just didn’t have a good game, and the fact that all three officials were women is irrelevant and unfortunate because some will now use it as an opportunity to criticize women officials.
Perhaps they were overwhelmed by the moment, but that’s still not an excuse for their performance.
Clark picked up her fourth foul late in the third quarter when she flipped the ball behind her back and apparently said something after Iowa senior center Monika Czinano had been called for her fourth foul.
Star players shouldn’t get preferential treatment, but the officials should have considered the circumstances and maybe given Clark a warning.
Players have acted out for more than what Clark did without being called for a technical.
Referee Lisa Jones released a statement after the game explaining why called the technical on Clark:
“Iowa received a delay of game warning in the third period at the 7:28 mark for batting the ball away after a made basket, causing a delay. The second offense was when No. 22 from Iowa picked up the ball and failed to immediately pass the ball to the nearest official after the whistle was blown. Rule reference — Rule 10, Section 12, Article 3K. The definition of the delay can be found in Rule 4, Section 9, Article 1F, by failing to and it reads, attempting to gain an advantage by interfering with the ball after a goal, or by failing to immediately pass the ball to the nearest official after the whistle is blown.”
So, it turns out that Iowa had been warned once about delay of game, but then Clark violated that rule for a second time, and was given a technical foul.
The statement does help to clarify the call, but it still seemed a little extreme under the circumstances, although, rules are rules.
But even with that clarification, the officiating in Sunday’s game left much to be desired.
I normally don’t like calling out officials because it’s usually just a weak excuse for why a team loses.
But this game deserved better from the officials, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t rise to the occasion.
The lack of consistency in calling fouls, and not calling fouls, was tough on both teams as LSU star center Angel Reese spent most of the second quarter on the bench after being called for two touch fouls.
Two of Clark’s fouls were on offense when she was called for hooking her defender and for extending her arm.
Neither call was necessarily wrong, but the lack of consistency in how fouls were called made it hard for both teams to adjust, and made the game hard to watch.
I’m assuming the officials that worked the game have had better days or they wouldn’t have been officiating the biggest game of the year on the biggest stage.
The players get scrutinized and criticized for how they perform, but officials seem to get a free pass, outside of getting ripped on social media.
The three officials that worked Sunday’s game failed to meet the standard for a game of this magnitude.
That doesn’t diminish what LSU accomplished.
But it does take away from the quality of the product.’
Women’s college basketball has come a long way, but from an officiating standpoint, Sunday’s national title game was a step backwards.
And that’s a shame.