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Our foray with women's basketball has only changed everything.
It's changed how we watch sports. How we view women. How we spend our money. What we look forward to. It has engendered relationships of both genders. It has created lifelong friendships. It has changed our culture. It has changed lives.
How fortunate, indeed, we are in such a time, watching the game grow from its infancy. Maybe that's why we get a little proprietary about it. Other sports have more followers and protectors. We are the few, the proud.
And why we - fans, media, coaches - bear a responsibility to spearhead change.
It begins here: The game is not officiated well, evidenced again last Thursday at Gampel Pavilion. Geno Auriemma and Penn State coach Coquese Washington were plenty critical after the game of Bryan Enterline, Jesse Anderson and Barb Smith.
Criticizing officiating shouldn't be taboo any longer. It's a pox on the women's game. It's getting worse. This isn't about specific names and personalities. This is about the philosophy of the way games are called, how the officials are instructed and the necessity of coaches, fans and media to fight the fight until the establishment hears the message.
No one should argue that Enterline, Anderson and Smith probably got most of the calls right. But they committed the sins that are woefully consistent within the women's game: Too many touch fouls, thus preventing a flow. A refusal to call a foul on contact, instead waiting to see whether the ball goes in the basket to blow the whistle.
Example: Enterline called a foul three seconds into Thursday's game. It was the classic Bill Raftery, "nickle-dimer." It set a tone.
Example: Bria Hartley drove to the basket in the first half. She left her feet for a layup attempt and absorbed contact. No whistle. The contact clearly altered the shot. The ball danced on the rim and dropped errantly. Whistle. Foul. Two free throws. It had to be a good two seconds after contact.
Dickerson's call was half-hearted. One tweet of the whistle. Not heard by everyone in the building. It's like he knew he should have made the call on contact and felt obliged once the shot didn't go in. This is not an isolated incident. It happens all summer in the WNBA, driving coaches and players to distraction. It's a foul on contact or it's not. Whether the ball goes in is irrelevant.
"It was a frustrating game to play, a frustrating game to coach and a frustrating game to watch," Washington said. "Geno got a tech. I was in the refs' ear and got a couple of warnings.
"I didn't think the refs called the game like there were two top 10 teams on the floor. I think that's unfortunate," she said. "I don't think fans or anybody watching on TV got to see the kind of basketball both teams are capable of playing because of the way the game was called and because of the physical play."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma:
"We just needed about three minutes without a (gosh darn) whistle," Auriemma said, after earning a second-half technical foul that came after he kicked the table and howled at the officials. "That would have really helped. When the game is played the way it was tonight, it's impossible to get any kind of rhythm going.
"I know two of those guys (Dickerson and Enterline) did the game (Wednesday) night," Auriemma said, alluding to the Baylor-Notre Dame game in Indiana. "Maybe they were suffering jet lag. I don't know. I just think we have some real issues in women's basketball and unless they get addressed, you'll see more of these games. And that's not fair."
This was not one coach being petulant after the game, believing he or she got the shaft. This was both coaches. Both coaches who risk reprimand by the establishment. Bully for them. They need to call 'em as they see 'em.
And frankly, so do other coaches across the country who see the same shortcomings. The media, too. There aren't many in the national media who care about the women's game. Which is why all the writers at ESPN W and the commentators on ESPN - Doris Burke, Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson, Carolyn Peck - need to identify bad officiating when they see it.
All the time.
Because the game is too good to get hijacked like this so routinely.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.