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Mohegan - An appreciable number of Connecticut Sun fans, through email, voicemail, snail mail and regular old conversations, want to know more about officiating in the WNBA. They don't understand why it's generally terrible. Or why officials call what they do, inducing boos that rain on them like hailstones.
Here's the latest theory: They're more concerned with the gyrations and musings of Sun president Mitchell Etess than the actual game.
No, really. Two recent incidents suggest the officials, or those instructing them, have one eye on the game and the other on Etess, who watches most games from the front of the tunnel opposite the visitors' bench.
At halftime of the game vs. Minnesota last month, the officials, per Sun team and league sources, spent some of halftime talking about Etess and his criticisms. Nothing else more pressing, apparently.
Then came last Sunday's double-overtime win against Washington. Referee Mike Price admonished Etess from 40 feet away before he allowed the ball to be inbounded. In overtime. From 40 feet away.
Etess has been told that he "charged" the floor.
Really? He "charged" the floor? From the tunnel with seats in front of him? To charge the floor, Etess would have had to go O.J. Simpson, leaping over inanimate objects, like from the old Hertz commercial. And why, exactly, was Price looking at somebody 40 feet away anyway?
"Everyone knows how deep my passions run for this team," Etess said Thursday, awaiting tonight's rematch with the Mystics at Mohegan Sun, where it might be safe for him to watch from the skyboxes. "I guess what surprised me (Sunday) was his location and my location. I know the officials are trying and the league is trying. But what we're seeing game after game frustrates me."
Sunday's game, as is the case with many others, was miserably officiated. To wit:
• The officials might have stopped the game early in the third period to check the replay after Washington center Kia Vaughn floored Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike with an elbow. Ogwumike hit the floor with the thud of dropped bowling ball. It took till the next day for the league to decide the foul merited a one-game suspension for Vaughn. (Perhaps they'd have seen it if they weren't obsessing over Etess).
• In the fourth period, Ogwumike's rebound basket gave Connecticut a 66-58 lead with 3:38 left. On Washington's next possession, Ogwumike was in position to take a charge, frozen, as if signaling "touchdown." She was also standing there long enough to order one of those mocha latte venti decaf caramel things from Starbucks.
No matter. Ogwumike was called for a block on Mo Currie, whose shot also went in, pulling the Mystics within five and totally changing the complexion of the last three minutes. (Perhaps they'd have noticed Ogwumike standing there if they weren't obsessed with Etess).
• Not long after, with the Sun down two, Currie was called for a touch foul on Alyssa Thomas. Bill Raftery would have screamed "nickel-dimer." Thomas was awarded two free throws. Currie made more contact with her in the handshake line. (Perhaps they'd have noticed Currie made little or no contact if they weren't obsessed with Etess).
• Finally, official Byron Jarrett called a foul on Washington's Bria Hartley with 0.4 seconds left in overtime. It was unclear whether she fouled Katie Douglas in the act of shooting. Jarrett failed to indicate whether it was a shooting foul or whether the Sun had to inbound the ball, leaving players, coaches and 7,400 fans guessing. But then, how can one be definitive if one is worried about the owner 70 feet away?
Leave it to the WNBA to irritate one of its biggest advocates. The Sun have been a beacon to the league for how to run a profitable franchise and for the importance of independent ownership. Etess has offered Mohegan Sun Arena several times for all-star games and the draft, giving the league a favorable television presence with butts in the seats.
And now they try to embarrass him?
Etess is demonstrative because he cares. And yet neither he nor anybody else can get the league to admit there's a problem.
My guess is the first step toward better officiating is to offer more pay, thereby enticing more men's college and NBA officials to at least consider it. This just in: Money talks. Coaches and players across the league admit it's a tough game to officiate because of the improved strength and athleticism of the participants. So go find referees with experience officiating strong, athletic players. And pay them.
And leave Mitchell Etess alone.
He actually cares about your league.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.