NEW YORK >> Technical fouls are up this year in the WNBA with more already called this season than last.
There were 92 technical fouls given to players before the All-Star break, 11 more than all of last season. Coaches have picked up another 30 technical fouls already with nearly 20 percent of the season left to play.
WNBA head of officiating Monty McCutchen said in a phone call Wednesday that it certainly wasn’t a league-wide initiative to increase technicals this year.
“We haven’t messaged a single time this year that we want more technicals or we have a problem that we have to take care of,” McCutchen said. “I love the passion that our players in the WNBA provide their franchises, the fan base, and the basketball world at large.”
McCutchen said he was at the Atlanta Dream game Tuesday night and there were three-to-five techs that could have been called that weren’t. He also said the officials did a good job of calming situations in that game to avoid calling more technicals.
McCutchen, who is in his first season in charge of WNBA officiating, said in May that communication between officials and players was a major point of emphasis. He also said that quelling situations before they escalate was an important part of the officials’ job.
“Our officials are doing their best,” McCutchen said. “I do believe it’s important that standards that have long been upheld, and created by our competition committee in past years, are indeed upheld. Our officials aren’t just out there punitively handing (technicals) out. … We want to maintain good game decorum so the focus is on the players. There is no desire to adjudicate passion out of our game.”
Some players have a different viewpoint on that.
“Right now in the league I just see referees trying to soften the game,” Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage said on a conference call last month. “And you would never tech an NBA player up for flexing after making a move. I got a technical last week for a look at a referee. I don’t understand why our emotion and our passion is being suppressed. We are women we are passionate and we are playing hard. Let us play our game and don’t try to soften it.”
The players’ union has taken notice of the increase in techs. The league is playing a more compact schedule because of the FIBA women’s basketball world cup in September, so the WNBA regular-season schedule is 19 days shorter than last year. The level of play is up and there is parity across the league, with few games separating teams in the playoff race. It seems every game matters more and that’s led to heightened tension and intensity in most games.
“I haven’t looked at the data, but I can feel (a difference). I’m curious to know maybe if there’s a correlation,” said WNBA players’ union president Nneka Ogwumike of the tighter schedule. “When it comes to the league, it sets itself apart as far as the frequency of games of course. It comes with the added frequency of other things like travel, recovery and all that stuff.”
Ogwumike also noted that a few of the technical fouls have been rescinded by the league after they were called.
“It’s one thing to get a tech, but for them to be rescinded and how that affected the game is very frustrating,” she said.
With the schedule more compact this season, the league hired four more officials this year knowing it would need an extra referee or two. Their schedule isn’t nearly as hectic as the players’ path this season.
The league did lose one official when it announced Sue Blauch had been promoted to head of WNBA referee performance and development Wednesday.
“It’s a position created this year as part of a process to fully consolidate the evaluation and management of officials in the NBA, WNBA and G League,” said McCutchen, who holds the same role in the NBA. “In our three leagues, we need to have one brand of officiating. We wanted the administration of that to show that our money was where our mouth was. If we were going to say they were all equal, we needed the resources and people in place that equitized all three leagues. And that we have a supervisor of officials for each league.”
Blauch will step away from officiating games to assume the position with the league office immediately. Her final game on the court was July 24 at Indiana. Blauch, who has worked the WNBA Finals since 2005 and been a college official for nearly three decades, said the position had been offered to her earlier in the year, but she decided to take it now.
“When they approached me in April, it was definitely not the right time,” Blauch said. “I figured four or five years I’d like to continue (officiating). What I love about refereeing is that we are servants of the game.”
Still she recently changed her mind.
“The excellence being created was a magnet for me,” she said.
In her new role, Blauch will oversee the day-to-day management and on-court performance of the WNBA’s officiating staff.
“Officiating is a passion of mine,” she said. “There are few things as exciting as being on the court. And while stepping away from that is a difficult decision, this is an incredible opportunity to make an impact in an entirely new and innovative way with a fresh perspective while continuing to work closely with the dedicated and talented officials in this league.”