The national championship game in women’s basketball last spring was unforgettable for a lot of good reasons. LSU beating Iowa for its first title. A record television audience of nearly 10 million viewers. The spicy intensity between star players Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark.
The game will also be remembered for its controversial officiating and The Associated Press has learned that an NCAA review concluded the refereeing did not meet expectations.
The organization had planned a review of NCAA Tournament officiating after the 2024 championship concludes next April, but it was sped up by a year after criticism of the LSU-Iowa showdown.
NCAA vice president for women’s basketball Lynn Holzman said the officials were graded on the accuracy of their calls and the overall accuracy number fell short.
“In the championship game itself, for example, we typically have a performance that I think is 91% historically,” she said. “In that game, the percentage of correct calls was below that, around 88%. That’s factually the case.”
The NCAA did not provide the review or details to the AP, but an independent review of LSU-Iowa done by an official who did not participate in the game found the percentage of correct calls was much lower than 88%. (Out-of-bounds violations were not included as part of the independent analysis; it was unclear if they are included in the NCAA figure.)
According to the independent review, mistakes made during the game included a foul on Reese at the end of the first quarter that was her second of the game. In the third quarter, two offensive fouls were missed, one on each teams. Both resulted in video monitor reviews but neither ended up in penalizing the offensive player, said the official, who did the review for AP only on condition of anonymity because they feared the criticism could impact their career.
The 88% correct call rate was on par with the rest of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, but not ideal for the most important game of the season.
“Officiating across the board is a concern for people,” said North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart, president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association who added that she hoped the findings would be shared with coaches. “Doing that assessment was a good step showing that they are trying to address it.”
The NCAA review was conducted by the Pictor Group. It offered six observations and recommendations that include better education and training for the NCAA women’s basketball committee and subcommittee on officiating, selecting crews and assigning the referee and crew chiefs.
“They felt that the national officiating program is run with integrity and there’s no question around any of that,” Holzman said. “They identified areas we can be better.”
The NCAA updated its rulebook over the summer. One change, had it been in place last year, would have impacted the title game:
Players now will no longer be charged with a technical foul for certain delay-of-game violations like the one given to Clark late in the third quarter because she didn’t pass the ball to an official after a foul was called. Since it was the second delay-of-game violation for Iowa, Clark was charged with a technical — her fourth foul of the game.
“Our committee is going to get a specific education about how we evaluate officials and this is what we’re looking at,” Holzman said. “The committee is going to be trained up.”
Holzman noted the review was only about the NCAA Tournament and that individual conferences govern their officials during the regular season.
There are 762 Division I officials in women’s basketball this season. For the upcoming NCAA Tournament, there will once again be 116 of them working, along with five alternates — about 16% of the overall total.
An additional 94 officials will be selected for the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament. This will allow the opportunity for more officials to gain postseason experience. In the past, some of the NCAA Tournament officials would also work WNIT games. Last year was the first time the NCAA had all-female crews for the Final Four games.
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