In the span of a few weeks, women's basketball has had a couple of controversies to match anything their male counterparts could produce.
Some people would have us believe that commandeering the news, good or bad, is a sign their game has arrived."Right," said Nancy Lieberman-Cline, recently named to coach the WNBA's Detroit franchise and perhaps the best female basketball player ever.
"That means the only things we're lacking are a major drug scandal and having our games on the board in Las Vegas," she added. "I can't wait."
Any time a movement begins to gain momentum, debate intensifies over which direction to take next. So it was going with women's sports: Focus on competition or participation? Stress characteror skill? Slow growth or speed it up?
One side argued for following the model established by men; the other side argued for the high road - for developing something better. But just as the issues were getting a serious airing, the debate was sidetracked once more by the events of the past weekend.
Even as the furor over the layup and school scoring record conceded to UConn star Nykesha Sales was reduced to a whisper, the officiating crew at Sunday's Midwest Regional turned the volume back up by turning the UCLA-Alabama game into a travesty.
In 0.8 seconds - about the time it takes to blink your eye - game officials at Tuscaloosa, Ala., blew two calls so blatantly it threatened to siphon off all the attention from the opening weekend of a women's NCAA tournament that featured record crowds at several sites, a handful of exciting upsets and a few truly sublime games.
In case you missed it, Alabama was playing at home Sunday in the Midwest Regional against UCLA and won 75-74 on the final play of the game.
It began when Crimson Tide guard Brittany Ezell ran the baseline on the inbounds pass, which should have been a traveling call because it wasn't after a basket. Ezell then heaved the ball all the way to the free-throw line on the other end, where teammate Dominique Canty and UCLA's Erica Gomez both tipped it.
The matter - and the game - should have ended right there. It didn't. That's because the official in charge of the game clock was asleep at the switch. Doc Blanchard, the timekeeper at Alabama for nearly a quarter of a century, didn't start it until Alabama's Latoya Caudle caught the ball, squared herself to the basket and let fly with the winning shot.
UCLA coach Kathy Olivier - hard to blame her - was stunned. She and her players stayed on the court for 90 minutes afterward, while NCAA officials tried to sort the mess out. They had to do so without the officiating crew, which, after ruling the basket good, ran to the locker room.
After viewing replays the next day, the national coordinator of officiating, Marcy Weston, and the chair of the Division I women's basketball committee, Jean Lenti Ponsetto, conceded both errors.
The timing was a joke. One television station did a frame-by-frame analysis, then claimed 1.5 seconds elapsed AFTER the ball was tipped by UCLA's Gomez. Referee Jack Riordan also was wrong to tell Ezell that she could run the baseline on the inbounds play.
Ponsetto and Weston decided to bar Riordan and fellow officials Robert Strong and Lolly Saenz to work any more games during the tournament. But that was the extent of what they could do about the matter. Once the referees left the floor, nothing was open to review. That has not satisfied everyone.
UCLA coach Olivier is still livid. She called for tournament games to be moved to neutral sites.
"That ignores two important points," Ponsetto countered. "First, these mistakes could have occurred at any site.
"And second, our game is in its infancy. We still need to grow it. The reality is fans of the women's game don't travel - yet. And we want the kids to play in crowded arenas, not empty ones."
Natalie Williams, the most valuable player of the American Basketball League - a pro league that like the rival WNBA, was built on the foundation put down by the women's college game - was angrier than Olivier. She insisted she will return six different awards she won at UCLA while competing in volleyball and basketball.
"They don't mean anything now," she said.
Williams is wrong. She should hang on to her awards and quit griping. This could well turn out to be one of those episodes where the direction of a movement is set. Officials blow calls in games all the time, and occasionally at the end, when they matter the most.
But the right thing, the most sportsmanlike thing, is simply to walk away. This is one instance where it doesn't matter whether it's a man's game or a woman's.