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August 18, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:07 PM)

Good afternoon. Condolences go out to all those folks who have coached/played at the University of Miami who did NOT treat their opportunity like a Hedonism Cruise. What a mess ... yet are we really that surprised? We've kind of lost the ability to be shocked by the cesspool side of college athletics. Well, let's get started.

Helen (New York)

I've got to think that Katie Meier is mighty peeved at what's going on on the football-side of Miami. What, if any impact, might there be on her program and (if this is not too inflammatory a question), how aware are the non-football/men's basketball coaches of what was going on?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:12 PM)

Yes, I am sure this has been quite a yucky week for Meier and other coaches at the U who have to think about how this is going to affect the school financially, the recruiting impact, etc. I think it depends somewhat on the school, but my feeling in general is there isn't a whole lot of time spent together by different coaching staffs. Sometimes coaches of different sports become friends and socialize, but it's not that common for them to do it a lot. I was talking to Virginia's men's tennis coach earlier this year, and he lives right next door to the U.Va. baseball coach. At one point, both teams were No. 1 in the nation. Their children play together in the backyard, and these guys are friends .... but they were so busy with their respective teams/seasons, they almost never saw each other. In my experience, the divide is even wider - most of the time - between coaches of men's and women's sports. That said, do coaches "hear" things? Is there gossip? Sure, in my experience, they tend to basically feel it's not their responsibility to try to police anybody else in their athletic department. They are insular in many ways. But now, they're all going to pay a price, whether they had any idea this stuff was going on or not.

AirJazzy (DC)

Why would the Mystics release Tashia Philips for DeMya Walker? They traded Harding for Kelly Miller and the #6 pick, which was Phillips. I understand she wasn't that productive and she got injured, but next year they will be in need and looking for a good post player where as they COULD have developed their #6 pick, your thoughts?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:15 PM)

I thought that the general consensus on Ta'Shia Phillips is that she had a lot of potential - obviously, being 6-6 is a big part of that - but that she was going to need time to develop. I did a story this week on Jessica Davenport and Kia Vaughn, and how they've developed ... they're still figuring things out. Still going through ups and downs. Indy coach Lin Dunn says you have to be patient sometimes more than you might want to be with a young post player. So I think when the Mystics took Phillips, the idea should have been, "We will see this through a few years." But this is a problem struggling franchises have: They keep looking for quicker fixes, and that often doesn't solve any of their short-term or long-term issues.

Erin (Los Angeles)

Mechelle, is the WNBA ever going to address why it's officiating is so bad? Candace Parker got tossed in her first game back arguing a non-call and Dan Hughes got tossed for two techs. If you watched that Silver Stars game vs. Indiana, some of those calls were downright a joke.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:23 PM)

I watch a LOT of different sports, as several of you folks here on the chat probably do, too. I find that there is a lot of unrest and irritation with officiating in most sports. Part of that, I think, is that we all have HD TV and Tivo and we get 12 different camera angles ... we see the game in a way the officials actually don't. So it seems like there are more mistakes than ever. But I also think that it's harder for a viewer to take himself or herself out of what they are seeing than they think it is. People who have a rooting interest are going to see things in a certain way, even if they think they are being unbiased. I'm not trying to make excuses for bad officiating, but in the end it's a difficult job that is hard to right game in and game out. I don't mean this to be a non-answer, but I don't know that there's a magic bullet to fix this because human judgment will always be part of officiating. And humans can't agree on much of anything. :)

kevin (macon ga)

ESPNW just did a series on the lack of female officials in the major men's team sports. Basketball is far ahead of the others, but the pertinent question is this: If female officials are as good as advertised, why aren't they working in the NBA (aside from the one) and on the men's side in NCAA? And why do female officials never work state title games for boys, but only for girls?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:31 PM)

I am guessing these are sort of rhetorical questions, right? Athletics is still a tougher world for women to be seen as competent - let alone equals - in any capacity. Sports is still one of the last bastions of the really virulent kind of sexism in the United States. But it has improved a lot in my lifetime, and it will continue to improve. I do think women in many endeavors have to "over"-prove that they are competent, and they are almost never going to get the benefit of the doubt for anything. But progress is happening, and it will continue to as the people who are super-competent continue to push against the barriers. Plus, the bottom line is that it's always difficult to get to the "top" level of anything, and women will have to keep competing really, really hard to get there. I'm sure there are a lot of people battling for those jobs.

Chris (Austin, TX)

Why is Atlanta a tough matchup for Seattle this season? Seattle seemed to handle the height and speed of Atlanta pretty well last year..

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:34 PM)

Almost every team is at least a little tougher for the Storm to go against this season because Lauren Jackson hasn't played most of the summer. It's an obvious answer, of course, but it's *the* answer. LJ doesn't just bring the points, rebounds, defense ... she brings a mindset. Everybody on the Storm will tell you they feel more powerful and confident on court when she's out there. So it's not just her stats that they miss, it's her "presence."

Mary (WV)

Van Der Slooot and Griner have been added to the national team. When will the final selection process take place?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:38 PM)

Caroline Williams, USA Basketball's media relations contact, tells me that no specific date is set yet for team selection. That will likely be finalized next spring. When you need info on the national team, Caroline always knows what is going on. It will be very interesting to see if either Vandersloot or Griner actually make this team to go to London. It will be very competitive to get a spot, as always.

M.E. (MN)

Were you surprised that there were not any trades in the WNBA before the deadline?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:40 PM)

Not really, because it seemed like there was relatively little "real" buzz going on a couple of weeks ago even though a lot of fans/observers were speculating about trades. I think a lot of teams felt like they weren't necessarily in position to make a move/moves that would have greatly impacted their postseason chances. I guess we'll see if, in some cases, that might have been a mistake.

brad (southern cal)

What were your thoughts on Candace Parker's return game? Do the Sparks have a chance to make some noise and sneak into the playoffs this last month. Is it acceptable ever for a player to get ejected?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:46 PM)

I may get heat for this - and maybe I should - but I was thinking when CP3 got tossed, "If I were a Sparks fan, I'd be so *glad* to see that she really cares this much." In other words, I liked it that Candace had that much fiery spirit. Now, was she also working off a lot of frustration from the injury, from having to watch, from the feeling that the season has slipped away? No doubt. I'm not trying to make an "excuse" for those who would say, understandably, that she shouldn't have said what she did to the officials. But I have to admit ... one of things I like most about Parker is she is so fierce a competitor. It's real ... not manufactured. As for whether the Sparks can still get in the playoffs ... I really don't think they will. But if they can end the season playing better, that is at least something to take into the off-season. Although it may be time to re-tool several things with this team.

Tony (Emporia)

You mentioned in an interview with Griner after the Big 12 championship that she had improved her footwork and postmoves. After watching her play against A&M in the elite 8 I didnt see much improvement. Do you think Griner has lived up to the hype and do you think she would have become a better player had she gone to UCONN and developed like Tina Charles?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:53 PM)

You are trying to get the Baylor folks riled up today, aren't you, Tony? :) Let's remember a few things about Tina Charles' career at UConn: She struggled at times in her first two seasons, too. In fact, she was VERY disappointed in her NCAA tournament performances her freshman and sophomore seasons. She used her struggle against Sylvia Fowles in the 2007 tourney as motivation. So Griner still has two years in college to refine her game and maybe have the kind of end to her college career that Tina Charles did. TC became a No. 1 draft pick because of how she improved as a junior and senior. I couldn't have a higher opinion than I do of Geno/UConn's coaching and the way it prepares players for the next level - that's been proven time and time again with guards and posts. But ... I think very highly of Mulkey's system, too. I think Griner will get where she needs to go by being at Baylor ... as long as she keeps working hard.

kevin (macon ga)

Danica Patrick is moving to NASCAR full time next season. Good move?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:56 PM)

Let's throw in a little non-hoops question here. From everything I've read, Danica Patrick has been judged as a pretty good driver on the Nationwide Series level. So most experts seem to think this really is a good move for her and for NASCAR, which could use a little boost, actually. Whether she will develop fully to become a top Sprint Cup competitor ... that remains to be seen. But overall, I think she's taken the right steps in her career on the race track. Maybe not so much with those soft-core porn GoDaddy ads ... but we won't get into that. :)

Dane (Houston)

I think everyone understands the human element, but it doesn't take instant replay or HD TV to realize that Danielle Robinson was 3 feet away from Erin Phillips when she was called for a foul. There doesn't seem to be any accountability. There instances of that kind of incompetence thorough out the league from every official. Shouldn't the officials be held accountable for poor job performance the way everyone else in society is? Other then forecasting the weather, what other job besides being a WNBA official can you continually get it wrong and keep that job? People need to be held accountable PERIOD!

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:01 PM)

Officials do get job reviews, and there is system in place to try to hold them accountable. There sure is a lot of anger directed at these folks. I'm not certain what answers fans are looking for on this. I'm not being smug ... do you think more officials need to be fired? Should they try to pay more to lure officials who don't currently do women's basketball? Public flogging? :) OK, just kidding on that last one.

Judith (Not Martha's Vineyard)

If Ted Leonsis genuinely wanted to fix the mess that Sheila Johnson has made of the Mystics in the last ten months and asked your advice as to how, what would you tell him?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:08 PM)

I'm guessing the answer can't be for Sheila Johnson to get as far away from the franchise as possible, right? :) The answer with most teams, with companies, whatever ... is usually the same thing: Developing consistency and stability. The Mystics have done exactly the opposite for much of their existence. I'm not telling you anything you don't know, of course. The Mystics wanted to save money last year and combine the coach/GM jobs. This after their most successful season in which they'd started to develop a little stability. So yet again, they undermined any sense that their fans could count on stability. I would say now they need to find yet *another* coach/GM for next year and then just get out of the way. But I don't sense SJ will ever get out of the way.

Alex (St. Paul)

Is it getting harder for Tulsa to win another game as their losing streak continues? On a related note, I saw a tweet from Cambage thanking the fans for their support and continuing to meet them at the airport, etc. It can't be fun for anyone, but it is nice to see the support is still there.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:15 PM)

Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, who drops nuggets of wisdom on a daily basis, once said that as a season goes on, it's very hard for teams not to "become" what their record is. In other words, that becomes their identity, no matter how hard they are trying to break out of it. So if your record is 1-22, how do you keep yourself from thinking, "We're 1-22. That's who we are." It's really, really tough. I noticed the looks on some Tulsa players' faces the last time I saw them in person vs. seeing them in June when they still had some hope that they could turn it around. And it wasn't like "We've given up," but it was more like, "Here we go again." So, yes, the longer the streak goes on, when it's a terrible streak like this, the harder it gets. I hope they can somehow scrape together one more win for their sake and the fans' sake, but I don't know that it will happen.

Alex (St. Paul)

I did not watch the Silver Stars - Fever game. But I know it generated a lot of comments on the officiating. The refs are not perfect, but I am not sure if enough fans realized the officials are evaluated on every game and they review the games as well. Dee Kantner and June Courteau have been at the Target Center a lot this summary (well June has probably been at almost every game because she is local). I know a lot of the most vocal somplainsts I hear in the arena seem to be from fans who do not understand all of the rules.There is always room for improvement in officiating, but sometimes it needs to be reminded to fans that there is a sytem in place to help this process.

Dane (Houston)

In my job if I keep getting something wrong that often I lose my license and/or get sued. Job reviews don't do much if there are no consequences. Maybe instead of firing they get more training, if they don't improve they get a suspension. The point is fans are paying very good money in a very difficult economy and I don't think it's too much to ask the league consider and take steps to make sure the people buying the tickets are getting a quality product and not leaving games thinking they have been fixed due to so much bad officiating. If the games become so unwatchable as was the SA/Indy game, how long do you think it will be before they find something else to do with what little money they have. Maybe if we started expecting more instead accepting the status quo we would be taken more seriously as professional product.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:17 PM)

Just getting some more thoughts out there on this topic. Dane feels pretty strongly. I watch a lot of games and do not feel the situation is that bad. So am I out to lunch? Admittedly, I am not watching as a fan.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:18 PM)

I'm not being flip, either. If most people really do think the officiating is that bad, then maybe my view is the minority.

Ellen (Lusby, MD)

In a league with only 6 teams in two conferences, the same teams are playing each other over and over. (NY and DC just played 3 times in less than two weeks, admittedly some very bad scheduling.) And with 11-player rosters, there are few new faces each season. Might there be a boredom factor setting in?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:19 PM)

I don't think teams get bored when they are playing well. Boredom and apathy do set in when teams are struggling, though. As for the Mystics-Liberty trio of games, I don't understand that scheduling, either.

AirJazzy (DC)

Is Cappie on the national team?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:21 PM)

The working roster for the senior national team, as released on Aug. 1, does include former Olympian Cappie Pondexter. She's one of 26 currently on that list.

Abby (Benavidez)

Speaking of the Olympics, Jayne Appel was on the Worlds team. Do you think she has a shot at making the Olympic team or has she blown any NT chances with such a sub par WNBA season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:22 PM)

At this point, it would seem unlikely that Jayne will be on the Olympic team, but there is still a lot of time left before that decision will be made.

Ellen (Lusby MD)

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant boredom on the part of the fans. A bit of same old, same old? I sometimes feel that way....

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:24 PM)

Sorry ... yes, I would imagine that fans may get bored when they see similar match-ups too many times in a short period. Makes sense. But I also do think it's hard for players to avoid apathy when their team is struggling.

Levi (Oklahoma)

If Teresa Edwards doesn't come back as coach of the Shock who are some names for the job out there you could think of? I could see one of the assistants of other teams being highly considered. To be honest, all the top assistants on each team has great potential to be given a chance. However, it would be an undertaking for their first head coaching job. (Granted if Teresa leaves, which I think all in all she has done as best as she can do with what she has).

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:29 PM)

This is actually a story I'm working on: What does Tulsa need to do to recover from two basically disastrous seasons? Part of this is going to depend on how much ownership is willing to spend and what their philosophy will be. They went the wrong direction to start with, and it's hard because now they have made no progress, really, in two years. They have a few assets player-wise, but basically have to rebuild completely. There's a lot to explore here, so that's what I'm trying to do.

Dane (Houston)

Mechelle, I do feel strongly about the officials. I drove over two hours and spent over $200.00 on tickets, food and fan shop stuff to watch a game that was unwatchable. It's not the Stars losing, it was what the officials did to the quality and flow of the game. Both teams suffer when the officials think they are bigger then the game being played and the actions and arrogance the officials showed Tuesday IMO was unacceptable.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:32 PM)

I like your passion, and I understand it. I do think that officials try to do the best job they can, but that doesn't mean the process of their improvement doesn't always need to be refined. It does, and they would admit that. Of course, it's *much* easier for me to say all this when I'm in observer mode like I am with basketball. As I've mentioned before, I have a harder time sounding dispassionate when watching major-league baseball, where I do have a rooting interest. :)

drew (wausau, wi)

going to the sparks lynx game on saturday night. what can i expect to see.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:36 PM)

The Lynx are a fun team. How cool is it that Minnesota fans finally can say this? You'll get a chance to see the player who at the moment is making a case as the league's top point guard: Lindsay Whalen. Not to shortchange anybody out in Seattle, of course. Just saying that Whalen has been really, really good this year. And you'll see Seimone Augustus performing like a dominant player who's finally comfortable because she has a multi-talented team. And I hope you see the best of LA's Candace Parker, too, because there's no doubt the league has missed her. Have a good time.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:39 PM)

Thanks for all the questions this week, folks. Likely will have this chat on a different day next week -probably Wednesday - as I'll be otherwise occupied on Thursday. Will post date/time on Twitter.