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Melee Update: Suspension Announcements a Relief For Sparks, Nolan

Well, I wrote earlier that losing Candace Parker or Deanna Nolan for an extended period of time would be the most harmful outcome of Tuesday night’s fight.

We now have the announcement and Parker got one game and Nolan got nothing. Essentially Plenette Pierson was given most of the responsibility for the fight, receiving a four game suspension.

I have to say I thought the league was rather lenient on Parker and Nolan – it’s hard to argue that Parker was not as responsible as Pierson for the fight. I suppose Nolan was trying to help by tackling Parker…but that should count as participating in a physical altercation.

But guess what – it will be good for the game. Why? Losing Nolan and Parker for any extended amount of time could have a major effect on the standings. And I’m sure that’s not lost on the league.

According to the Boxscores, Nolan and Parker are the most important players from each team. So to revisit the Boxscore losses, here’s what it breaks down to:

Pierson: 4 games, 2.14
Braxton: 1 game, 1.39
Humphrey: 1 game, 1.26
Powell: 1 game (upon return from injury): .52
Sam: 1 game, .57
Bobbitt: 2 games, .56
Page: 2 games, .16
Leslie: 1 game, 3.09
Milton-Jones: 1 game, 2.07
Parker: 1 game, 4.10

Cheryl Ford (ACL injury): 9 games, 2.51

So what’s the fallout?

Well, the suspensions are staggered – Sam serves her suspension on July 27, separate from Braxton and Humphrey, so that should not be a major loss for Detroit. However, losing Braxton, Ford, Humphrey, and Pierson tonight against Houston could be devastating – they give up the second least opponents’ rebounds and have the best rebounding differential in the league. But in terms of Boxscores, that’s 45% of their win production lost against a Houston team looking to improve their standing in the playoffs. If the Shock can gut out a win, it should make for good entertainment and perhaps even help ratings over the next few games.

Long-term, losing Pierson and Ford over an additional three games (28% of win production) will hurt, perhaps costing them 1 potential win. But again, the intangible factor of having floor leaders Nolan and Katie Smith still on the court should not be overlooked. It’s a relatively small loss for a deep team.

As for the Sparks, the long-term implications are even less. They will be without Bobbitt, Leslie, Milton-Jones and Parker tonight and that’s still 70% of their production. I find it highly unlikely that they can win tonight’s game against a hungry Sun team.

Bobbitt will miss a second game along with Muriel Page and though that only amounts to .72% of the team’s production, I think the loss of Bobbitt’s energy could be huge against New York. Bobbitt’s score is a little skewed because she wasn’t playing much early in the season. So I would imagine that she’s responsible for at least 1 full game this season. But it’s likely not enough to cause a loss either. It will be interesting to see if Temeka Johnson comes back.

The verdict…?

At this point, I think it’s unclear exactly what type of damage this might do to the league. One way to look at is that there could be fan fallout as described by Helen at Women’s Hoops. If fans think the league was too lenient AND continue to see poorly officiated games, the league could have a longer-term problem on their hands.

Another way to look at it is that the game itself is not going to be adversely affected due to light suspensions. Longer suspensions for Milton-Jones, Parker, or Nolan could have been devastating. But now the league might have a perfect storm – controversy, increased attention for a few games before the Olympics, and players on the court hungry to redeem themselves.

If indeed the Shock and Sparks make it to the finals, it will be interesting to see how much media attention they get. And in the end, that’s what it comes down to – the type of media attention. The media has a heavy influence on people’s desires, like it or not, and if the sports media frames WNBA games as something to watch, more people will watch.

Transition Points:

I also thought it was important to make sure that these suspensions were consistent with NBA suspensions. Well, they were – suspensions are consistently flawed and criticized after they are handed out, NBA or WNBA.

After the 1998 Miami Heat-New York Knicks melee in which coach Jeff Van Gundy was caught hanging from Alonzo Mourning’s leg trying to stop a fight, David Stern "lectured" coaches Van Gundy and Pat Riley about their responsibility for keeping games under control. Some even blamed their trash talking for the events escalating in the way they did. Sound familiar? Does the tension between Michael Cooper and Bill Laimbeer exacerbate the on-court tensions in any way? What responsibility do coaches (and the media that hypes up tensions) have for keeping things under control?

This was not included in the WNBA’s press release, but I think that the referees of Tuesday night’s melee should be subject to some disciplinary action as well. It is their responsibility to maintain control of a game and at some point the league has make it clear to the refs (and some upset fans) that they won’t tolerate refs letting games get out of control. What is the appropriate disciplinary action to take against the refs?