Two weeks have already passed since the WNBA postponed the start of its regular season because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Will the league have to make more changes to its schedule?
"Our goal is to have a season when it is medically advisable and feasible," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Friday on a conference call. "Other than deferring training camp and the beginning of the season, we haven’t taken anything in our scenario plan off the table."
The WNBA will hold a virtual draft for prospects Friday at 7 ET on ESPN. Despite uncertainties about the league’s future, Engelbert considered it important to host that event for prospects "to make their dreams come true" and so that teams can become further familiar with their rosters.
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Otherwise, the league has operated through uncertainty. It is not clear when the WNBA will reschedule training camps that were originally slated to start April 16. Nor is it clear when the season will begin after it was originally scheduled for May 15. Because of that uncertainty, the WNBA has brainstormed various ideas to hold games with or without fans either at team arenas or neutral sites.
"We could play into the fall, for sure," Engelbert said. "But we’re going to try to get the majority of the season in the summer and into the fall."
The WNBA has some flexibility with scheduling because it did hold any games because the Tokyo Olympics were originally scheduled from July 24 to August 9. The Games have since been scheduled for next year. But the WNBA could also face a logjam with rescheduling games just as the NBA does. Six WNBA teams share an NBA arena, including Indiana, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Phoenix. Six other teams have their own venue, including Atlanta, Chicago, Connecticut, Dallas, Las Vegas and Seattle.
"Where we share an arena, we could do back-to-backs or double-headers," Engelbert said. "I look at playing at the same time as the NBA as an opportunity."
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Engelbert added: "We’re having discussions internally about all the financial impacts on the coronavirus and sports," including when and if players will still get paid during any potential work stoppage.
"Some would say women’s sports are already at a disadvantage and we had a lot of momentum coming this year," said Engelbert, citing the league’s new eight-year labor deal that includes increases in player salaries and benefits for motherhood and family planning. "That’s why I still have a level of optimism this year. This is a business. We’re going to run a business when it’s safe to do so. We’ll navigate the complexities on how to run that business."
Engelbert was among several pro sports commissioners that spoke with President Donald Trump on a conference call two weeks ago to discuss when or if those leagues can fully operate again. The other commissioners included Adam Silver (NBA), Gary Bettman (NHL), Don Garber (MLS), Roger Goodell, (NFL), Rob Manfred (MLB), Vince McMahon (WWE), Jay Monahan (PGA Tour), Dana White (UFC), Roger Penske (IndyCar), Michael Whan (LPGA), and Drew Fleming (Breeders Cup).
With state governments showing varying timelines on when to ease social distancing and shelter-in-place rules, Engelbert said "we have plans to collaborate with state and local governments only when it’s medically advisable and feasible to do so."
"We are in the same boat and similar challenges in how we think about starting up sports with or without fans and the different complications and logistics that come with that," Engelbert said. "There is no doubt that everybody’s focus is on the health and safety of everyone involved."
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