While most sports leagues in the United States and around the world had their seasons halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the WNBA was never able to even get started. But now, exactly two months after their originally scheduled opening night of May 15, the league has announced its plan to begin play in late July.
Following in the NBA's footsteps, the league will be setting up a bubble environment at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Though much like its brother league, all of the details have not been finalized. Via the league's press release:
Beginning in July, IMG Academy will be the home for each of the league's 12 teams and serve as a single site for training camp, games and housing. The top priority continues to be the health and safety of players and staff, and the league is working with medical specialists, public health experts, and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place. Due to the fluid situation resulting from the pandemic, the league and players will continue to review the appropriate health and safety protocols and make necessary changes to the plan prior to arriving on site for the start of training camp and throughout the season.
About 77 percent of players voted to accept the league's proposal and start the season, according to ESPN's Mechelle Voepel.
Ironically, the league was set to expand its schedule from 34 to 36 games this season, as well as implement a new in-season tournament called the "Commissioner's Cup." Now, because of the long delay, they will instead play just 22 regular season games. The postseason, though, will be played out under the traditional format.
An exact date has not yet been set for a new opening night, but commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the Associated Press that they are eyeing July 24. "My hope is the July 24 date will stick," Engelbert said. "We have scenarios and plans to lift and shift the tip of the season. It could slip to a couple of days later. We want to have the appropriate number of days for training camp."
As it stands, teams will head to Florida in the first week of July, though there is also no exact date for that process to begin either. Teams have spent the past few months preparing as best they can virtually, but there is only so much they can do without being together in the gym.
One important note is that despite the shortened schedule, players will still receive 100 percent of their salaries. An earlier proposal reportedly had them set to earn just 60 percent, but it was met with strong backlash from the players and on social media. It's clear the league took those criticisms to heart and has changed course.
The league also has plans to use its platform to fight for change. WNBA players have always been at the forefront of the fight for racial and social justice, and that has been no different over the past few weeks, as the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked protests across the country.
The WNBA 2020 season will include a devoted platform led by the players that will aim to support and strengthen both the league and teams' reach and impact on social justice matters. As recently announced, this began with the WNBA making donations from sales of its "Bigger Than Ball" women's empowerment merchandise to the Equal Justice Initiative.
"The WNBA opposes racism in all its forms, and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are the latest names in a list of countless others who have been subject to police brutality that stems from the systemic oppression of Black Lives in America, and it is our collective responsibility to use our platforms to enact change," said Engelbert.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, players will be allowed to opt-out of playing this summer. If they are deemed medically high-risk, they will still receive their full salary, though if they just choose to sit out as a safety precaution they will not be paid, according to Voepel.
Additionally, players with children will be allowed to bring them to Florida, and will also be permitted to have a caretaker on site, per Voepel. Only players with at least five years of experience in the league will be able to have a plus-one join them in the bubble, however.
It remains to be seen if any players will decide to sit out now that a plan is in place, but the pandemic and unique circumstances have already made an impact on the team's rosters.
Key international players such as Los Angeles Sparks center Maria Vadeeva and New York Liberty guard Marine Johannes will not be playing this season. They have technically been suspended until 2021. Teams were also forced to make final cuts to their rosters prior to holding an actual training camp, which means many rookies and camp invitees were let go without ever stepping on the floor.
So while there will be WNBA basketball this summer, the circumstances will make it the most unique season we've ever seen.