The WNBA is officially back.
On Monday the league announced it has reached an agreement with the Women’s National Basketball Players Association on a plan for the start of the 2020 WNBA season in July.
According to a release sent out by the league, WNBA action will return in one central location at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. A 22-game regular season schedule will be conducted, rather than the originally planned 36-game schedule, followed by a traditional playoff format.
With IMG Academy and its four-court facility serving as the home for all 12 WNBA teams during the 2020 campaign, the facility will be the single site for training camp, games and housing beginning in July.
“We are finalizing a season start plan to build on the tremendous momentum generated in the league during the offseason and have used the guiding principles of health and safety of players and essential staff to establish necessary and extensive protocols,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in the WNBA’s news release.
“Despite the disruption caused by the global pandemic to our 2020 season, the WNBA and its Board of Governors believe strongly in supporting and valuing the elite women athletes who play in the WNBA and therefore, players will receive their full pay and benefits during the 2020 season.”
Details of the Season
Although the negotiation process between the WNBA and the players union seemed to go relatively smooth, especially compared to other professional sports leagues in the country, there are a lot of details that had to be worked out in the official plan to begin a 2020 season.
The regular season schedule will obviously be 14 games shorter and will be followed by postseason play in October. As far as the playoff format, that will remain the same, with the first and second rounds being single-elimination games and the semifinals and WNBA Finals consisting of a best-of-five series.
According to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, one of the key factors that helped push this agreement over the hump for the players was the league’s willingness to go from its original proposal of paying players 60% of their salaries to ensuring they will receive the full 100% of their salaries — along with full benefits — in 2020. After that decision was made, 77% of WNBA players voted in favor of the return to play plan.
When it comes to the health of the players and testing amid COVID-19, the WNBA said its top priority will continue to be the health and safety of team personnel, adding it 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.”
Once team personnel makes the move to Florida for the season, player housing will include villas and hotel rooms, according to ESPN. Players can bring along their children with a caretaker, and players with five or more years of experience will be allowed to bring a plus-one, although they will be responsible to pay to stay there on their own. Every player will have the opportunity to bring in a plus-one once the semifinal round of the playoffs is reached.
ESPN also reported there will be an opt-out option for players if they are to contract COVID-19, allowing them to still be paid their full salaries. Players who opt to not play for other reasons won’t be penalized outside of not receiving their salary for the year.
Along with returning to play, the WNBA also announced it will work to continue its commitment to social justice and will support players launching social justice platforms to drive change. Something that is and has been of high importance and front of mind for the Minnesota Lynx, its players and the league as a whole.
“We are excited to learn more details on the footprint of the 2020 WNBA season and look forward to getting started,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said in a statement released by the team.
“Though we will soon be starting the WNBA season, our team is committed to continuing the conversation around the racial injustice issues that permeate our society. It is important that we use our voices to amplify the inequities that black and brown people face every day and we will work tirelessly to address these issues, particularly, issues pertaining to police brutality, especially in Minneapolis.”
Next Steps Towards Tip Off
Now with an official plan in place to kick off the 2020 season, next steps for the Lynx and the other 11 WNBA teams will be gathering players and other team personnel together to make the move to Florida.
With players required to let their teams know if they plan on playing by the end of June, teams will then report to IMG Academy in early July, although an exact date wasn’t provided.
After a training camp period, which in a normal year typically lasts about two weeks, the 22-game regular season will tip off in late July, much like what the NBA has planned for its restart to the 2019-20 campaign in Orlando.
While there will be no fans in attendance during games in Florida, the WNBA said it will offer fans a “front row seat at home” in its partnerships with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and NBA TV to broadcast games.
Matchups, dates and times for any regular-season or postseason games were not released Monday by the league, with the WNBA adding that information will be announced at a later date.
After weeks of back and forth between the league and the players, there is a light at the end of the sports-less tunnel following Monday’s agreement and plan to begin the 2020 WNBA season.
Although there are still some details that need to be worked out before the season can begin a little over a month from now, basketball will make its return.
Get ready, the WNBA is back.