WNBA unveils their plan for a Florida-based return

ATLANTA, GA AUGUST 06: The WNBA logo covering the base of the basket during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Atlanta Dream on August 6th, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The WNBA rolled out a plan for return on Monday, which involves players getting 100 percent of their salaries and social justice initiatives.

The WNBA is inching closer to tip-off after a Monday announcement, in which the league revealed that it is closing in on an agreement to stage a 22-game season without fans at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Players are set to receive their full 2020 salary and benefits, according to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“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,” Engelbert said in a statement. “We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan.”

“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.”

The WNBA’s 24th season of competition was originally scheduled to begin on May 15 but was indefinitely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A virtual draft was help without incident in April with the New York Liberty choosing Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu with the top overall pick. The Washington Mystics are the league’s defending champions, having taken a five-game set from the Connecticut Sun last fall. Over the offseason, the league and its player’s association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that includes new benefits such as increased salaries ($68,000 being the new veteran minimum) and full paid maternity leave.

IMG is a private preparatory boarding school and sports training facility based in Bradenton. The 450-acre property will serve as the site for games, practices, and housing for each of the league’s dozen teams. League statements indicate that they will be in constant contact with medical specialists, public health experts, and government officials to ensure the plan can be safely conducted.

The league will also 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”. Numerous players, including Kia Nurse and Amanda Zahui B of the local Liberty, have spoken in support of the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality against African-Americans. This support will continue on the court if and when the games get rolling in Bradenton.

“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,” Engelbert said. “It is our collective responsibility to use our platforms to enact change.”

“In our discussions with the league, we emphasized and they agreed that a strong commitment to a 2020 season will give the WNBA the chance to show the world that it's taking the steps needed to secure our livelihood and well-being, while also providing the opportunity to amplify our collective voice,” WNBPA President and Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike added. “This is not only necessary from a humanitarian perspective, but it may be one of the biggest opportunities that this league has and will ever have.”

While a starting date has not been announced, Engelbert told Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press that she’s hoping that her original target start date of July 24 (six days prior to the tentative resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando) “will stick”. A potential postseason would follow the WNBA’s traditional playoff format, in which the top eight teams advance regardless of conference. The top couple earns byes to a best-of-five semifinal round while the first two runners-up get a single bye to the single-elimination quarterfinals. They play the winners of a five vs. eight/six vs. seven single-elimination first round en route to the WNBA Finals.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags