The WNBA desperately needs to expand in so many different ways and now is the perfect time to do it
Friday is opening day for the WNBA and yet the dominant part of the conversation leading up to the games was not about the games themselves.
Instead, it was about the players who won’t be playing in them.
Every single year there are cuts in the WNBA that just catch you off guard. Players that don’t feel like they should be without a team just sitting on the market when the season starts.
But this year? It feels even stranger. It all starts with the Minnesota Lynx, who made 6 cuts before the season began. One was 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield. Another was Layshia Clarendon, who confirmed after an injury-riddled 2021 season that they were cleared and ready to play. The Lynx also cut Rennia Davis, who they drafted in the first round last season.
It wasn’t just Minnesota, though. The Sparks also cut a 2021 draft pick in Arella Guirantes along with Te’a Cooper who’d literally just signed a new deal with the team a few months prior.
Unfortunately, this is not new. There are head-scratching moves like this that come at the beginning of every season. And it’s not that these players are bad or that they don’t have the ability to stick in the WNBA — it’s just that there isn’t enough space for teams to hold on to them.
This has become one of the biggest problems heading into the WNBA’s 26th season.
Just think about it for a second. It’s simple math. There are 12 WNBA teams in total. The maximum amount of players each team can carry is also 12. So that’s 144 roster spots in total. The league is at a tipping point with this, Breanna Stewart said via Twitter.
Something needs to happen and it needs to come before the next collective bargaining negotiation.
We’re at a tipping point. Interest in the WNBA is higher than ever and without some easy tweaks, we are no longer a league that has 12 teams and 144 players – it’s more like 133.
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) May 4, 2022
Twelve teams sound like a lot on its face, sure. But those run out pretty quickly. There are 36 players that come into the league each year through the draft. There are no injured reserve spots available on rosters for injured players. There’s no G-League to stash new talent as the NBA has. There are no two-way deals. No (female) practice squad players.
There are just those 12 spots to work with. On each team. And everyone has to make do with those. Sometimes you can’t even use all 12 slots because the WNBA is hard-capped and salaries don’t always allow it.
With those parameters, it’s just not possible to retain every talented player on your roster. That’s the sad reality these teams are faced with.
So the question is, how do they fix it? Expansion. That’s the answer. Yes, the WNBA absolutely needs more teams available for these players to go to. Another 12 or 24 or 36 or 48 roster spots would be amazing.
But, again, 36 players are pumped into the league each and every year. Even when adding four teams, under the current parameters, those spots will fill quickly. That’s why LA Sparks forward and WNBPA Vice President Chiney Ogwumike pitched the solution of a WNBA developmental league.
Chiney Ogwumike says the WNBA could use a G League: “In no circumstance should we have a league when high draft picks aren’t on a roster.” pic.twitter.com/b9Kk5rR8tt
— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) May 3, 2022
“I was just looking at some of the names that have been cut…Like, high draft picks. In no circumstance should we have a league where top draft picks aren’t on a roster.”
That’s a brilliant idea. It gives teams a place to stash young talent coming into the league and allows them to grow. Lots of pro sports leagues around the globe have them. Why not here?
It’s the perfect time to start thinking about expansion seriously. WNBA rating jumped up by 51% last season — the league’s popularity is skyrocketing. So much so that investors from different sectors around the sports world were willing to invest $75 million in the league.
This isn’t just some upstart league anymore. We’re 26 years in and the WNBA is thriving. That’s extremely young for a pro sports league and, compared to where some of their predecessors were in their 26th year, the league is ahead of schedule.
These players are extremely interesting and marketable — even the players on the open market. They just need a home. Moving forward in the future, it’d be best for the league if they made sure they had one.
We’re all just waiting on the WNBA to actually make it happen. Hopefully, it does soon. Then maybe we won’t have to have this conversation anymore.
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