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The season was supposed to commence May 15, but the WNBA shut down amid the COVID-19 outbreak, along with every major professional sports league.
Teams were originally slated to play 36 games each, but under the return-to-play plan, they will play 22 instead. All games will be played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with no fans in attendance.
The season will start in July, although a definitive date has not been announced. “Under the current plan, teams will report to IMG Academy in early July, and regular-season action will tip off in late July after a team training camp period,” the WNBA stated.
There will be no changes to the playoff format, as the first two rounds will be single elimination followed by best-of-five series in the semifinals and finals.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said:
“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. 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. And, 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 offered to pay players 60 percent of their salaries in their original proposal, but it was later altered to 100 percent.
WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike spoke to the importance of holding the season:
“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. We have always been at the forefront of initiatives with strong support of #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, the LGBTQ community, gun control, voting rights, #MeToo, mental health and the list goes on. 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.”
According to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, one anonymous longtime WNBA agent praised the proposal before it was officially passed:
“It’s a very good proposal for the players, especially in comparison to other sports leagues. No one will criticize anyone who doesn’t want to play. But the majority of players definitely want to play. And they appreciate the work that’s been done by the league, the union and the executive committee to get to this proposal.”
A great deal of excitement surrounds the 2020 season for several reasons, including the fact that it will be the first season under the new collective bargaining agreement, which features salary bumps for top players and better accommodations for all.
Also, the 2020 WNBA draft in April was the second-most-watched WNBA draft of all time behind 2004 with 387,000 viewers. The coronavirus pandemic likely played a role, but given that are still fewer viewing options than usual, the ratings could increase for games as well.
No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu is one of the league’s most highly anticipated arrivals in years, and she could help lead the New York Liberty to their first WNBA title.
The Washington Mystics are the defending champions and will once again be top contenders with reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne leading the way. The Las Vegas Aces also figure to be a factor thanks to a star-studded roster that includes All-Stars Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, Kayla McBride and Angel McCoughtry, plus 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Jackie Young.