Last week, we talked about how the WNBA is still having problems in terms of public perception and appreciation, how its All-Star Game dribbled bye on July 28 without most of sporting nation even knowing it was happening.
Well, last weekend something happened in the WNBA that amplified one of the most fundamental differences between it and the NBA and how it can negatively impact its players.
The WNBA flies commercial and not charter because of cost. And because of this, it has managed over its 22-year existence to occasionally put its players into a number of difficult situations.
In an effort to condense its summertime schedule, the league has stuck teams with a number of back-to-back road games, which means play, eat, late to bed, up early to the airport and pray everything is on time.
With that has come an edict requiring teams to take the earliest flight possible out of city No. 1 to give it as many options as possible to solve issues getting to city No. 2.
The Las Vegas Aces, in their first year since moving from San Antonio, left in the afternoon on Thursday, an off-day, but then encountered a 25-hour delay trying to fly from Vegas to Washington, D.C. for their game Friday night against the Mystics.
And by the time everyone finally arrived by 5:30 p.m. on Friday, for scheduled 7 p.m. game that had already been pushed back to 8, the Aces and the WNBA players association decided that playing on such short rest might increase their odds of players getting injured.
So they refused to play. And on Tuesday, after deliberating for three days, the WNBA decided to penalize Vegas with a forfeiture.
“While not ideal, it was the best available solution to accommodate both our fans and the scheduling challenges,” the league’s president, Lisa Borders, said in a statement. “Since the Aces chose not to play, the result is a forfeit.”
The trouble began when their outbound flight from Vegas to Dallas was delayed eight hours before finally being canceled because of mechanical problems.
Of course, by that time the Vegas traveling party was in the middle of a big mess trying to reschedule connections that would get it to Washington at a convenient time to play at 7.
Most of the traveling party boarded a Dallas-bound flight that left Vegas at 1:20 a.m. Pacific time, landing in Dallas at 6:03 a.m. Central. The team’s 12 players finally got on a connection that left 4 ½ hours later, landing in Washington at 2:15. They checked into their hotel at 3:45 p.m.
Meanwhile, head coach Bill Laimbeer, the team’s media relations director and an assistant coach were on two other flights, the latest of which landed in Washington 90 minutes before the game.
After a conference call with players association staff, team union representatives, Borders and lawyers, the game was finally canceled 90 minutes before tip-off.
In 2015, the Indiana Fever could not get to Connecticut in time to play the Sun and that game was postponed. But it was rescheduled a few days later. Since the WNBA regular season ends on Aug. 19, for the first time in its history, there was no way the league could reschedule this one.
“We anticipated that this was a possible outcome that the players on the Aces seriously considered,” Terri Jackson, director of operations for the players’ union, told the Associated Press in a text message.
What the union hopes will come from this is a constructive conversation with the league about what can be done to improve scheduling and travel.
“As always,” Jackson told the AP, “the health and safety of the players remains the highest priority.”
Combined with Wednesday’s loss in Atlanta, Las Vegas (12-17) is now 2½ games behind Dallas for last playoff spot.
“We worked extensively with both the Aces and Mystics to come up with a workable solution,” Borders continued in her statement. “In the end, given the limited number of days remaining in the season and arena availability, we decided to delay the start of the game until 8 p.m. (EDT) to give the Aces as much time as possible between their arrival in Washington, D.C., and tipoff.’’
Meanwhile, Laimbeer said in his own statement that the team did not agree with the league’s decision.
“Our entire organization has the utmost respect for the very difficult decision our players made, and we stand with them,” he said. “We are disappointed with the league’s decision, but our focus is now on winning as many games as we can in our drive for our first playoff appearance.”