This column will be dedicated throughout the month of July to a discussion of the good, bad and everything else in women’s basketball in general and the WNBA in particular. We will talk to coaches, players, fans, and current and former bigwigs for their input, and will share their thoughts throughout this discussion series.
It seems that everywhere she goes, or at least everywhere this columnist is in her presence, WNBA President Laurel Richie is asked about the “E” word — expansion. “I’m very encouraged by the expression of interest,” said Richie in her response during a 10-question ESPN.com Q&A with her back in April.
A local reporter a couple of weeks ago again brought up the “E” word in a two-question inquiry during a meeting with local media, including the MSR, prior to the June 27 Minnesota-Phoenix contest. It was Richie’s second Minneapolis visit in four days. She duly stressed the importance “to think through any benefit” of expansion, and especially to look at past expansion efforts “so that it is absolutely a forward trajectory.”
Once at 16 teams, the WNBA now is at an even dozen. The last expansion came with Atlanta in 2008. After that, two teams folded: four-time league champs Houston in 2008 and one-time champs Sacramento in 2009. They joined Portland, Miami, Cleveland and Charlotte who also had ceased to exist, while three others (Utah, now San Antonio; Orlando, now Connecticut; and Detroit, now Tulsa) relocated elsewhere.
“My hope this year is to form an expansion committee,” continued Richie. “We can see on the horizon a point in time where we would want to bring new teams in.”
But afterwards Madame President disclosed that since only five of 12 teams were profitable last season, that point in time she referred to is likely a long time away.
“I’m just excited about the depth of talent,” she pointed out. “I think the athletes are coming in better and better prepared and make an impact earlier and earlier. It’s a really interesting time where we still have veterans playing extremely well…and the influx of fresh new talent creates a real interesting dynamic.
“I’m really proud of the current state of talent,” says Richie.
There remains, however, a bone of contention between Richie, who since 2011 is the only Black woman leading a major professional sports league, and this longtime women’s sports reporter: the WNBA-ESPN partnership. “It continues to grow and get deeper and deeper,” she said proudly of the league’s relationship with ESPN.
However, I continue to see the behemoth four-letter sports network treat the 19-year-old league as a toddler rather than an adult league. I regularly use a stopwatch on ESPN’s WNBA coverage to clock how much time they actually spend on the league. For example, barely five minutes transpired between the end of the championship game and the awarding of the trophy to Phoenix before the network switched to its SportsCenter show last fall.
We get barely an hour on the annual draft, which is staged at ESPN studios before it switches to one of their umpteen channels where you need a phone to watch the remaining three rounds. But we get endless NBA pre-and-post draft coverage from start to finish on the same E channel.
Eleven regular-season WNBA games will be shown between ESPN and ESPN2, with the annual All-Star game on July 25 on ABC this season, with five more on ESPN3 that nobody gets. The WNBA season is three months and 34 games long. And please don’t blink or you’ll miss the WNBA scores on its 24-hour “Bottom Line” screen ticker.
“I will always want more,” concluded Richie in her defense of ESPN. “But I say that, knowing that, I know [they are] a good partner to us.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.