WNBA’s new league pact may be a landmark agreement

Photo courtesy of WNBA (l-r) WNBPA V-P Chiney Ogwumike, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike, First V-P Layshia Clarendon

The new WNBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at first glance is unquestionably a landmark in women’s pro sports. It kicks in this coming season and runs through 2027. Its key elements include:

  • a 53% pay increase for all players from rookies to veterans, with top players’ annual salaries rising from $117,500 to $215,000;
  • travel upgrades;
  • individual hotel rooms for road games;
  • full salary for players on maternity leave; and
  • unrestricted free agency for players with five or more years, with a reduction of the “core” player designation by a team from four to three this season, then to two in 2022.

Ninety percent of the players ratified the new pact. Connecticut guard Rachel Banham, a Lakeville North grad and former Gopher great, told the MSR, “We are moving in the right direction. It is something that needed to happen and something we deserved, and what we earned. Hopefully, we don’t have to wear out our bodies as much and go overseas as much.”

“We look forward to working together to make the WNBA a sustainable and thriving business for generations of women’s basketball players to come,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters during a January 14 conference call that included the MSR.   

Overlooked fact: Black women were on the front line of the negotiations since last fall from start to finish. Four of the seven-member Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) executive committee and Executive Director Terri Jackson are Black females.

Jackson told the MSR, “I wish you could have seen negotiations, who the faces were, who the women were… I’m very proud of the CBA. There was a lot of work that went into it. There’s a lot of perspectives that went into it.”

“I am certainly not in this by myself,” explained WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike. “Not too long ago, [former W great and current Indiana GM] Tamika Catchings passed the baton of leadership and great responsibility to me. Coquese Washington, the first president of the WNBA [players union], started it all.

“Our player leadership…may be the most diverse representation of players actively involved in negotiations in a very long time,” said Ogwumike, the Los Angeles veteran forward. “For us…to also be representing a majority of Black women in this league, it means a lot to me. I know it means a lot to my EC [executive committee] as well.”

Jackson added, “I do want to reinforce we are a very beautifully diverse league from top to bottom, from one to 140-plus. This executive committee is also very beautifully diverse.”

“They bargained hard,” Engelbert said. “We didn’t agree on everything, but I think we came to a collaborative outcome here.”

Executive committee member and Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon pointed out, “I think it means a lot as a woman of color. I think for women who have often been underpaid, we know Black women are underpaid. It means everything…what this means in the context of history.”

Also new is the W’s new coaching pipeline program. “One of the special initiatives that I brought with me from my job at the NCAA, something that I have a clear focus and a clear passion about, was diversity in coaching,” Jackson said. “There were so many of our WNBA players who were looking for those kinds of opportunities, particularly in their off-season before retirement but while they’re still playing.”

“Just like corporate America needs a pipeline of future executives, we need a pipeline of future coaches,” the W commish said. “If we’re going to have a diversity in coaching initiative in the NBA and other sports as well, why not start to build a pipeline so that WNBA players get experience so that ultimately, when they’re done playing with us or while they’re playing with us in the off-season, they’ll have coaching opportunities.”

The MSR will discuss more aspects of the new WNBA CBA in future editions.