Scarce W roster openings spur talk of expansion, early entry

WNBA

WNBA training camps are now open as all 12 clubs prepare for the 2021 season that begins in about three weeks. “There’s a lot of work to do,” said Minnesota Head Coach/ General Manager Cheryl Reeve last Sunday, the first day of camp. 

While most of the Lynx players are in, three who are expecting to be on the regular-season roster next month are still overseas playing and will arrive late. “It’s impacting all of us,” noted Reeve of this annual problem that affects every team.

Also, because of the coronavirus there are no male practice players, who helped in team preparations through scrimmaging. Keeping players fresh during camp will be a premium leading up to the season. 

Minnesota has 21 players on its training camp roster, and Reeve said that she plans to keep only 11 players for the season. Among the players competing for one or two open roster spots are 2021 top pick Rennia Davis of Tennessee and Asheika Alexander, the team’s first-ever HBCU signee.

“We are really truly excited about the addition of Asheika Alexander,” Reeve told reporters, including the MSR, two weeks ago. Five HBCU players have been WNBA draftees, but none since 2002, when three Black college players were selected.

“HBCU schools don’t get enough recognition,” added Reeve. “We really felt like we wanted to give an opportunity to what we think is a really good basketball player. So, we’re excited for her to be in camp.”

Because of the few roster spots open annually, the conversation recently turned to the “E” word—expansion. The WNBA, once having as many as 16 teams, hasn’t added a new franchise since Chicago (2006) and Atlanta (2008). Personally, I have long been an advocate of expanding rosters from 12 to 15, a la the NBA.

Courtesy of WNBA Cathy Engelbert

“Expansion is certainly on the list of things I’ve been thinking about down the road,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert when asked by a reporter during a pre-draft conference call.

 “I think the roster expansion is tied to the CBA,” responded the commish, “but it’s also tied to the economics and the salary cap and everything that’s been negotiated. That’s certainly something, probably in the next CBA, that could be talked about.” The current CBA kicked in last year and runs through 2027.

Another “E” word, a new word of sorts, has emerged as of late—early entry. League rules currently prohibit players coming into the league before they are age 21 or have played at least three college seasons. Unlike the NBA’s one-and-done rule, the W players come in more mature and more fundamentally ready to play pro ball than do the males. 

Reeve told me that the early entry issue is perhaps tied to the performances this past season of a couple of college freshmen. But such talk wasn’t brought up with past college phenoms such as Candace Parker, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, among others. 

“Some [college] players are awfully good,” admitted the Lynx HC-GM. But are they ready for prime-time pro games is a question we should ask rather than get swept up in the hype.

Another reason why I don’t see any need for early entries is again simple economics. The average NBA salary is $10 million, while the maximum WNBA salary is $221,450. 

“Men are leaving college [early] for millions of dollars. [Women] would be leaving for thousands of dollars,” noted Reeve. “It’s a very different mindset for women in sport where education is the priority.”

If a college player not yet 21 years old wants to leave early to pursue pro dreams, they must go overseas to do so. Reeve said she is not totally opposed to players entering early if the rules were changed: 

“If a player wants to begin their pro career, they should be able to do so,” she said. 

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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