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WNBA postponing start of the season because of the coronavirus outbreak

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at a news conference before Game 1 of the 2019 WNBA Finals.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

The WNBA announced Friday it is postponing the start of the 2020 season indefinitely because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.”

The league is scheduled to hold its draft April 17, although it will be held in a virtual format with players and team and league personnel participating remotely.

The WNBA joins other leagues and sports federations that have canceled or postponed games because of the novel coronavirus. The NBA, MLB, the NHL and Major League Soccer are among the major North American sports leagues that postponed play last month.

WNBA teams, unlike many professional sports teams, travel commercially and often hold practices at community colleges or other public gyms and venues when necessary. Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike believes this poses significant challenges for the league if it wants to ensure the health and safety of its players amid the pandemic.

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“I think for us to have a season will require some creativity,” Ogwumike said last month. “We understand the economic realities of our league and chartering flights is not sustainable for what we independently generate. But if the NBA deems it a worthy investment to have a season and minimize risk, hopefully we can have that conversation. Our risk is simply higher because our exposure is higher.”

Ogwumike also noted how a postponement could force the WNBA and NBA to make schedule changes if both leagues play simultaneously.

“If the NBA returns at the same time the WNBA season starts maybe we could have some doubleheaders,” she said. “That’s a creative solution that could also get more eyeballs on our league.”

The postponement comes as the WNBA prepares for its 24th season and its first since reaching a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement with players that includes salary increases and benefits for motherhood and family planning.

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Times columnist Arash Markazi contributed to this report.

Sparks star Chiney Ogwumike spent her 28th birthday in her downtown L.A. apartment, deciding which 28 families to help with $100 each in memory of Kobe and Gigi Bryant.


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