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WNBA announces plan for 22-game season in Florida starting in late July

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at a news conference Sept. 29 in Washington.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at a news conference Sept. 29 in Washington. The league announced plans Monday to play a reduced season in Florida.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

The WNBA has announced plans to play a reduced season, with a 22-game schedule that would begin in late July without fans in attendance.

The league is still finalizing a partnership with IMG Academy in Florida to play all the games at the facility in Bradenton or other nearby locations. Players and team officials for the league’s 12 teams would be housed at IMG and hold training camps there.

“There’s a lot to do between now and the tip of the season, now that we’ve selected IMG Academy” as the location to play, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a phone interview Monday. “My hope is the July 24 date will stick. We have scenarios and plans to lift and shift the tip of the season. It could slip to a couple of days later. We want to have the appropriate number of days for training camp.”

Engelbert, who said she had a site visit at IMG, hopes to have teams in Florida by the first week of July to start training camps. The season had been postponed indefinitely in April because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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The WNBA would use its regular playoff format, with the top eight teams making the postseason and the first two rounds being single-elimination. The top two seeds would have byes until the semifinals. The playoffs would begin in the middle of September and end in early October.

The WNBA’s new collective bargaining agreement includes noted improvements for players who will receive benefits while pregnant and those with families.

Teams would play each other twice in the abbreviated 22-game schedule, which the league said would be released later. The IMG facility has four courts, but the WNBA is still exploring options to play games at other sites in the area that might be better for broadcasts.

Players would receive their entire salaries for the year despite playing a schedule that’s only about two-thirds the length of the 36-game one that was supposed to start May 15.

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The WNBA had a lot of momentum coming from a historic collective bargaining agreement that was ratified shortly before the pandemic hit.

“We know this is not going to be perfect; it’s not going to be ideal,” WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson said. “Let’s see what we can do at this moment. That’s really appropriate for what our country needs right now.”

The league is still working with medical specialists, public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that health and safety protocols are in place.

Engelbert said players who are considered high-risk for the coronavirus could opt out of playing this season and still earn their full salaries.

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Players with children will be able to bring a caregiver with them.

Jackson said players are confident that the league will have the proper safety guidelines in place. She said the union’s executive committee had a Zoom call with league doctors and the next step will be an all-player call with the physicians later this week.


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