WNBA Beginner's Guide Part 3: How the 2020 season will (try to) work
Hi, it’s me, Matt Ellentuck.
Welcome to Part 3 of a 5-part series for new fans looking to follow the WNBA.
Today is also the first day subscribers can pay to support my work and receive some bonus Fantasy and Daily Fantasy WNBA writing. The cost is $7 per month, and you can subscribe using this link, or the link at the bottom of this page. I will still be producing content for free, too, so no worries if subscribing isn’t in your budget.
Here’s my schedule for the week:
Part 3: How the 2020 WNBA season will (try to) work (7/22)
Part 4: How each team will win the 2020 WNBA championship (7/23)
Part 5: Why the 2020 WNBA opening day schedule is perfect (7/24)
I’ll stop talking now.
After months of questions about where and how and who, we finally have some answers about the WNBA’s plan to play basketball during a pandemic … in the center of the outbreak. The W isn’t unique in this venture. Both Major League Soccer and the NBA are playing in Florida, too. But if this all doesn’t sit quite right with you, you aren’t alone.
Game are happening this weekend, though. So let’s backtrack for a bit and recap what we know, and how we got here.
Here’s what’s already happened.
All 12 WNBA teams are settled into the IMG Academy “bubble” in Bradenton, Florida. They’ve been there since July 6, with the exception of the Indiana Fever, who arrived on July 11 due to two positive tests prior to flying. Players and coaching staffs were only allowed to fly to the bubble if they submitted one saliva Covid-19 test every other day for six days, and registered three negatives tests.
In that early phase of testing, seven tests returned positive. Those players weren’t allowed into the “bubble,” and had to quarantine at home. Players who were cleared to fly were required to quarantine for four additional days once they landed in Florida. Since then, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said only two tests have come back positive, and they were both during that quarantine period, according to Bleacher Report’s Ari Chambers. None have tested positive since then, meaning there’s been about two weeks with no positive test.
There’s something you need to understand, though.
The bubble isn’t really a bubble.
I know that’s the term everyone’s using, but there’s no dome keeping everyone at IMG Academy enclosed. Players are spread out in villas and hotel rooms across IMG’s campus, though they can only access certain areas. Seimone Augustus gave us a tour on her Instagram Live as she rode on a golf cart from one area of campus to her hotel. It looks pretty nice! Here’s Allie Quigley giving a tour of her villa with her wife Courtney Vandersloot, and teammates Stefanie Dolson and Gabby Williams:
But the “bubble” is definitely is not a bubble.
(Note: this does not take away from everyone calling it the “wubble.” Keep calling it that as long as you understand what the setup is.)
There were limitations on who could travel to the bubble.
It should be noted that not every team even has PR staff down in Florida. Each team was permitted to bring up to six basketball personnel, according to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, which included coaches and trainers, and an additional two business staff members. That left tough choices.
Players had limits, too. Players with children were allowed to bring them into the bubble, along with a caretaker. But only players with at least five years experience could bring a plus-one. And if players brought a plus-one, they had to pay for that plus-one’s meals, lodging and testing. That’s a lot to ask, and a long time to be away from loved ones.
(Note: once the playoffs reach the semifinals, any player can bring a plus-one.)
The league allowed players to opt-out if they weren’t comfortable playing.
Players were allowed to opt out from playing if they weren’t comfortable with the league’s setup without further consequence, but they wouldn’t be paid their WNBA salary unless they were medically excused as being high-risk for contracting the virus. A number of players chose this option, including Mystics guard Natasha Cloud and Dream guard Renee Montgomery, who will take time to fight against racial injustice, just as Maya Moore has done for the last two seasons. More than a dozen high-impact players chose to sit out without pay, and a handful more were given exemptions.
There was one big issue with the medical exemption process, though.
Elena Delle Donne, the league’s reigning MVP and champion, has been open about her struggle with lyme disease for years. Stunningly, a panel of physicians agreed upon between the league and the players' union, denied her exemption, which would’ve paid her full salary. Delle Donne responded in an incredible piece for the Player’s Tribune. There is no process for her to appeal the decision, but the Mystics have agreed to cover her salary anyway. Delle Donne hasn’t made her final decision on her plan of action for this year yet.
How often players will test inside the bubble isn’t entirely clear.
According to Voepel, testing was set to be conducted daily for at least the first two weeks, and regularly after then. The hope is obviously as long as players follow the league’s guidelines, there will be less of a need to test.
The plan if a mass outbreak happens inside the bubble is also unclear.
Per Voepel, if someone tests positive, that person will have to quarantine off campus, and will have to follow CDC guidelines, which include getting cardiac screenings, in order to return. The process could take weeks.
What will happen if there’s an outbreak while games are playing, and entire teams are exposed, is less clear. How many positive cases would it take to shut the season down? I dunno. For reference, we don’t have this answer for the NBA either.
How’s the bubble held up so far?
Since players arrived in Florida, things have been relatively smooth-sailing… at least, as far as we know. Few WNBA media have been allowed inside of the bubble. The only one I know of so far is ESPN’s Holly Rowe, and she only arrived recently. Having so few media present is worrisome for multiple reasons, and especially curious since the NBA has allowed nearly a dozen reporters on site. It’s worth noting, though, that media have been pleased by the daily updates and Zoom conference interviews made available by team PR staff — some of whom aren’t even in the bubble themselves.
Because media aren’t around on campus, players are spreading word of their immediate issues via Twitter and Instagram. In the opening days there were problems with bugs, and there were mice traps in the laundry room. Diamond DeShields was also served non-vegetarian meals. But those issues have since been resolved. Overall, it seems everyone is making the best of what they have.
Ok Matt, but what about the GAMES.
Alright I get it, I’ll keep it moving. But first…
Here’s some context
The 2020 WNBA season was supposed to be a HUGE one in terms of the league growing. As I’ve mentioned in a previous newsletter, the league and its players’ union had just signed a new CBA that finally put an investment into the players. Among the list of changes included higher salary ceilings for everyone, a near double in pay for the league’s elites, a brand-new in-season tournament with cash prizes for the winner, and an expanded season from 34 to 36 games.
While players will still receive 100 percent of their salaries in 2020, the in-season tournament is gone, and instead of adding two games to the schedule, it’s been reduced by 14.
So how’s this season going to work?
The reduced schedule is going to be compact. The typical WNBA season spans from the end of May to the middle of October. This season will still end in October despite starting in late July.
Here’s how that'll work:
Each team will play each other twice, which adds to a total of 22 regular season games.
Three games will be played per day, with teams playing three or four games each week.
Games will be Tuesday-Sunday, with the exception of one Monday, August 10.
Games on the weekend can tip as early as 12 p.m. ET, and games during the week can tip as early as 6 p.m. ET.
The good news for fans, is that’s a lot of basketball in a short period of time. The bad news for players, is that’s a lot of basketball in a short period of time.
How about the playoffs?
The postseason is going to be the same as it has been the last two seasons. If you’re new here, that means:
Eight teams make the playoffs, and are seeded regardless of conference
The first two rounds of the playoffs are single-elimination win-or-go-home games! They’re nuts!
After the first two rounds, the semifinals and Finals are best-of-five series
And now you’re all caught up on the WNBA’s attempt to play basketball during a pandemic in one of the worst possible places to do anything right now!
Thanks for reading.
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