The WNBA has firmed up more details as it prepares for the 2020 season. The league announced June 15 that it was planning a 22-game regular season with standard playoffs that will run July-October at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
The 2020 season was supposed to start May 15 but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Players have been informed more thoroughly about the coronavirus testing process, their living arrangements and what life will be like in the contained area they’ll inhabit during the season.
More details are being finalized, but here’s what we know for now.
What is the process to guard against the coronavirus before players arrive at IMG?
Players are to receive a physical and a cardiac screening, fill out a medical questionnaire and have three coronavirus tests, all before going to Florida. They will also self-quarantine a week before the arrival date of July 6.
If a player tests positive prior to travel, she won’t be allowed to come to the site until after following extensive Centers for Disease Control protocol, which includes home isolation and then two negative tests.
What will the testing process be like in the bubble?
Upon arrival, players — along with all other personnel — will undergo another coronavirus test and then quarantine in their lodging area for four days. Training camps are to start after that, on approximately July 10, with the season beginning about two weeks later, on approximately July 24.
Testing for all personnel is expected to continue daily for at least the first two weeks that everyone is in the bubble, and regularly after that. A medical director on campus will evaluate the tests. Temperature and symptom checks will continue daily throughout the season.
It’s still being determined whether things like the Oura ring fitness monitors, which NBA players will have the option of wearing, will also be available to WNBA players.
Sue Bird says that because of the pandemic and fight against social injustice, she doesn’t question anyone’s decision on whether to play in the WNBA or NBA this year.
What happens if someone tests positive once inside the bubble?
A positive test will be followed by another test to confirm the result. If it remains positive, the individual will go off campus to be quarantined. For players to return after a positive test — as is the case in the NBA’s protocol — it would require following CDC guidelines and further cardiac screening, an overall process that could take several weeks. All teammates and staff who were around an individual who tested positive would also be tested immediately.
The WNBA’s plan, again much like the NBA’s, is to pre-screen thoroughly before players and personnel arrive at IMG, and then follow safe social distancing measures stringently, while continuing to test.
Facial covering will be required in the WNBA bubble except when players and all other personnel are in their lodging, eating meals or are outside (both with proper social distancing), and when practicing and playing games.
“The league has committed that it’s not going to start the season unless the players’ association and necessary stakeholders are satisfied that all the safety protocols are in place,” players’ union executive director Terri Jackson said June 15. “And that these measures are with professional athletes in mind, specifically the women of our league.”
What happens if players choose to not play?
Some players already have, and it’s anticipated more will on Thursday, the deadline for players to announce if they are opting out. Both the league and the union stressed that they will support anyone who doesn’t want to play for any reason. The players have received two paychecks thus far. If a player opts out, she won’t get any additional pay.
Since the June 15 announcement of the season, five players — the Atlanta Dream‘s Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes, the Washington Mystics‘ Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders and Connecticut Sun forward/center Jonquel Jones — have said they are sitting out. The players have listed a desire to focus on social justice initiatives like Black Livers Matter, and concern about safety and welfare due to the coronavirus or other health concerns as reasons to not compete.
Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the players’ executive committee, said she understands if some players aren’t ready for a season this year. But she knows that others are.
“On a personal level, I’ve dealt with the issues with the pandemic and the racial injustice issues and not being able to play basketball,” she said. “So I connect with the rest of the players as they sort through their own emotions as we try to figure out how to get through this as a league.”
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert added on June 15, “I don’t think we ever thought 100% of players would be on board with playing this season, because this is hard. This announcement is just the beginning of a continued dialogue with the players about what this looks like. I am totally committed to them and making sure they’re comfortable.”
Engelbert said she will be in the bubble throughout the season.
How will the league handle higher-risk individuals?
Team physicians will review the medical questionnaires filled out by players, coaches and other personnel to determine whether they will have certain restrictions on activities because of their potential risk for becoming ill from the coronavirus or will be excused entirely because they’re considered very high-risk cases if they contract the virus.
The WNBA will pay the full salary for any players who must sit out because of medically confirmed preexisting health conditions. A panel of physicians can review any challenges to these designations.
Elena Delle Donne, who was league MVP last year for the WNBA champion Mystics, has dealt with Lyme disease in the past and is coming off back surgery in the offseason. She has yet to say whether she will play in 2020.
The league hasn’t stated that age, specifically, would be considered a risk factor for coaches, support personnel, referees, etc. Of the WNBA’s 12 head coaches, five are 60 or older: Washington’s Mike Thibault (69), Indiana’s Marianne Stanley (66), Seattle’s Dan Hughes (65), Las Vegas’ Bill Laimbeer (63) and Dallas’ Brian Agler (61). In the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver pondered whether older coaches should be on the bench, but his comments drew instant pushback from some NBA coaches.
How many people from each team will be allowed in the bubble?
Sources have indicated this is a bigger concern for some teams than others. The league will allow the maximum roster size of 12, plus up to six basketball staff members — which would include coaches and trainers, etc. — along with two business staff members. Obviously, that’s a lot less than the 37 for each team that the NBA is allowing.
Some feel that the WNBA staff is too small. But the league has countered that there isn’t much more room available at IMG to house more staff, plus the league is seeking to keep the bubble as small as possible for safety reasons. And the league says there will be help from IMG staff, who will follow their own strict safety protocol.
There is concern among some players about the regular availability of personnel such as massage therapists, which the league is working to address. Many players consider massages an essential part of their wellness routine to help in recovery.
How much will social justice issues be part of the 2020 season?
They will be a major focus, which is something the union and the league have both stated emphatically. And this was included in the season guide that players were given this week. The league is seeking to put together a council that specializes in combatting systemic racism, and will work with the players to establish a wide-ranging platform to address various social issues that players are passionate about. Those include racial concerns, LGBTQ rights, economic empowerment and voting rights.
“At a time like this, we can continue to amplify our voices,” Ogwumike said. “With Black Lives Matter, with representing women, with causes that are important to our league. There’s an opportunity to really do this right.”
Engelbert is emphasizing that the season is about much more than basketball.
I’ve seen the way our players interact and get purpose from each other,” Engelbert said. “I continue to be impressed by that.”
Are there changes to the playoff format?
No, the playoffs will still be single-elimination games for the first and second rounds and five-game series for the semifinals and WNBA Finals.
How many games will be televised and streamed?
We don’t know yet; the schedule is still being finalized. ESPN, CBS Sports Network and NBA TV all broadcast games, which also might be shown on Twitter. There is also League Pass, the WNBA’s streaming service.
What will living arrangements be like?
Players will live in multi-room villas, which have kitchens and hotel rooms. Players will have their choice of having meals provided to them at training tables, receiving per diem to pay for meals, or getting groceries delivered to them. Players can choose a combination of all those options. Vegan, vegetarian and other specialty diet items will be available. There are also places on campus to buy food, coffee, etc.
Who will be allowed to join players in the bubble?
Players with children will be allowed to bring them in, along with a caretaker. This is in line with the commitments to working moms that the league and union made in the collective bargaining agreement brokered in January.
All players with at least five years’ experience coming into this season can bring a “plus-one” — a spouse or significant other, for example — to stay on site for the season, but the player will need to pay for that person’s lodging, testing and meals. That person cannot come and go from the site.
Once the playoffs reach the semifinals, all players of any experience level who are still on-site will be allowed to bring in a plus-one, whom they must pay for.
For now, children and guests of players will not be able to attend games, which will be limited to only essential staff. That might be reconsidered later in the season or during the playoffs.
What will the campus be like?
Bradenton is located south of Tampa, and the campus is about 450 acres. The WNBA’s area will be exclusive to the league’s use during the season, even if other parts of the campus are being used by IMG for other purposes or residents. They are not expected to cross paths or interfere at all with the WNBA bubble.
IMG Academy’s basketball facility has four fully equipped indoor courts, which are where teams will practice. There is a performance center that includes a large weight room, plus an academic center that will be used for team meetings.
All games will be held on two courts at Feld Entertainment Center, which is about 20 minutes away. Players will be bused there for games, but will not shower there. They’ll come back to their lodging to shower.