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WNBA Expands Field For Female Athletes With New CBA

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These are heady days for the WNBA, a phrase you rarely, if ever, have heard before.

Yet, as the women’s professional basketball league approaches its 24th season of operation later this spring, it does so with a bit of a buzz.

Just last week, the league and its players reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. It took a couple of years of negotiating, after the players union opted out of the previous deal, but, in the end, the two sides produced an eight-year pact.

Beyond extended labor peace, the new CBA is a nod towards concerns voiced by American female athletes that their aspirations to be taken seriously as professionals be heard.

For instance, members of the United States women’s soccer team are suing the sport’s national governing body, contending that their pay and working conditions are unequal to the men.

While WNBA players, who will open an expanded 36-game schedule in May, are not seeking equal footing on a pay level with their NBA counterparts, they did take some important steps forward.

The league’s salary cap will rise to $1.3 million per team this season. While that figure pales in comparison to the $7.7 million average per player in the NBA, the WNBA figure is a 30 percent increase from the 2019 season,

Maximum salaries will nearly double to $217,000 and players will get to free agency faster. By next season, players and owners will share revenue.

Beyond money, the players will receive important intangibles. For instance, they’ll no longer have to fly coach. If you’re taller than six feet, as many WNBA players are, you’ll understand how key that is, particularly on long flights.

The players also won’t have to share hotel rooms on the road. They’ll receive fully funded maternity leave and an annual childcare stipend.

The league got an important concession from players. While the WNBA permits players to play in overseas leagues during the fall, winter and spring, its games take place in the summer.

However, many high-profile players report late for the WNBA or skip the league entirely in some seasons, a recognition that foreign salaries are higher.

But starting in 2024, WNBA players with more than three years experience will have to play an entire league schedule or risk losing their WNBA salaries.

Oddly enough, the WNBA, whose membership and leadership tend to be progressive socially, may be a factor in the battle for party control of the U.S. Senate.

Kelly Loeffler, who was sworn in this month to fill the unexpired term of retiring Senator Johnny Isakson, is a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, a team named for a part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s most famous speech.

Loeffler, a Republican, wasted no time trying to brandish her conservative credentials, signing on to three bills that would restrict abortion. That places her directly at odds with WNBA policy that supports Planned Parenthood.

Three years ago, the Dream franchise took a stance against a so-called religious liberty law that would provide legal protections to opponents of gay marriage.

Loeffler publicly opposes the Dream’s position, and the tug-of-war is likely to make for lively conversation around and about the WNBA, which, probably isn’t a bad thing.   

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.