WNBA trying to find the right balance for players’ overseas commitments
The WNBA is attempting to curb future absences due to overseas play by imposing fines and offering teams money to give out as “time-off” bonuses. But other scheduling conflicts can come into play.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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The revolving door still exists. WNBA players are still popping in and out of league games – arriving late, leaving early or requesting rest to accommodate the demands of overseas play.
In Thursday’s game against Seattle, for example, Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver played in her third game since since returning to the team after helping Slovakia qualify for the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket championships.
When Seattle hosts Chicago on Saturday at KeyArena, Sky guard Epiphanny Prince will have played 11 of her team’s 18 games after given time to recoup from offseason play in Russia.
Tulsa and Seattle are also very familiar with trying to work with international schedules thanks to Australian centers Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage.
“You just deal with it,” Los Angeles coach Carol Ross said. The Sparks are 2-1 since Toliver’s return.
“Commitment runs two ways,” Ross continued. “When our commitment to them financially is as good as it needs to be, they won’t have to (go).”
Instead of increased pay, however, under the ratified collective-bargaining agreement the WNBA will attempt to curb future absences with a mandated fine. If a team balks at fining a player, as some did in the past, the league front-office can implement the penalty.
Docked pay can be up to 2½ percent of the base pay per game for regular-season games and five percent per playoff game. The total can’t exceed 25 percent of the season’s pay, according to a copy of the CBA.
There is a “time-off bonus” of $50,000 per team – divided how the organization chooses among the 12-player roster – for those who limit overseas play to a maximum 90 days.
“The notion of really trying to both recognize the overseas play but offer an incentive to players to limit their overseas play was very important to our ownership group,” WNBA president Laurel Richie said in a teleconference call about the CBA.
With WNBA base salaries ranging from a minimum $38,913 to a maximum $109,500 in 2015, the league isn’t offering much to lure players to stay home even with the bonus.
Phoenix all-star Brittney Griner made approximately $600,000 in China last winter, according to ESPN. But even reserve players can match their WNBA salaries overseas with a $50,000 contract to play in Israel or Hungary.
Often the WNBA causes the conflicts with overseas play, too. Due to the CBA not being ratified until March, players weren’t certain of the summer schedule when they signed overseas contracts. And the WNBA started about two weeks early so the season could end in time for the FIBA World Championship in Turkey from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.
Last year Minnesota sealed its second championship on Oct. 10. This season, the Lynx opened training camp without eight of its top players because of the changed schedule.
“I’ll probably just sit out Olympic and Worlds years,” Cambage said of avoiding the fine. “But I’m missing out on my Tulsa paycheck in doing this and it’s pretty nice.”
Next season, a non-Olympic and World Championship season, the WNBA schedule is expected to move back two weeks. Any conflicts would mainly be during the permissible WNBA training camp.
But Toliver and a host of others would still miss games in June if they honor commitments to play in the two-week EuroBasket tournament. For a player signed to a $90,000 contract, the fine could be about $2,250 per WNBA game missed.
“This policy is trying to have a strong regulation on what does happen when (the conflict) occurs so it’s not player by player,” Atlanta president Angela Taylor said. “There’s consistency to allow the league and teams to know who’s going to be there or not be there. But we don’t know what the impact will be until it happens.”
Australian and Asian leagues are typically done before the WNBA season starts. Meanwhile European leagues work around FIBA competitions, including Olympic play.
The WNBA does take a hiatus if it conflicts with the Olympics. But teetering on sustainability, it can’t afford to juggle television deals and sponsorships to further accommodate the fluctuating global basketball schedule.
Yet, the WNBA also loses marketability without its players in place.
“Honestly, it’s a work-in-progress,” said Indiana forward Tamika Catchings, the players union president, of the new fine. “It clearly was very important to (the owners) and we went through a lot of different options and different scenarios. Over the years, it will be tested.”