WNBA ready to get back to play in post-lockdown era

  • Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley, right, takes the ball up the court as Phoenix Mercury guard Alex Harden during a 2016 game. The WNBA, with a return-to-play plan in place that includes a July 24 tip to the season, could be the first team sports league to get back to action in the post lockdown era.

    Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley, right, takes the ball up the court as Phoenix Mercury guard Alex Harden during a 2016 game. The WNBA, with a return-to-play plan in place that includes a July 24 tip to the season, could be the first team sports league to get back to action in the post lockdown era. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/19/2020 7:00 PM

The dance hasn't started yet.

But WNBA players might want to start window-shopping for their dance shoes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There's a likelihood we could be the first to the dance floor," Chicago Sky president Adam Fox said. "It's an incredibly heavy lift for the league and the players and the teams. It's an undertaking because this is uncharted territory. But this is also a great thing and would be great exposure for the WNBA."

The WNBA announced on Monday that it will start an abbreviated 2020 season on July 24 that would include 22 games plus playoffs. Depending on what happens with the NBA and Major League Baseball, the WNBA could be the first team sports league to start games in the post-lockdown era.

"People are excited to watch live, competitive sports again. Watching team sports is a normal part of what we do in this country," Fox said. "Us getting started again will be a moment that will capture a lot of eyeballs."

The WNBA is still working out the kinks of its schedule, and is diligently putting together a plan that will include all kinds of safety provisions to keep players, coaches, officials and team personnel healthy and protected from transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Everyone involved in the season will be essentially quarantined at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. All games will be played in the basketball facility there, which includes four courts, and all the players and staff will live in the dorms there for the duration of the season.

No fans will attend games, and there will be regular testing among the WNBA population to ensure safety.

"I'm not sure I'll even be down there, unless there is some reason that I am really needed," Fox said. "Our No. 1 concern is the health and wellness of everyone down there. So we will limit the population to make sure we keep everyone safe.

"This is something everyone is taking very seriously because it's not a joke. There's going to be a strict protocol to make sure that everyone down there goes through testings and screenings."

Under the announced plan, teams will report to IMG Academy in early July for team training camps.

Games will be broadcast by ESPN, CBS Sports Network, NBA TV and networks in each local market.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Fox, who handles the Sky's television agreements, wasn't yet certain on the Sky's local television schedule, pending nationally televised games that have yet to be determined by the league.

In the past, Sky games have been televised by WCIU.

"Every team wants all of their games televised and that's what we're working on," Fox said. "We want to be able to forge that connection with our fans this season to be able to keep momentum going into 2021."

Fox expects more details to be released by the league by the end of June. Players have until June 25 to opt out of the 2020 season if they feel uncomfortable competing.

The players union said 77 percent of players voted in favor of the WNBA's return-to-play plan. Those who play will receive a full salary despite the 22-game season being slightly less than two-thirds of the typical 36-game season.

Those players who are considered high-risk for the virus could also opt out of playing and still earn their full salaries.

"I just hope that everyone exercises the patience and grace that is necessary for something like this to be pulled off. Everyone is trying their best," Fox said. "It won't be what it was, but it will be better than not having a season at all.

"All I know is that we have not had any of our fans respond negatively. We've heard from a lot of people and everyone is like, 'Well, I wish we could go to the games, but I'm glad there will at least be a season. I just hope everyone stays safe.'

"I can guarantee you that the 'W' is doing everything with the idea that player and staff and league safety is paramount as we try to do something no one has done yet."

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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