Ahead of the WNBA draft, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert hosted a virtual call with media. It was a robust discussion that covered a wide array of topics, ranging from health protocols for the upcoming season to the ongoing wage gap conversation. Cathy’s mood was optimistic, but she also made it clear that she wasn’t complacent with the current status of the league. While there has been a lot of progress in recent years, the Commissioner definitely still has her foot on the gas to take the WNBA into the next phase in its’ history.
Of course a hot topic during the call was expansion. I’m sure she’s been asked about this ad nauseam, but she still addressed it with excitement. It’s an issue that always gets ramped up around draft time because there will undoubtedly be a lot of talented young ladies who won’t get a chance to play in the league this year because of simple math. Mrs. Engelbert made it clear that expansion is on the menu. But a lot of moving parts have slowed up the process.
Coming off a year that was ravaged by the pandemic, and with more challenges this year, having to contend with the Olympic break, as well as having limited fans – the focus will be on sustaining the momentum the W has created in recent years. But make no mistake about it, when the world starts to break from the grips of COVID, expansion will be a priority. If I may make a suggestion, the first order of business should be to resurrect the Houston Comets franchise. I’m just saying, everything is better when the greatest franchise in league history is involved.
Englebert is elated that there is such fervent discussion around growing the league. And she reiterated that it is not lost on her that there is a demand for more. She also addressed the questions about whether or not the draft eligibility rules will be changed. After seeing what Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark did as freshmen, and many of the current WNBA players stamping them as league ready, people don’t want to wait to see them at the next level. It was revealed that this was a topic during the last round of CBA negotiations but other issues took precedence. At this point, it’s inevitable that the draft requirements will have to be modified. And it will help with bringing fans from the women’s college game over to the W.
Englebert expressed this was a target area for the league. She said through her pre-pandemic travels it was obvious that women’s college hoops fans were downright ravenous and they are looking for ways to carry that enthusiasm over to the WNBA. And while there is no doubt that Paige and Caitlin will continue to do damage over the next three years, if they were able to go into the draft at this point, it would be monumental for the league. Rest assured that this is a “not if, but when scenario”. Because as the game evolves, the league will have to evolve with it. The commissioner said that fluidity and being amenable will be paramount to maximizing growth opportunities for the league.
And naturally, it would not be a WNBA call if social justice and activism weren’t discussed. Alongside the fight for gender equality in sports, the women of the W have been overwhelmingly vocal about the racial issues that continue to plague our country. We saw them make history last year with the push to get Raphael Warnock elected to the Georgia senate. But of course they couldn’t just stop at the surface level. Through this process, they ousted a Senator who was a former owner that disapproved of their stance against police brutality. And to put the cherry on top, a former player of hers has replaced her as owner. That’s as thorough a defeat as humanly possible.
Englebert expressed how proud she continues to be about the players’ outspokenness on these types of issues. She said that the league will continue to be fully supportive of their initiatives. The Social Justice Council that was formed last year will be even more instrumental in amplifying the collective voice of the WNBA. As well as continuing to highlight the problems that are plaguing the country in general, the league will also be looking inward to improve diversity on the sidelines and in front offices. It was stated that a pipeline will be created to elevate more people of color to head coaching positions and get more into ownership.
You could hear the excitement in the Commissioner’s voice as she laid out all the things that are on the horizon for the league. She’s definitely hit the ground running in her two years and is not looking to slow down anytime soon. The future of the league is extremely bright. The W will be bringing in the greats of the past involved as well. An advisory board has been formed to get the pioneers of the league to help brainstorm ways on how to build even more visibility and momentum.
People have been clamoring for the women who laid the ground work for the W to be involved with the league’s progress. Couldn’t think of a better time to bring them into the fold, then the 25th Anniversary of the league’s conception. There also isn’t a better leader than Englebert to guide the W into the next phase. This could be the era that changes women’s basketball forever. We’re just happy to have a front row seat.