The first part of our WNBA general managers anonymous survey focused on questions related to players and coaches in and around the league. But GMs are also forced to understand more than their own team’s makeup. Part 2 of our survey dives into several topics across the league, including expansion, rule changes and a potential new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Which player will WNBA GMs choose to build a team around? Answers to our anonymous poll
The Athletic surveyed the league’s general managers, who are often the top basketball executives on their teams, to get their thoughts on various matters. All 12 general managers were asked to participate in the exercise while being granted anonymity so they could speak freely, and nine did. Of those, some declined to answer specific questions, but this is a comprehensive look at how the league’s key decision makers think about the WNBA’s present and future.
When exactly the WNBA will expand to more than 12 markets remains up for debate, but there is some consensus that the league should expand to another market on the West Coast. (The Athletic asked this question before our reporting that the Golden State Warriors were about to bring a WNBA franchise to the Bay Area.)
Warriors bringing WNBA team to Bay Area: Sources
It should be noted that general managers were asked for one city, but some discussed up to three in their response. One of the general managers who cited multiple cities said it was important for the league to add another team on the East Coast and West Coast “to keep our conferences balanced.”
“It’s going to be an automatic fan base from Day 1.”
“They’re all inside.”
“That city supports women’s basketball, and the natural rivalry between Portland and Seattle is going to be awesome.”
“The infrastructure is there and the fan base is – they’re begging, give us a team.”
“I’m very intrigued by Toronto, that all of Canada will support that team.”
“Big media market. It’s been a basketball city for a long time. I think that’s going to be a great place for our people.”
This is one of the questions in our GM survey that we also asked the players throughout the season. While the answers aren’t mutually exclusive (there’s no reason why league expansion can’t come with higher rosters), most general managers, like most players, are looking forward to seeing the rosters.
WNBA Confidential: Anonymous poll shows more players want roster spots than expansion
Add roster spots
“I think our time is best spent expanding the size of the roster in the most immediate sense, just because financially, it’s not going to have much of an impact on the entire league. … Just having this pool of talent that we have in the system that we can get, even if there’s the flu and you know it’s not going to be super long-term, but you’ve got them in your hands. I think that will be the most fruitful.”
“Maybe the last two — if rosters expand from 12 to 14 players — are unique in that we only travel 12. Those are developmental players. Some go in, some go out. But we have some backups there so we don’t have to hunt someone down when someone gets hurt.”
“I think having 11 players is sometimes difficult. … The most difficult is that you have the team for four, five months, so you try to establish a culture and all of a sudden you lose two or three players and have to you sign someone for that. And the players are only there for training purposes, not most of them for playing purposes. So it affects the culture. … I think the quality goes down.”
“I think to continue to grow our league and have a national presence, we need to be more marketable and be more relevant to more people locally.”
“I think we need to grow the eyeballs in this league to get all the things we all want for the players.”
“The WNBA needs at least two more teams. The world and nation of women’s basketball is ready for more. It will fuel the excitement that the W is creating right now. More roster spots, even if it allows two-(to)-three players as training/reserve players would be welcome.That way when injuries do occur, you have players who know the system and can step in seamlessly.
“Apples and oranges are both valuable. A portion of expansion fees should be distributed to teams to expand rosters, (and the) cap to address poverty (and) IR issues and also allow for younger talent, investment in player development. “
What should be prioritized in the next CBA negotiations
As individuals whose work is directly affected by the collective bargaining agreement, it makes sense to ask general managers what they would like to see updated in the next document. The current CBA runs until 2027, but there is a potential early opt-out in 2025, so negotiations could be on the horizon for the next two years. According to WNBPA first vice president Kelsey Plum, the players association is already surveying its constituents for their priorities in the next agreement.
The general managers had a wide range of ideas about what needed to be addressed in the next round of bargaining, but one topic that emerged from the four individuals was travel, and the issue of charter flights. The league currently prohibits teams from flying on private charters, but with a 40-game season on the docket in 2024 during an Olympic year, a greater force will be placed on travel conditions. As one general manager said: “It will be nice to face us next year with the Olympics and having a short schedule, but prioritizing the health of the player and the journey.” Another general manager expressed similar sentiments regarding player safety related to travel and other issues, saying the goal of the next CBA should be to “enhance player health and safety as The primary lens through which all policies and guidelines are filtered.”
The WNBA’s travel woes continue. Besides charters, what are the answers?
Another item of interest in the upcoming CBA mentioned by two executives is moving to a soft cap instead of the current hard cap, giving teams more financial flexibility and freedom to spend. This will facilitate the trades to be facilitated on a regular basis. With most teams at or over the cap at the trade deadline, one general manager proposed a massage to the trade rules so that teams could trade players whose contracts are within 10 to 20 percent of each rather than an exact match.
Maternity exceptions, visibility, expansion of rosters
Expanding roster sizes as well as refining the nuances of hardship and maternity exceptions were also mentioned. Finally, the two general managers prioritized the WNBA’s visibility on national platforms. “At the top of my list is visibility, TV visibility,” said one. “There should be a WNBA game, or two, every night like in college.” Another expressed the importance of visibility as the first step toward making greater gains. “Getting the exposure our players deserve at the national level, with more games on TV,” the GM said. “I think that’s the biggest thing and everything else will follow.”
What rule needs to be changed or re-evaluated before the next season?
Challenge / review rules
Five general managers interviewed for this survey hope to see changes to the league’s challenge rule or official evaluation protocols. One of them, who struggled to separate the two from one another, said the widespread hope is to help foster accuracy in officials’ calls late in games. Many GMs want more challenges. “Why don’t you take one of each half?” asked a general manager. Another suggested that a team should maintain a timeout if it wins a challenge, and a third GM raised the idea of a time limit being put in place regarding official reviews. Some coaches, for what it’s worth, also have strong opinions about such situations and hope for changes to the challenge rule.
Charter rules / list increase
One general manager hopes to see charter rules changed, with team owners, specifically, given the option to fly their team charter if they want to pay for it. Another proposed expansion of roster sizes, echoing some of the reasons mentioned above.
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