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‘I hate that we have to decide:’ Sky players voice frustration around new WNBA prioritization rule

2 years agoKarli Bell

As the WNBA offseason begins, so does international play for a majority of players. With that comes a new problem facing players: prioritization.

Prioritization is the WNBA’s desire to see players put more focus on the WNBA rather than international play. 

The new prioritization rule was part of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement that lasts until 2027. The clause lines out a timeline of new deadlines and penalties that go into effect in the 2023 season.

Starting this offseason, players with more than two years of WNBA experience must report to their team by the start of training camp or May 1st, whichever comes later. If they miss the start of training camp, they will be fined. If they miss the start of the regular season, they will be suspended for the year.

In 2024, the restrictions get tougher. If players don’t report to the start of training camp, they will be suspended for the whole season.

Because of these rule changes, players across the league, including Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot, had to factor this into their decision to play overseas and at what cost financially.

“I’ve made a good amount of money overseas, and I’ve spoken a lot about how much this has helped my career in terms of my success individually and on a WNBA roster,” Vandersloot said. “So, I hate that we have to decide. That’s the reason I signed a one year contract.”

Candace Parker currently does not play overseas but did for a majority of her career, and she understands the massive financial benefits that come from playing internationally.

“WNBA was my summer job. Overseas is how my daughter’s in private school, how we’re able to be in the house that we’re in,” Parker said. “That was my job. That was my main source of income, and I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do today without that.” 

Rebekah Gardner is in an interesting position. Since she just finished her rookie season, the prioritization rules don’t directly affect her yet. However, she’s already seeing how it’s affecting the talent pool for her team in Spain.

“A lot of WNBA Americans aren’t going,” Gardner said. “So I think that’s gonna change the strength of the leagues. Spain is usually one of the better leagues, but now, we’re going to see how it’s going to turn out this year.”

While many American players are saying goodbye to their families to play overseas, international players in the WNBA see this as a way to also go back home. Emma Meesseman, who’s originally from Belgium, has voiced her frustration with the rule.

“As a European, I don’t think that rule is very friendly for non-Americans,” Meesseman said. “Everybody likes to play at home. I think that’s one of the reasons that most American players would like to stay in America, because it’s home. Europe is home for me. Although I love playing in the WNBA, I also like being a person that sees her family and friends.

“The fact that this rule is now in effect, for me, means that Turkey is going to shorten up their season just in time for the WNBA season. On my usual break, I would have 10 days after my last game with the Belgium national team before I would go to Turkey. After the European season, I usually get 10 days, maybe 2 weeks if I’m lucky. I won’t have that. It’s not possible if I want to go back to the WNBA.”

Players have spoken out about the rule: they understand the intentions, but they want to see the league make some internal changes or it could affect talent on the court long term.

“The WNBA is going to have to up their game in the salaries,” Parker said. “If you were asking me to choose at that point in time, especially given a rookie salary or if you have somebody that is playing on that First Team All-WNBA level, and you get offered a contract overseas that’s 15-16 times what you’re making in the WNBA? I mean, I don’t know many people that would turn that down. 

“I don’t want the league to be without a superstar, because I think the league is built around those superstars. It’s going to be very difficult if something like that happens for them to say no.”

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