Brittney Griner, Courtney Paris

Brittney Griner, right, of Phoenix defends Seattle’s Courtney Paris in a game on May 20, 2018. The WNBA announced Monday it will play a shortened 22-game season in Florida. Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

 

The WNBA will play a shortened 22-game season at IMG Academy in South Florida without fans, the league announced Monday.

All 12 teams will report to the Bradenton, Florida, facility in early July, and the site will host training camp, games and housing. The league did not announce safety guidelines that will be in place to protect everyone during the coronavirus pandemic. The contract with IMG is still being finalized.

The WNBA also announced that players would receive full pay and full benefits.

“We are finalizing a season start plan to build on the tremendous momentum generated in the league during the offseason,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement, “and have used the guiding principles of health and safety of players and essential staff to establish necessary and extensive protocols. We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan.”

The NBA has outlined a similar scenario with its teams finishing the 2019-20 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, with limited contact outside a bubble-like environment. The WNBA is working out details with the players association, but a recent proposal included opt-out options for players uncomfortable playing in the current environment. Those with high-risk medical conditions could decide not to pay and receive full pay. Any players without a medical excuse could opt not to play without punishment, but would not be paid.

The announcement outlined training camps to begin in early July, with the season starting in late July. The recent proposal specified a July 24 start date. The original May 15 start date was postponed due to the pandemic, and the normal 36-game schedule was shortened. The league had some flexibility in its scheduling plans due to a planned break from late July to early August to allow players to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed to 2021.

The IMG Academy is a prep school and training destination for amateur, collegiate and professional athletes. The facilities include four basketball courts and a Performance & Sports Science Center.

The league’s announcement also stressed a commitment to giving players a platform to drive actionable social justice change as protests against racial inequality and police brutality continue across the country.

“We have always been at the forefront of initiatives with strong support,” WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike said in the statement, “of #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, the LGBTQ+ community, gun control, voting rights, #MeToo, mental health and the list goes on. This is not only necessary from a humanitarian perspective, but it may be one of the biggest opportunities that this league has and will ever have.”


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