WNBA players prefer roster expansion over league expansion

The Sky were among the 10 teams carrying 11 players as the season started, after waiving seven in the final week to get under the salary cap.

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Sky forward Candace Parker looks to shoot against the Los Angels Sparks during the season opener.

“I would prefer having more roster spots than expansion,” the Sky’s Candace Parker said. “In terms of a league especially in the next three years, we’re going to lose some stars. My question is will we have enough stars to carry those other two franchises?”

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

If given a choice between league expansion and roster expansion in the WNBA, coaches and players would favor the latter.

As teams made cuts last week ahead of opening weekend, many stars expressed discontent with the size of rosters. Of the league’s 12 teams, 10 began the season with only 11 of a possible 12 players. And when the Seattle Times reported that commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league is looking to add two expansion teams in the next few years, some voiced concern.

“I would prefer having more roster spots than expansion,” Sky star Candace Parker said. “In terms of a league, especially in the next three years, we’re going to lose some stars. My question is, will we have enough stars to carry those other two franchises?”

General managers have less to work with to fill the 12-player-maximum rosters because of the collective-bargaining agreement, signed in 2020. Players’ max base salaries nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, with the salary cap increasing by only 30% in 2020. The CBA calls for an annual cap increase of 3% from there.

The Sky were among the 10 teams carrying 11 players as the season started, after waiving seven in the final week to get under the salary cap. Across the league, players such as Lynx guard Crystal Dangerfield, the 2020 rookie of the year, Lynx veteran guard Layshia Clarendon and Sparks guard Te’A Cooper were also surprisingly waived ahead of opening night. The number of players waived seems to indicate there’s more than enough talent to field two more teams.

But Parker — whose preference would be to have three additional roster spots per team — is more concerned about longevity and what it takes to sustain a franchise. Without the development of young players, the WNBA will see a gap in talent, which is why many are advocating for deeper rosters before expansion.

The WNBA Players Association can negotiate for more investment like roster expansion when the CBA expires in 2027, or the league can modify it before then. Engelbert has been wary of the league expanding before establishing a successful economic model. League investment increased with a $75 million capital raise which Engelbert said will be invested in marketing, digital products and fan outreach to aid the WNBA’s growth. She also said when the money was introduced the league would be open to hearing from the players’ union on how to best utilize the money.

The WNBA has no developmental league, which Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike said the league could also benefit from. Fringe players that are waived have limited options for developing their game. Most players opt to play overseas, returning for training camps every year in hopes of cracking a roster.

Adding three roster spots per team would bring 36 players to the league versus the 24 that would join with two 12-player expansion teams. Beyond player development, roster expansion or a developmental league would aid teams in their day-to-day operation.

When the Sky are home, they practice five-on-five with a team of practice players. But practice players aren’t always an option on the road.

It was especially difficult for teams to make practices competitive last season because players were in and out of town for Olympic-related obligations and practice players weren’t available because of COVID-19 protocols. When guards Allie Quigley and Parker were injured at the start of last season, the Sky were unable to practice five-on-five for weeks.

The Liberty, whom the Sky face Wednesday at Wintrust Arena (7 p.m., Marquee), are one of the teams that had 12 players to start the season. The game will be Liberty center Stefanie Dolson’s first against her former team. The Sky will be without Quigley, who’s being cautious with her right knee and is targeting a return Saturday against the Lynx.

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