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Sports Saturday

Sky owner hopeful WNBA will salvage 2020 season, but at least one player thinks it’s not worth risk

Sky forward Jantel Lavender said what a lot of people were thinking, as hard as it might be to accept: She doesn’t think it’s feasible for the WNBA to have a 2020 season.

Sky owner Michael Alter remains hopeful that the WNBA will play this year.
Sky owner Michael Alter remains hopeful that the WNBA will play this year.
Sun-Times Media

Sky forward Jantel Lavender said what a lot of people were thinking, as hard as it might be to accept:

She doesn’t think it’s feasible for the WNBA to have a 2020 season.

“For me, I just can’t see it happening, only because there’s no [coronavirus] vaccine,” Lavender said. “To think about having a season where everybody’s in one location and we play in one place, I don’t know, it’s just unrealistic, and I think it would make more sense to wait it out and just see where we go from here.”

The season originally was scheduled to start May 15, but it has been postponed indefinitely amid the pandemic as league officials continue to plan for different scenarios.

Last month, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said she intends “to have a season when it is medically advisable and feasible,” adding that it could be played “into the fall.”

Although players such as Lavender are skeptical, Sky owner Michael Alter remains hopeful the season will go on in some capacity. One thing he’s sure of, he said, is that if the league does get a green light from public health officials, fans will not be in attendance.

“When we do open up, we’re just starting to come to grips with that,” he said. “What does that look like, what does that feel like, what does that mean in terms of, obviously, financially, but also in terms of the game experience — both the players playing as well as the people watching on TV?

“We don’t know when we’re going to start and how it’s going to be . . . but we do know we’re going to lose a tremendous revenue source, which is tickets.”

Ticket sales account for an estimated 40 percent of the Sky’s overall revenue, Alter said. With the season on hold, the Sky have implemented a ticket policy similar to those of other teams, in which they will honor tickets for postponed games on the rescheduled dates. If a game is canceled altogether or isn’t open to fans, the Sky plan to offer a credit for a future game or a refund.

Lavender said she’s “most definitely” concerned about the financial strain the pandemic has had on teams and the league, which lost a reported $12 million in 2018.

“It seems like it would be crazy to have a season,” she said. “But I can see the financial part of it being a reason why they really push for us to have a season.”

Lavender called it a “lose-lose situation” — on one hand, owners are going to lose money regardless, she said. On the other, having a season could put players, coaches and other employees at risk of contracting the virus.

The WNBA and Sky are working with public health consultants on a potential protocol.

“I’m still very hopeful. I think we can do it,” Alter said. “There’s a lot we have to work through. Most of it we don’t control, but the things we can control, we’re trying to figure out. A lot of it has to do with the better public health context we’re all in.

“We’re watching it, closely working with [authorities], trying to look at different scenarios under which we can get open, so I am confident we’re going to pull something off.”