WNBA players, teams hope for roster expansion
New York - Becky Hammon didn't mince words.
With the WNBA collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the season, roster size needs to be the top item on the agenda.
"That's the first thing that has to be changed," the veteran San Antonio Silver Stars guard said. "Twelve-year old AAU teams have more players than we do. It's absolutely ridiculous and they have to do something to fix it."
In 2009, the players' union agreed to reduce the roster from 13 to 11 players to save money and ensure labor peace. That move has hampered teams over the past few seasons in both games and practices. Both sides seem to agree that it needs to be addressed this fall.
"Roster size is one of those topics we discuss literally every season," WNBA president Laurel Richie said last month. "And this offseason, headed into the new collective bargaining agreement, it will be no different for us. I am sure it will come up. We just take things a year at a time. We are juggling some things, trying to keep them in balance and I suspect we've already started having productive discussions about it in our competition committee and will continue to do so."
The impact of the reduced rosters has been extremely prevalent this season with the rash of injuries. No team has been hit worse than the defending champion Indiana Fever, who have routinely had to play with eight or nine players. The Fever have already missed a combined 43 games to injury and the season is barely one-third over. They've already had more games missed than all of last season when the Fever won their first WNBA title.
"It's a pretty banged up year for the WNBA," said Hammon, who has been sidelined this season with a broken right finger. "You're bound to have years like this because the grind that we go through year in and out playing overseas and trying to supplement income that way. It takes a toll on the bodies."
The 15-year veteran isn't the only superstar who has missed time as an All-Star roster could be filled with injured players. San Antonio teammate Sophia Young is out for the year with a torn ACL in her right knee. Seattle stars Sue Bird (knee) and Lauren Jackson (hamstring) are out for the season also. Phoenix finally got back Penny Taylor last week after she missed all last season and the first part of this year with an ACL tear.
"We're not alone, I think Indiana is another great example," Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. "I know if you're in the business long enough it's going to happen to you. As I look around the league and take a look at teams with success some of those teams are also in pretty good health. It's having a bearing on that."
Tulsa has been hit hard by injuries also. The Shock have already played 14 games - three more than any other team in the league. Only four Shock players have been able to play in every game. If you factor in all the players that they've had to add as replacements the costs add up.
"We believe we'd like to see it go at least to 12. There are some other interesting ideas - an extra person on the injured reserve list maybe," Tulsa president Steve Swetoha said. "It's a good time with the CBA coming up at the end of the season. No question that we as an organization would like to enhance the roster size. There are variations on how we would do that. The league is growing. Obviously the league is not where it is without our players. There will be a lot more conversations about that in the upcoming months."
A quick glance at the standings and it's easy to see that teams that have been decimated by injuries like the Fever and Connecticut Sun are at the bottom while teams that have been healthy such as Atlanta, Minnesota, Chicago and Los Angeles are at the top.
"It's just the way it is, especially in the women's league more so than the guys because we only have 11 on our roster," New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said.
Adding a 12th player to the roster shouldn't be a huge financial burden. The most a WNBA player can make is $107,000. The league minimum for players with less than three years of service is $37,950. Players with more than three years of service earn at least $55,000. Factor in the additional costs of housing, transit, travel, per diem and insurance and adding a non-max play would cost a team on average $80,000 to $100,000.
Doesn't seem like much when each of the league's 12 teams will receive approximately $1 million annually from ESPN through the extension of the WNBAs television deal through 2022.
"I think it would be a very big positive for the coaches and for the integrity of the league," Laimbeer said.
"When you get down to eight or nine players the practice sessions are very limited. The costs are relative in our league, for the men's side no, they have their own private plane it's just hotel and per diem. We don't have the number of zeros that they have. All the costs need to be watched, though at some point it becomes diminishing returns and I think we're at that point."