The WNBA draft occurred virtually on Friday, April 17. Since then, it has been a big topic of conversation within the sports world. The buzz is especially a result of the New York Liberty drafting the No. 1 pick, Sabrina Ionescu, a guard from Oregon University.
Elizabeth Wexler, a sophomore on the RWU Women’s Basketball Team, said she was not surprised when Ionescu was the first pick in the WNBA draft this year.
“She is one the greatest college basketball players, [amongst] men or women, because she is so dynamic on offense and has a hunger to win no matter the opponent,” Wexler said. “I have followed Ionescu throughout her collegiate career and I was really rooting for her this season to win it all.”
JJ Pfohl, a junior on the RWU Men’s Basketball Team, was also not surprised.
“She is the most skilled player in the WNBA draft. Her fundamentals are off the charts and her basketball IQ is very impressive," Pfohl said. "She makes the right play, even if that means she is not the one taking the shot. She was by far the best player in the draft.”
Ionescu is the first player ever in NCAA history to have 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.
The real question is, why are we hearing so much about the WNBA right now? Could it be because the NBA season is cancelled?
There are many differences when it comes to the WNBA and NBA. Games are timed differently. NBA games have four 12-minute quarters and the WNBA games have two 20-minute halves. The WNBA competes with a ball that is 28.5 inches whereas the NBA uses a slightly bigger ball, at 29.5 inches. Both associations play at different times of the year. The NBA begins in the fall and WNBA begins in the summer, but the two main differences are popularity and pay.
Sam Mancinelli, a junior and captain of the RWU Women’s Basketball Team, believes there is a massive difference between the popularity of the two associations.
“The NBA is without a doubt way more popular than the WNBA," Mancinelli said. "When the NBA season was suspended, everyone around the world knew it and it was televised everywhere as a major panic set out that sports were at a halt. When the WNBA season was postponed, not much was said about it.”
Freshman Sophia Araneo, a forward on RWU Women’s Basketball Team, said she isn’t exactly sure why the NBA is more popular than the WNBA.
“You see it start at an early age. You notice that the only fans you see in the stands for a women's game are the parents and the occasional friend, while the stands are packed for the men's game," Araneo said. "This same trend to me seems to follow us as we get older and is even prevalent in professional sports.”
The Washington Mystics and the Connecticut Suns competed in the 2019 WNBA Finals and averaged 381,000 viewers on networks like ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. The Toronto Raptors competed against the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals last year and had 20.5 million views. The WNBA is broadcasted in 24 different countries outside of the U.S., whereas the NBA is broadcasted in over 96 countries.
DeWanna Bonner, a forward on the Connecticut Suns for the 2020 season, previously played for the Phoenix Mercury from 2009-2019. She was the player in the WNBA with the highest salary, earning around $127,000.
Mancinelli believes the WNBA players get paid less because of little promotional opportunities.
"This goes into all aspects of promotion, such as the number of commercials, how many games actually get aired live and fans attending games. Although the opportunity is supposed to be equal, the WNBA has always been treated as though it is a step behind the NBA league,” Mancinelli said.
Pfohl brought up a counterpoint, mentioning how the league is also operating as a business.
“The NBA brings in a lot more revenue than the WNBA, therefore they are compensated for that. The merchandise, tickets [and] concessions bring in a lot more money compared to the WNBA,” Pfohl said.
Pfohl thinks the WNBA has to find different ways to bring in more revenue so the league can compensate the players and coaches differently. The gender pay gap has been an issue for many other professional sports besides basketball, including professional women’s soccer and women’s ice hockey.
The WNBA and WNBPA (Women’s National Basketball Players Association) released a tentative agreement in January 2020. It is an eight-year collective bargaining agreement. The agreement includes significant increases to player cash compensation and benefits; cash compensation triples to more than half a million dollars for top players and there are enhanced travel standards, expanded career development opportunities, new child care, maternity and progressive family planning benefits.
According to an article from the WNBA, “the new eight-year CBA, which commences with the 2020 season and runs through 2027, provides the foundation to chart a new course for women’s professional basketball. The 2020 CBA features significant investments by the league and its teams aimed directly at increasing player salary and compensation, improvements to the overall player experience, resources specifically designed with the professional female athlete in mind, as well as a commitment to implement an integrated marketing plan league-wide.”
The deal includes a 53% increase in total cash compensation consisting of base salary, additional performance bonuses, prize pools for newly created in-season competitions and league and team marketing deals.
Under this new CBA, the WNBA players are able to earn cash compensation in excess of $500,000. For the first time in WNBA history, the average cash compensation will exceed six figures, which means an increase for all players from rookies to veterans.
Wexler said it will benefit the players in many ways.
“They will be getting paid more, which means women will not need to play overseas to actually make a living. With the number of hours of practice and training the women do, they deserve this type of money," Wexler said. "Also, the CBA will give women freedom to change teams more often.”
Mancinelli also thinks it will have positive impacts on the association.
“Not only was this something that should have been implemented a long time ago, but I think this will send the message that the WNBA deserves to be just as recognized and valued as the NBA currently is," Mancinelli said. “There is also an abundance of new agreements that will benefit women, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of the quality of their experience being a professional basketball player.”
The NBA does a lot to help the WNBA. Curry and the late Kobe Bryant were vocal supporters.
“Kobe [had] a huge impact on both her [Ionescu's] life and her basketball career, and there she was the other day being drafted #1,” Mancinelli said. “Stephen Curry is another example of someone who has shown his support in the league and this goes a long way with people being able to recognize the WNBA, and all the hard work those women put into the game. Their work should be just as valued.”