While the WNBA has seen tremendous growth in recent years, the league still lags behind in a number of areas compared to the major men’s sports leagues, particularly when it comes to the amenities afforded to players. While the last collective bargaining agreement upped player pay, the league still restricts travel options for teams, making players fly commercial from game to game and refusing to allow owners to charter flights for the team even if they wanted to pay for it.
This has been an issue for a number of teams in the past, but on Sunday night, the L.A. Sparks got stranded in Washington D.C. following their win over the Mystics and, because there weren’t enough hotel rooms for all of them, some of them, including WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike, spent the night in the airport before their rebooked 9 a.m. flight home.
As Ogwumike notes, while she’s seen some travel disasters in her time as a WNBA player, having to spend a night in the airport is a new one. On Monday, she penned a statement that the WNBPA sent out officially calling on the league to alter their rules amid the current climate of air travel in the U.S. — which anyone who has flown recently knows is a bit of a disaster with delays and cancellations — and allow teams to charter flights, starting with the playoffs.
If it seems like a simple solution, that’s because it is, and the league’s stance that it’s a “competitive advantage” for a team to fly a charter when not every ownership group can afford it (or, more accurately, isn’t willing to pay for it), is an outdated one. As Ogwumike notes, there are owners wanting to do this and more money and interest in the league than ever before, so it wouldn’t be all that difficult to find 12 ownership groups willing to pay for charters.
The charter flight issue is one that isn’t just a fight between players and the league, but one happening within the Board of Governors, as Joe Tsai, who owns the New York Liberty (and the Brooklyn Nets), was fined $500,000 for secretly chartering flights for the team last season after someone from another team complained to the league about it. There is a clear divide between new owners like Tsai, Mark Davis in Vegas, and Marc Lore in Minnesota, who come from those major men’s sports and want to spend the money to treat the players like the elite athletes they are, and longtime owners who don’t necessarily have that level of expendable funds. That issue might get resolved whenever expansion comes, as two new owners will almost assuredly fall into the new money camp willing to spend, but in the immediate we still have situations like this that only serve to make the league look awful.
It seems unlikely that the league agrees to this change before the playoffs, but hopefully they’ll reconsider their stance this offseason because it’s past time for teams to at least have the opportunity to fly charter and avoid these kinds of travel disasters and be expected to play their best afterwards.