WNBA to finish season in Florida

Sarah Valenzuela New York Daily News (TNS)

The WNBA will have a 2020 season.

The league has been on hiatus for almost two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. Monday, it announced it has laid out plans to resume in July at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

"We are finalizing a season start plan to build on the tremendous momentum generated in the league during the offseason," first-year WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement, "and have used the guiding principles of health and safety of players and essential staff to establish necessary and extensive protocols.

"We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan. And, despite the disruption caused by the global pandemic to our 2020 season, the WNBA and its Board of Governors believe strongly in supporting and valuing the elite women athletes who play in the WNBA and therefore, players will receive their full pay and benefits during the 2020 season."

Players would report to the facility early July for the start of training camp and the season would tip off later that month. It's not yet known which players would should up (aside from players like the Liberty's Han Xu and Marine Johannes who are still stuck abroad because of the pandemic).

The WNBA's announcement comes amid a serious of back and forth discussions among various players in the NBA over whether to play out the remainder of their season at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. The back and forth there, however, has less to do with the coronavirus (and increasing number of reported cases in Florida) and more to do with the Black Lives Matter movement _ the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis died while in police custody, sparked international outrage and an overwhelming support for ending police brutality, racism and white supremacy.

Returning to normal and playing out the season could take away from that movement, something at least a few NBA players have been worried about.

On Friday, Nets' star Kyrie Irving, while on a call with more than 80 NBA players, said he was "willing to give up everything I have (or social reform)," according to The Athletic. Unidentified WNBA players reportedly said they would "stand in unity" with the NBA players, according to Yahoo! Sports.

While there are surely some WNBA players who share the same sentiment, others are likely still hoping to build on the momentum the league has gained, especially this year.

In January the league and the player's union passed a historical new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which granted players new benefits like paid maternity leave, better housing options, upgraded team flights and single rooms for travel games _ the last two likely won't need to be used this year under the pandemic-restructured season.

In April, the league became the first major American sports league to hold an all-virtual draft, headlined by Liberty No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu. The 2020 Draft was a ratings hit for ESPN which aired the show on it's main channel for the first time in years (the Draft show usually airs on ESPN2 or ESPNU).

The new-look Liberty are still out to establish themselves as top contenders this year, the Washington Mystics are still waiting to hold their championship parade (and their new veteran, former face of the Liberty Tina Charles, is likely looking for revenge), and the Las Vegas Aces and Los Angeles Sparks have been so close to championship glory, they can smell the confetti.

The pandemic-altered season in Florida would include 22 regular-season games and a traditional playoff format, the league announced. The players would be housed at the Bradenton complex. All games and practices would take place there, as well.

"The top priority continues to be the health and safety of players and staff, and the league is working with medical specialists, public health experts, and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place," the league said in a statement.

In May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis welcomed teams with coronavirus restrictions in place to carryout their seasons in the state.

"If you have a team in a league in an area that just won't operate, we'll find a place for them here in Florida," DeSantis said.

Since then, Florida has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases. Over the weekend, the state saw two days of 2,000 plus new cases. Manatee County, where the IMG Academy is, has 1,309 confirmed total cases of coronavirus.