July 23, 2020 

Breaking down the quirks of the 2020 WNBA schedule

It was always going to be different, but here are some key takeaways from the 132-game regular season

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If there’s one area in the sports landscape that I know I am far more fascinated in than the average sports fan, it’s in the scheduling of games. And with coronavirus forcing the WNBA into a schedule we’ve never seen before, there’s a ton of material to look into and nerd out about.

Earlier this week, we looked at how this year’s WNBA schedule got made, with input from the two head schedule makers, Todd DeMoss and Gene Li. Today, we’ll get deep into the details of the 2020 WNBA schedule and look at some interesting quirks, and the impact they might have on the season.

The benefits of the true round-robin schedule

The double round-robin system is one of the most popular scheduling systems in the globe, used by most soccer/football leagues. In fact, the round-robin style has been lauded as the fairest way to determine a champion thanks to the perfectly balanced schedule, and the champion of the league has to be the best over the entire season.

The playoff system that is popular across pretty much every professional sports league in the United States allows for the element of randomness to play a huge role in determining a champion. As the popular cliché goes, a team “gets hot at the right time” and can win the championship without being the best in the league.

While the WNBA season will commence with its playoffs after the regular season as usual, whoever earns the top spot in this year’s schedule will have an indisputable claim to being the league’s best over a completely balanced slate. I’d even support that team putting up a banner of some type to acknowledge that.

But while a double round-robin schedule does have balance in how many times you play a team, it only ends up making the order of playing the two games against each team matter even more. Injuries, off days, or general rest and depth issues can make just as much of an impact as the talent on the court, and it is how teams who aren’t as good as their opponent can still earn wins. So let’s look at a few of the things that could have an impact on the season.

Rest will be a big factor, so the mini-breaks are vital

Once everyone plays their first game on the opening weekend of July 25/26, the teams will be playing at least three games a week every week once the season gets going, though the league specifically made sure that no team had any back-to-backs on the schedule. Still, in almost every week of the season, either your team will play Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday or Wednesday-Friday-Sunday.

During the week, teams will only have one day in between games, so the Mondays off will help and generally add an extra day to that. But there are 15 times when a team will have three days off, playing on a Saturday and not again until Wednesday.

Five teams have two three-day stretches between games, but they aren’t all the same. Minnesota, Los Angeles and Washington all get a three-day break twice (all three occur Aug. 2-4 and Aug. 16-18) and, and in each instance, they face off against teams who had one less day of rest, too. Connecticut also has two three-day breaks (Aug. 23-25, Sept. 6-8) and will face a team with one less day of rest once. Phoenix is the final team to get two three-day breaks between games, but in both cases (July 26-28, Sept. 6-8), they will face a team that has also had a three-day break.

The other teams with a three-day break during the season are Indiana (July 26-28), New York (July 26-28), Seattle (Aug. 30-Sept. 1), Chicago (Aug. 30-Sept. 1), and Atlanta (Sept. 6-8). Every team but Indiana will face a team with one less rest, with Indiana’s game after the rest coming against Phoenix.

The only two teams with no three-day break all season long are Dallas and Las Vegas.

One more rest-related point: the lone Monday that the WNBA is playing games on during the season is Aug. 10, and for the six teams that are playing that day, it means they have seven games in a 13-day stretch from Aug. 4-16. Because there’s only five possible opponents you can have on any given day … there’s going to be two matchups that happen twice in that time frame.

Seeing double vs. distant strangers

While some leagues that use a double round-robin format require that teams face every other team once before they can face a team a second time, the WNBA schedule has no such rule, and we end up with 12 instances where teams will play both of their games against each other in the span of a week (seven days or less between games).

DeMoss and Li said that the league intentionally avoided playing a team in two consecutive games, so there is always a game or two between these matchups. But it is a quick turnaround, one that I’m sure the assistant coaches in charge of advance scouting future opponents will appreciate these instances.

How could this have a major impact on the season? For example, Connecticut actually has this happen three times during the first month of the season, including two games against Minnesota in the first week of the season (July 26/Aug. 1). If a Minnesota player gets hurt and misses the first week of the season, Connecticut may have a better chance at winning both games than a balanced schedule would otherwise indicate.

In fact, there’s a two-set of days that you wouldn’t be faulted for feeling like you’re seeing déjà vu, as on Aug. 6 and on Aug. 12, Seattle will face Atlanta, Phoenix takes on Chicago, and Dallas plays Connecticut. Here’s hoping they switch up the uniforms, at least.

In addition to Connecticut, Chicago, Phoenix and Seattle also have these game pairs in a week occur three times, while Atlanta, Dallas, Indiana and Minnesota each have two instances, and Las Vegas, New York and Washington each have one. The only team without two games against an opponent in a week is Los Angeles.


Connecticut-Minnesota: July 26/Aug. 1

Seattle-Atlanta: Aug. 6/Aug. 12

Phoenix-Chicago: Aug. 6/Aug. 12

Dallas-Connecticut: Aug. 6/Aug. 12

Connecticut-Chicago: Aug. 8/Aug. 14

Dallas-Phoenix: Aug. 10/Aug. 16

New York-Chicago: Aug. 20/Aug. 25

Seattle-Indiana: Aug. 20/Aug. 25

Chicago-Indiana: Aug. 22/Aug. 27

Seattle-Las Vegas: Aug. 22/Aug. 27

Atlanta-Minnesota: Aug. 23/Aug. 28

Phoenix-Washington: Aug. 23/Aug. 28

However, there’s a few instances of the reverse, too, where teams won’t play each other at all in the month of August. Considering each team only plays three games in July and either five or six games in September, this is about as spread out as games against an opponent could be. They’ll practically be strangers all over again.

Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Minnesota, Phoenix and Seattle each have two opponents that they’ll first play in July and won’t see again until September. Indiana, Los Angeles, New York and Washington have one such opponent, and Dallas and Connecticut have none.

An early goodbye, a late hello, and a thank you

Not to sound repetitive, but when you only play a team twice in a year, the timing of the games will matter. It’s why it’s worth looking at what matchups we’ll be getting both games of early on, and which matchups we will be waiting for a while for.

 As has already been pointed out, Connecticut and Minnesota finish their matchups against each other earlier than any other teams in the league, with their second game occurring on Aug. 1. They’re seemingly in another world than any other teams, as the next closest date any team in the WNBA has for its second matchup against an opponent is Aug. 12.

But just as noteworthy is the latest time two teams will face off for the first time, which this year will be on Aug. 26, when DeWanna Bonner and Connecticut face her old team, Phoenix, for the first time. Both teams will be playing for a month and have already completed their sets against multiple opponents before seeing each other for the first time.

I point these out because, as you may have gathered, I’m a nerd and find these things fascinating. But it’s also because I have scheduled youth league seasons in the past and appreciate the difficulty that schedules give you, especially when you know people are going to always complain about something once the final product is out there.

The reason why people complain about a schedule is because these things make a difference, and can be a factor in who wins and who loses. But given everything else that is going on in 2020, especially the ongoing pandemic, just having a schedule of games coming up feels like something to enjoy.

Here’s to hoping we can get all of the games played with no issues.

Written by Alex Simon

SF Bay Area native, 2x grad (Elon, ASU), adjunct professor at ASU's Cronkite School, editor & journalist always looking to tell unique stories.

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