April 14, 2021 

WNBA announces long-awaited schedule

32-game season tips off on May 14th

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The WNBA announced the game schedule today for its 2021 season. The league will tip off its historic 25th season on Friday, May 14th with all 12 teams being featured on opening weekend. The league will announce its full television schedule at a later date.

No. 1 overall draft pick in 2020 Sabrina Ionescu and the New York Liberty will start off the season at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, May 14th by hosting the Indiana Fever at their new home, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

Other highlights of the opening weekend include two-time league MVP Candace Parker’s debut with the Chicago Sky at Washington against former MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics (1 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 15th) and a 2020 championship rematch between defending champion Seattle Storm and the Las Vegas Aces (3 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 15th). Last season’s runner-up Aces are led by 2020 regular-season MVP A’ja Wilson and have 6’8 Australian superstar center Liz Cambage returning along with newly acquired All-Star Chelsea Gray.

The league shared that instead of the originally planned 36 games, the 2021 regular season will see each team play 32 games, 16 at home and 16 on the road. Each team will play three games apiece versus 10 opponents, and two games — one home and one away — against one team from the opposite conference. The season will break from July 15th through August 11th for the summer Olympics. The regular season is currently scheduled to conclude on Sunday, Sept. 19th, and will be followed by traditional playoffs and Finals format.

To limit the number of trips a team takes throughout the season, the schedule includes the use of a “series” model whereby, in some instances, a team is scheduled to play consecutive games in one market. Candace Parker and the Sky will host her former team, the Sparks, for a weekend series on Friday, May 28th (8 p.m. ET) and Sunday, May 30th (6 p.m. ET). The league’s 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard will meet her former team for the first time when the Storm visits the Liberty at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Aug. 18th (7 p.m. ET) and Friday, Aug. 20th (7 p.m. ET).

In today’s media availability, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert revealed that most, but not all, markets will allow fans this season. The league has been negotiating with local health officials about safety protocols.

“I think in nine of our 12 markets we’ll have the ability to have fans,” Engelbert shared. “It’ll be reduced, and we’re hoping as we go into the Olympic break and come off of that maybe we can have more full arenas.”

Engelbert also expressed cautious optimism about the future of the league, citing that the league’s 2020 season brought in unprecedented attention from new, younger fans and that has attracted investors. She also implored that there is more work to be done to address long-standing disparities in women’s sports, as she shared in a recent opinion piece.

The narrative we have coming off the 2020 season and the success not only on the court but off the court has really resonated with companies who are trying to support diverse work forces and to develop the next generation of readers…So those are all the things that are attracting companies to us and investors to us, and it’s definitely an easier conversation today than it was even a year ago as I have seen women’s sports and the momentum evolve.

But we still have to keep working on what I mentioned in my opinion piece. The valuation model is broken. We had great conversations and it comes down to dollars sometimes at least in my humble opinion I’ll call it, and now 20 months [into being WNBA Commissioner] I still believe our assets are undervalued, our narrative is undervalued, and I think it’s just because the spreadsheets and the models and the algorithms are set up for a time in the past that hasn’t evolved with the diversity, equity, and inclusion of the future.

The Commissioner also hinted at the possibility of league expansion as early as next year. She feels the expansion conversation was delayed due to the financial and logistical constraints placed on the league in response to the pandemic and the “bubble” season in Bradenton, Florida.

It is interesting to note how competitive and how deep the talent in this league is, and so [expansion] is certainly something that as we come out of this pandemic, hopefully next year, that we’re prepared to start talking about. 

But right now we’re still focused on the transformation I talked about last year. We had a little bit of pause in some of those activities because of the pandemic and trying to get the Bubble done last year, but I think if we have a very successful season this year, this time next year we can certainly start talking about what expansion would look like.

The league will share details at a later date about its All-Star game and its inaugural Commissioner’s Cup, an inter-season “competition within a competition comprised of ten designated regular-season games per team that culminates in a championship game between the two teams atop the standings in each conference.” The Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game will take place following the Olympic break, but other details will be announced at a later date.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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