The WNBA announced its collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union was ratified by the Board of Governors on Friday. Los Angeles All-Star Nneka Ogwumike, who was seated among the KeyArena’s Stanford crowd for the Pac-12 tournament, was relieved.
“At first we were like, ‘What’s going to happen?’” Ogwumike said of talk among WNBA players this offseason. She’s a Cardinal alum in Seattle to support her sister Chiney, a senior forward.
The last CBA expired in September 2013. Ogwumike, a 6-foot-2 forward, departed to play in China that fall. While there, her Sparks team owners returned the franchise to the league and a new ownership group led by Magic Johnson purchased it in February.
The WNBA first announced it reached an agreement with its players after the LA sale mid-February, pending approval. The CBA is an eight-year deal with both sides having an opt-out option after six. Neither side released specifics about the agreement, however.
Information that was disclosed is there will be an incremental increase in the WNBA salary cap and individual player brackets, which range from a veteran minimum and maximum to pay for lottery picks versus second-rounders.
The players’ primary want was a 12th player to the roster limit. It was added but as an option, not a requirement. WNBA president Laurel Richie said on a teleconference call Friday the total expense of that player, including salary, could be $100,000 to an owner, a reason for concern given majority of the 12 teams haven’t reported a profit.
Richie, who’s in her fourth season at the helm, considered an agreement to penalize players for not fulfilling their WNBA contracts, regardless of reason, a win for the owners.
As a concession, teams can use $50,000 of its own money and divide it among players as an incentive to limit play overseas to a maximum of 90 days. Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson’s season-ending knee injury suffered in China is an example of the types of risks the ownership groups are trying to prevent with the kickback.
A player would be paid without the obligation to do community service in her WNBA city in exchange.
“It would be nice. But what they offer overseas, you really can’t compare,” said Ogwumike of many who make $50,000 in a month overseas. Ogwumike was the 2012 WNBA rookie of the year. She was drafted No. 1 overall by LA and locked into making a $48,470 base salary, according to the CBA agreed to in 2008. The Seattle Times obtained a copy via the WNBPA website. An updated version was not posted at the time this blog was posted.
Minnesota star Maya Moore’s team won the WCBA championship March 4. The short season allowed Ogwumike a chance to watch her sister lead the top-seeded Cardinal (29-2) past Colorado to advance to a semifinal matchup against No. 5 seed USC (20-12) on Saturday at 6p.m. at KeyArena. The game will also air on the Pac-12 Networks.
Despite the possibility to double her WNBA salary and remain stateside, Nneka doesn’t foresee an owner kickback being enough to keep stars from going overseas and risking injury.
“It’s tough,” she said “I have somewhat of a chance to make the Olympic team. Not going overseas but making money here would be good, but I’d also be minimizing my chances of getting that repetition that I need to play in Brazil (2016 Games).”
WNBA free agency opens Monday. Karen Bryant, the Storm’s CEO and president, said it can talk with its own players then but cannot talk with free agents until March 16. Seattle opens its season against Ogwumike’s Sparks on May 16 at KeyArena.
Richie said the date for the WNBA draft should be released next week. Chiney Ogwumike, a two-time Pac-12 player of the year, is expected to be a lottery pick. The Connecticut Sun, which is coached by former Storm coach Anne Donovan, has the top overall pick.