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WNBA Puts Its Draft on Hold

Women's pro basketball league makes its decision because of the absence of a collective bargaining agreement. Players' union faces Friday deadline to reach a resolution.

April 15, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

No pre-draft tryout-training camp, no draft ... and no season?

The largely symbolic dominos kept falling in what could be the most important week in the WNBA's history.

On Monday, as expected, the league canceled Wednesday's draft of college and international players because of the lack of a collective bargaining agreement. The previous labor agreement expired in September.

This latest action unfolded against the stark backdrop of a Friday deadline imposed by the NBA's Board of Governors, threatening to cancel the season if no agreement is reached by then.

So instead of debating whether Chantelle Anderson of Vanderbilt or LaToya Thomas of Mississippi State should go first in the draft, or who might be available in a potential dispersal draft of players on teams that have folded, talk remained focused on the impasse between the league and the players' association.

Significantly, in New York, there was the first meeting between the parties since last week -- six members per side -- but Russ Granik, the NBA's deputy commissioner, was not on hand. WNBA Commissioner Val Ackerman headed the league's negotiating committee Monday.

"The two sides met this morning for 90 minutes," players' association spokesman Dan Wasserman said. "There were no formal proposals exchanged, some suggestions were made and we're waiting for a response from the league as to when they would like to meet next and when they would like to make some formal proposal."

That would indicate that NBA Commissioner David Stern's message of last week was still on point.

"We're not in the same ballpark," Stern said at a news conference after the Board of Governors meeting.

"And frankly, I understand the individual players' perspective. They are playing the sport at the highest level ... the television audiences that get to see them, and they see the men getting astounding numbers by comparison. The same could be said with respect to coming out of the World Cup, the way the women soccer players captivated the nation, but the commercial realities are there that required them to take cuts.

"We're the NBA, we are backing this league and we are not asking our women to take cuts. But we are asking them to make a deal that we can demonstrate once and for all that the WNBA has a strong future. It's up to the women of the WNBA."

Players in WUSA took a significant pay cut, especially ones at the higher end of the salary scale, as the women's soccer league is starting its third season.

Stern did say last week that the league's board of governors had agreed to subsidize the league with $12 million.

The WNBA is heading into its seventh season and is not on solid ground from outward appearances, having folded two teams, Portland and Miami, and moving the Utah franchise to San Antonio and the Orlando team to a casino in Uncasville, Conn.

The divide, at first glance, does not appear enormous on economic issues. Players are asking for $48,000 for minimum salaries for veterans, while the league is countering with $41,200, a 3% increase from last season. In regard to minimum salaries for rookies, the league is asking for a cut, dropping to $25,000 from $30,000 last season, and the players want the rookie minimum at $33,000.

Free agency appears to be a larger stumbling block. The league is seeking restricted free agency for seven-year veterans, and unrestricted free agency for 10-year veterans. The players' association has been asking numbers of four years (restricted) and five years (unrestricted). Some progress has been said to have been made on lesser matters, including certain marketing rights.

The WNBA season is scheduled to start with the two-time league champion Sparks opening on May 24 on the road against the Connecticut Sun (formerly Orlando) in a nationally televised game.

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