In the WNBA the maximum salary a player can earn is less than $110,000. Because of this most players choose to play overseas during the league’s offseason to make more money. Staff Writer Matt Barresi and Campus Correspondent Mariana Dominguez debate whether this is good or bad for the league and its players.
Matt Barresi: While I understand the argument it somewhat de-legitimizes the league, I personally am very intrigued by the phenomenon of WNBA players, stars and role players alike, playing entire second seasons every year in Europe or Asia. I think ultimately there are numerous positives that come out of it which outweighs the negatives. Basketball is a global game and that growing that is important. The NBA has a tremendous foothold in other countries but the one thing it can’t do is give fans the players they want when they want them. When foreigners go to play in Europe or Asia it's because they either never could, or can no longer, cut their teeth among the world’s best. Yet these players still end up revered, see Stephon Marbury in China.
Well the WNBA is able to give women’s basketball fans this access. A young Chinese fan can see Breanna Stewart in her prime, up close, maybe even get a picture or an autograph after a game. The reality is, that is how you develop hardcore fans for life. These fans from other places in the world who might not care about the WNBA at all are now incentivized to follow their favorite players that represent them as well. The better quality basketball a fan sees, the more enjoyment they will likely get as well. So these WNBA stars playing in different environment is creating not only more committed fans but more fans as well. And hopefully they’re inspiring as well. I believe they’re not just creating fans but their presence is creating the next generation of women’s basketball players as well. The larger and more diverse the player pool, the more likely better quality players you will get as well.
Just look at the NBA as they get more and more high quality international players year after year. Now the NBA had this cultivation effect without having their stars actually participating in foreign leagues, but I believe having Stewart or someone like Nneka Ogwumike actually dominating in the faces of these world fans is only going to expedite the process.
Mariana Dominguez: Compared to many other sports, women’s basketball and the WNBA specifically, are very new. The league is still very much trying to expand and gain a bigger fanbase to get people into the the arena’s. When player’s go overseas they lose the opportunity to interact with stateside fans during the offseason. Many of the team’s with the biggest fanbases have one or a few players who don’t play overseas at all or every season. These players develop deeper connections with the communities where they play and in turn get more fans in the stands. The biggest example of this would be retired player Tamika Catchings and her activism in giving back to communities in Indiana. The Fever has only one championship from 2012 but they have a strong following because of just one player who didn’t go overseas and made an impact in the team’s community.
As far as international players coming to play in the WNBA, many high quality players do come to the WNBA because of how high the talent level is. The WNBA is the most competitive league in the world with the best quality players but sadly these players find more respect overseas than stateside.
Barresi: I also think that the player’s thoughts and feelings should play a big factor in this. As veteran Tina Charles told our Dan Madigan here, she actually looks forward to going overseas. She mentioned how meeting new people and embracing nw culture is appealing to her. This a really a unique situation not prevalent in other leagues, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing, especially if the players enjoy it. Not to mention a big reason they enjoy it, the money. WNBA Stars can make substantially more money in these “offseason” leagues, just look at Diana Taurasi’s $1.5 million dollar salary she received from her club UMMC Ekaterinburg in 2015. From an economic standpoint, this increase in competition should be driving the WNBA to do better. It pushes them to provide better salaries because they can’t afford not you. If the players are happy, and they’re making money, for the WNBA to come out with some hardline stance opposing it will have a dangerous alienation effect. Right now the players are benefitting from this setup at least off the court and for a league still trying to establish itself, off court sentiments matter. So why change?
Dominguez: While it is true that many players enjoy going overseas because they get to experience a new culture and make significantly more money, it can not be easy saying goodbye to loved ones and spouses for half of the year. In addition to this, the biggest thing that players gain by staying stateside is rest. Players who are able to rest in the offseason such as Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore last offseason, generally come back well-rested and ready to play for a full-season. It must be exhausting for these players to be playing two full seasons professionally. Another negative to going overseas is the danger it can pose to players. Many players such as former UConn players Moriah Jefferson and Kiah Stokes play in Turkey. During this offseason there was a rise of terror in Turkey and the WNBA president contacted player’s individually to make sure they were safe. The fact that players are literally risking their lives to make enough money to support themselves is just sad. I do agree that player’s overseas experiences’ should motivate the WNBA to pay these players a living wage. The WNBA has a responsibility to pay their players enough that they don’t have to go to hostile or dangerous countries to make enough to support themselves.
Barresi: It's tough for me to argue with you on that one. My parting words would be that being different isn't a bad thing. I think a large reason the process of playing these two seasons is because it is a-typical of what people are used to from premier sports. For some reason most people's perception jumps to well if NBA or MLB players would never do this, then it must be some irrational or poor quality system. But many times being unique is a good thing. Right now this setup brings new opportunities and exposure to the WNBA and it's athlete's more than anything else. They should be looking for a way to capitalize on it, because they're certainly possibilities there, rather than try to demonize it.
Dominguez: I can definitely see that playing two seasons gives more fans around the world access to premier players. But the price it comes at is too high. These players work really hard in their communities, and on the court. They deserve a salary that allows them to stay with their families during the offseason and rest. The WNBA and it’s leaders need to recognize that by not paying their players a decent salary they are showing little girls around the world that they can be the best in the world at what they do and still not be given what they deserve.