Just eight days ago, some unexpected news dropped. Christyn Williams, who starred in UConn’s recent title game run and was recently picked by the Washington Mystics in the WNBA draft, went down with a season-ending knee injury. This news is devastating for Williams, who was looking to prove that she deserved to be picked in the first round, where many experts had projected her to go. The No. 14 slot that she was drafted in is an interesting place for a player to go, barely on the better side of having a chance to make a significant impact in the league.
Per On Her Turf, an average of 13 players of the 36 drafted are waived before they are even slated to play a game, with the number sitting at 16 last year. Even worse, an additional five players per year don’t make it to their second season. This puts the cutoff at 18 players per year who have a real shot at making a career out of the WNBA.
Williams, who we already mentioned was picked as No.14, could become less valuable as a result of the injury. Although coach Mike Thibault said to ESPN, “She will have our full support and all of our resources during her rehab. She is part of the Mystics family,” there’s no telling what this will do to her mobility in the future. Any season-ending or surgery-requiring knee injury has the potential to be career-altering. The hope is that she will be able to make a full recovery and the Mystics will support her all the way through, but since it is a business, one never knows. This could be the make or break factor in her career.
It’s not like Williams has been an injury-prone player either. She played every single game in her freshman and sophomore years. In her junior season, she missed one game for an insignificant reason and was forced to sit out of three this past campaign due to COVID-19 protocols. The injury bug has been kind to Williams. Some injuries are random and can happen to anyone, but others are predictable to a degree. If one plays nonstop competitive basketball from November through the next October, getting an overuse-related injury is not unexpected.
Asking a player to play their hardest all through the grueling college season of 33 games and then putting them through the draft process less than a week and a half later is just too much. The championship game was just 17 days before William’s injury, which leaves far too little time to recover. Especially in a college environment where players must devote more of their time towards school versus medical attention or keeping their body at 100%. The process is quite simply rushed. In the NBA, there are obviously postseason draft workouts and the Summer League, but it’s nicely stretched out, such that players don’t need to play a game that actually counts from April 4 to late October, as compared to just a month apart in the WNBA.
People respond to incentives. A player who doesn’t make or play in March Madness has three weeks to let their body recover that they wouldn’t have had if they made it to the championship. By sitting out, they create an advantage for themselves to perform at a higher level during the critical period of the pre and post draft processes where the fate of players’ careers are decided. If players start figuring this out, then sit-outs could become more common, as they are in the NFL. This then becomes problematic for both the WNBA and the NCAA. The NCAA will have less marketable tournament stars if they sit out. And the WNBA will lose out on college fans who want to see the stars in full effectiveness from day one of their career.
The best thing to do here is to move everything back a bit. As of now, the season starts on May 6. Why is a large portion of the season directly conflicting with the NBA playoffs? Unless one is a devout WNBA fan (they exist, but there are not enough to make the sport currently sustainable), they are not going to choose to watch early-season WNBA over the NBA playoffs. Instead, wait to start the season until June 15. Then at worst, there’s a four day overlap between the two seasons. Plus, you give the players an extra month to rest their bodies.
If you move the season back, you do create the situation that the WNBA playoffs will compete with the NBA early season. But when discussing whether to compromise player health, it’s an important thing to consider to maximize all sports.