Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where you can always go home. Let’s get to it:
*It’s the kind of nightmare travel story that a friend or colleague might tell you. But this one happened to a professional team at the highest level of its sport.
The Indiana Fever of the WNBA had a game Sunday in Seattle, and the team was supposed to fly back to Indianapolis afterward on Sunday night. They arrived at the Seattle airport around 7:45 p.m. for a 10:30 p.m. flight.
But from there, per the frustrating but often hilarious account on Twitter from Fever forward Natalie Achonwa, Indiana had a postponed flight … then a route through Atlanta on a new plane … then an overbooked connecting flight … then an 8-hour bus ride to Indianapolis that included a stop for mechanical troubles … before finally getting back home about 24 hours after they started on Monday evening.
Indiana has a home game with the Lynx on Tuesday, and that’s hardly the best way to prepare.
It could have been worse: Las Vegas had to forfeit a game last season because of travel problems.
Both examples are reminders of a fundamental difference between the WNBA and the NBA (and other top men’s leagues, for that matter): WNBA players take commercial flights while NBA players take private charters. The WNBA prohibits teams from using charters in an attempt to keep a level playing field between those teams who can afford them and those who can’t (which is ridiculous, by the way. A team that wants to spend the money should be able to spend it).
It’s an interesting disparity. On one hand, NBA players didn’t start flying charter until more than three decades into that league’s existence. The WNBA is barely two decades old, so there is an argument to be made these things take time.
Major League Soccer, which began play just a year before the WNBA, still has teams operate primarily using commercial flights – but there is an exception that allows four charter flights per season.
The bigger issue, as with most things, is cost. The price of a charter flight varies, but flying commercial is certainly the less expensive option. It can be argued that the WNBA’s economics don’t support charter flights – and in fact NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at least provided some measure of it in an ESPN interview last year.
“It would cost more than the value of every single ticket sold in the WNBA last season,” Silver said. “But I think the players are being realistic there, too. What they are saying is there may be particular instances where we should be using charter planes. … Even if we do a modified charter program for certain special occasions, there’s enormous expense involved in it.”
When WNBA players opted out of the collective bargaining agreement last year, meaning it ends after this season instead of 2021, Silver also noted the league has lost, on average, “over $10 million every year we’ve operated.”
Lin Dunn, a longtime head coach in both women’s college basketball and the WNBA, noted on Twitter in regards to the Indiana situation: “In the WNBA ..it’s not about “what they deserve”… it’s about what you can afford! There is NO Title IX in the corporate world!
Plenty of WNBA players and fans might argue that corporate mentality is part of the problem and a barrier to a solution.
As WNBAPA president Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks wrote via The Players Tribune last year: “This is not just about business. This is deeply personal. This is about the kind of world we want to live in.”
Indeed, these are also the very best of the best women’s basketball players in the world. Flying commercial has a symbolic element as one more disparity between pro women’s players and their male counterparts — a fight that only figures to intensify as the WNBA heads toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
*Derrick Rose’s 50-point game for the Timberwolves on Halloween was named the NBA’s Moment of the Year at the league’s annual awards show on Monday.
*Awesome sports photo alert. #fanatic