What will happen to the WNBA season in the age of coronavirus?

  • Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) is shown in action against the Atlanta Dream during a game last season. What will happen to the WNBA season in the age of coronavirus?

    Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) is shown in action against the Atlanta Dream during a game last season. What will happen to the WNBA season in the age of coronavirus? Associated Press

  • "We don't necessarily have answers about anything right now, just information and updates and the WNBA has done a really good job of activating a communications plan with us," Chicago Sky president Adam Fox said.

    "We don't necessarily have answers about anything right now, just information and updates and the WNBA has done a really good job of activating a communications plan with us," Chicago Sky president Adam Fox said. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/20/2020 7:07 PM

There are questions, and very few answers, pretty much everywhere these days.

The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in every direction.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Are we safe? Can we get a handle on this virus?

Will the country be completely shut down soon?

Less pressing, but also important questions, have to do with the sports world, for many a refuge from everyday, and not-so-everyday stresses.

Will high schools resume their sports seasons anytime soon? Will colleges resume, will the pro leagues, like the NBA and the NHL get going again?

Will a league in waiting, like the WNBA, which is supposed to tip off in mid-May, start as scheduled?

By then, you would think life in the United States will be back to normal. But will it?

I talked with Chicago Sky president Adam Fox this week and, like many of us, Fox and his team are living day-to-day and hoping and preparing for the best, but also making contingency plans. Lots of contingency plans.

For now, the WNBA is on as scheduled.

The 2020 WNBA Draft is still on for April 17. And the season opener for the Sky is still on for 7 p.m., May 15 at Wintrust Arena against the Minnesota Lynx.

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But all of that, of course, is fluid at the moment, and subject to change at the drop of a hat if necessary.

"We don't necessarily have answers about anything right now, just information and updates and the WNBA has done a really good job of activating a communications plan with us," Fox said. "But things are changing daily at times and even hourly at times. We are just doing what we can right now to be prepared for when we emerge from this."

In the meantime, there are questions that, piled on top of each other, could create an interesting domino effect on the entire league for the foreseeable future.

For starters, the draft.

Let's say it goes off as planned.

The thing is, will all the players who are supposed to be available truly even be available? Remember, the NCAA has already granted an extra year of eligibility to spring sports athletes whose seasons have been canceled due to the coronavirus.

According to reports, the NCAA is also in discussions about whether or not it would be appropriate to do the same for winter athletes whose seasons were interrupted or left incomplete due to postseason tournaments, like the NCAA basketball tournament, being canceled.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So, for example, star senior point guard Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon is widely regarded as the no-brainer No. 1 pick of the 2020 WNBA Draft. But what if the NCAA grants her and all college basketball players another year of eligibility ... and what if she takes it?

What if other likely draftees take it too?

Now, the entire WNBA Draft is a hot mess, and teams aren't sure who to draft and which rookies will actually show up to their training camps.

Another question?

What if the WNBA season progresses as scheduled but the athletes decide they don't want to play, because they are worried about their own health.

It's a very valid concern.

Many WNBA athletes spend their offseasons playing in countries in Europe or even China, places that have been hit hardest by coronavirus.

Some of these WNBA players are still overseas, or have just recently returned. For the Sky, as of earlier this week, guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley were in transit from Russia and Cheyenne Parker and Gabby Williams were still in France.

Will every WNBA player be tested for coronavirus prior to the WNBA season? Will every player want to play if there is no testing?

How many players would have to sit out due to health concerns before the season is no longer viable?

The WNBA players association hasn't addressed those hypotheticals yet. But it needs to.

Now we get to the season. Will it really start as scheduled?

The climate in the country might be in a much better place by mid-May, and life might be getting back to normal, but at that point, there could be a scheduling logjam.

The NBA is committed to picking up its schedule when this crisis settles down and playing long into the summer to finish the season and the playoffs. Some WNBA teams share stadiums with NBA teams. Will there be enough days, around concerts and other events that these arenas host, to get both WNBA and NBA games in?

Meanwhile, the Summer Olympics is a factor in the WNBA's schedule.

During Olympic years, the WNBA shuts down for about a month so that the league's best players can represent the United States in the Olympics.

This year, the Olympic break is from July 11 through August 15.

But will the Olympics in Japan even happen? There has been a lot of talk of it being canceled, or in the least postponed. USA Swimming just requested on Friday that the Olympics be postponed.

If that happens, now the WNBA has a huge hole in its schedule for no reason.

On the other hand, if the WNBA wanted to play it super safe, perhaps it uses the "Olympic Break" as its own "curve flattener."

The league can bump its draft until later, giving the NCAA a chance to decide the extended eligibility question for winter athletes, which would then allow the WNBA to know which seniors would be available for the draft, and which would be returning to college for one more year.

Then, start the season when the Olympic break is supposed to end in mid-August. By then, hopefully life is back to normal, all the athletes are known to be healthy or not, and you've got a fast-and-furious and exciting mini-season of about 13 to 15 games and then a dynamic run through the playoffs in August and September, as originally scheduled.

Is that possible? Is it feasible. Is it realistic. Maybe. Maybe not. But perhaps nothing should be off the table in this age of completely uncharted territory.

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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