The W.N.B.A. has postponed the start of its season because of the coronavirus pandemic, with no indication when play would begin.
The league was scheduled to open training camps on April 26 and the regular season was set to begin on May 15. The W.N.B.A. will still hold a “virtual” draft on April 17.
W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement on Friday that the league will “use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats.”
“Our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees,” Engelbert said.
The W.N.B.A., which was set to begin its 24th season, is the longest running professional women’s sports league. With the Summer Olympics also postponed, the W.N.B.A. will have additional flexibility with its schedule. The league was set to go on a monthlong break starting July 10 to allow players to participate in the Tokyo Games. The U.S. women’s basketball team has won six consecutive gold medals.
Every other major sports league has been put on hold because of the virus. The N.B.A. suspended its season on March 11 after one of its players tested positive for the virus. In an interview with The New York Times last month, Engelbert said that the morning after the N.B.A. suspended its season she contacted Terri Jackson, the head of the W.N.B.A.’s players’ union, to discuss plans for delaying their season for up to 90 days.
The delay could position the seasons of the W.N.B.A. and N.B.A. to overlap much more than usual; the N.B.A. typically has just a month of playoff games remaining when the W.N.B.A.’s season begins. Engelbert told The Times that additional overlap this year could give her league a chance to expose itself to new audiences, such as by playing home games in different venues or by having doubleheaders with N.B.A. games.
“One of our transformational goals is to expand the fandom, expand the reach of the W.N.B.A. beyond our 12 cities to get more exposure to our players in our potential fan population,” Engelbert told The Times. “So we could actually be creative here and think about other cities.”
Two W.N.B.A. cities are major hot spots for the virus: New York and Seattle. One of the Storm’s homes for the season, the Angel of the Winds Arena, is being used as a coronavirus isolation site.
The Las Vegas casino where the Aces play is shut, as is the Connecticut Sun’s home arena.
“We continue to send our thoughts and prayers to our players, fans, and all of those in the community impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and are grateful to those selfless health care workers and first responders who work tirelessly on the front lines,” Engelbert said in the statement on Friday.