How WNBA roster rules cost the league money at the trade deadline — Cheryl Reeve talks Lynx revival — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Aug. 2, 2023

In my other work, my non-women’s sports work, I cover Major League Baseball. So come July, the number of column inches covering the MLB trade deadline — who is a buyer, who is a seller, what deals fit, who might go — it is hard to overstate how huge it is as a driver of coverage for the league.

Continue reading with a subscription to The IX

Get unlimited access to our exclusive coverage of a varitety of women’s sports, including our premium newsletter by subscribing today!

Join today

All of which I kept thinking about after hearing Cheryl Reeve, talking about the current roster system, say this last Friday night, prior to Minnesota’s game against New York: “Obviously, the economics, it seems like ownership recognizes this isn’t great. I don’t know economically, if it ends up being all that much better. You know, there’s probably some solutions that we could come pretty darn close to the economics of what it currently is.”

And while a good bit of that analysis comes from the spending required to keep rosters bigger, or salary caps flexible — the outlay, in other words — much of what isn’t measured is the economic value of, as Reeve discussed it, a league that can put its best product on the floor, in part by having players who have played in and are familiar with specific team systems ready to help when injuries strike, instead of floating from team to team.

But there are numerous second-order reasons to add roster spots and salary cap flexibility, too, and one of them is the WNBA trade deadline, which is fast approaching, now on August 7. You may be forgiven, WNBA fan, for not being tuned into that deadline, or spending very much time worrying about it at all.

That you aren’t isn’t your fault. I have check-in conversations across the league, regularly, as part of my work covering the WNBA. I ask a lot of questions. But most teams? I don’t need to ask about their trade deadline plans. Because if they’re over the cap already? They don’t have any.

What this means, ultimately, is that the WNBA trade deadline, instead of serving as a storyline launching pad into the playoff race homestretch and postseason, is a missed opportunity.

We don’t even have to wonder whether a change in flexibility would alter the coverage landscape, because we’ve seen it, out of the most recent CBA, in free agency. It was not long ago that I had a member of a WNBA team’s PR staff call and tell me that the addition of a veteran, unlikely to start, was a seismic move, one that would change the balance of power in the league and serve as the biggest offseason move anyone would make.

He was right about the latter. Not the former, though: she started one game for her new team. But free agency was so constricted by the rules of the league, few players of note ever moved. And the offseason coverage reflected this.

My question would be: even if all the other ancillary advantages of increasing roster sizes, including an injured list that provided extra flexibility, and altering a system designed to only add players once enough others are injured to allow it — definitionally, reactive rather than proactive — are taken out of the equation, what is the coverage of a bustling WNBA trade deadline alone worth to the league?

Would it be worth more than preserving the current system? That is my suspicion. At the very least, to paraphrase Cheryl Reeve, I think it would come pretty darn close.

The IX Newsletter: Six different women’s sports in your inbox every week!

Subscribe now and join us, just $6 a month or $60 a year. It’s the women’s sports media network we all wished for, and now it’s here!

This week in women’s basketball

Diana Taurasi is nearing history.

Alyssa Thomas is making a strong MVP case.

Danielle Robinson is more than just her stats.

The Minnesota Lynx are ahead of schedule.

Annie Costabile writes about Elizabeth Williams.

And don’t miss Jenn Hatfield on Brittney Sykes.

For the WNBA’s 28th season, save 28% on your subscription to The Next!

The 2024 WNBA season is here, and our staff of writers is still working hard to bring you everything you need to know about every team in the league. Get started with a paid subscription, which helps support all of our writers, editors and photographers who work tirelessly to bring you this coverage, and save 28%!

Five at The IX: Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx

Want women’s hockey content? Subscribe to The Ice Garden!

Here at The IX, we’re collaborating with The Ice Garden to bring you Hockey Friday. And if you want the women’s hockey goodness 24/7? Well, you should subscribe to The Ice Garden now!

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.