Players nearing approval of new labor deal, including flexible salary cap

The WNBA players union neared ratification of a new six-year
contract with the league Monday in a deal that includes increases
in wages and a dual salary-cap system.

Approval of the contract by the league's 165 players, a large
number of whom are playing overseas, was running more than 95
percent in favor among ballots cast. About half of the players have

The collective bargaining agreement, reached Friday and
announced Monday, includes an increase in the maximum salary from
$93,000 to $95,000 this season, with $2,000 increases each year.
Veteran minimums will increase by about $1,000 to $50,000, and
rookie minimums will increase from $32,600 to $34,500 for the
four-month season.

"We are happy with the way the deal turned out," said Pam
Wheeler, executive director of the WNBA players union. "We made
significant economic strides, we made some significant changes to
the system, and enhanced the quality of life for players both
during and after the season."

The contract through 2013 includes an annual increase of 3
percent in the basic cap, from $722,000 in 2007 to $750,000 this
year. Teams will now be allowed to exceed that figure by a maximum
of approximately 4 percent each year, with the cap increasing to
$869,000 in 2013, and a 'flex' maximum of $913,000.

"We're extremely pleased to have long-term stability and to
emerge from this process with a unified outlook among ownership and
players," WNBA president Donna Orender said in a release
announcing the deal. "The new collective bargaining agreement,
coupled with our new television deal and increased activation on
the part of our sponsors provides further affirmation regarding the
growth, popularity and quality of our game."

Last July, the WNBA signed an eight-year deal with ESPN/ABC that
begins in 2009 and will pay the league an undisclosed sum for
rights fees for the first time.

The WNBA also announced the expansion draft will be held Feb. 6
for the Atlanta Dream, the 14th team in the league. The WNBA begins
its 12th season May 17 when the Los Angeles Sparks play the
defending champion Phoenix Mercury on ABC.

This is the third collective bargaining agreement for the
league. In 2003, negotiations went into late April and the
five-year deal was signed less than a month before the start of the

"I don't know if it was necessarily looking at that as the
impetus to get things done early as much as just trying to get the
deal done so the expansion draft can take place and other orders of
business can be taken care of for the WNBA to run properly and be
successful," Wheeler said.

Rookies will still sign three-year deals with team options for a
fourth year, though players will see increases of 10 percent in the
third year and 15 percent in the fourth. Players will still need
four years of experience to be restricted free agents, and six
years to be unrestricted.

Since 2003, teams have been able to designate two 'core'
players, who automatically receive the maximum salary. That will
drop to one player starting in 2009, and each player now will be
allowed to have the core designation a maximum of five times. The
core player also will receive $2,500 on top of the maximum salary.

"We feel very fortunate to have completed a deal that we think
will help veterans and younger players alike," said Indiana Fever
star Tamika Catchings, the president of the players association.