Commentary

WNBA still in a holding pattern

League has no CBA, no season schedule and no confirmation about L.A.'s future

Originally Published: January 31, 2014
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

Paula MadisonAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Sparks' future has been in limbo since Paula Madison surrendered ownership of the franchise.

We know when and where -- July 19 in Phoenix -- the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game will take place.

But what about the rest of the games this season? How about the date of the WNBA draft? For that matter, how many teams will be in the league? Will there be any change in the roster size?

As of the last day of January, there is still much more unknown than known about the coming WNBA season. Although everyone does still seem to believe there will be a season.

The league's collective bargaining agreement expired in September during the 2013 WNBA playoffs. The players' chief hope for the new deal is to expand the roster size from 11 to 12.

But even if that happens, how many jobs will be available in the WNBA in 2014? That is still dependent on whether the Los Angeles Sparks remain in business. Either in Los Angeles or elsewhere.

On Thursday, longtime WNBA star Tamika Catchings was in Kansas City, where she appeared as a keynote speaker Friday for a local women's sports awards luncheon. Catchings is the president of the WNBA players' association.

We discussed the retirement of David Stern, her thoughts on her future career, her hopes for the Indiana Fever this season. And then … the topic she's not supposed to talk about, the one that is of premium importance to the WNBA.

How's that CBA going, Tamika?

[+] EnlargeUS Airways Center
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe US Airways Center in Phoenix will host the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game.

OK, I didn't ask it like that. Rather, I just inquired if she was optimistic a deal would get done.

"It's a fair question," she said. "I am very optimistic that when it comes down to it, everybody wants to see the best for the WNBA, on both sides. Going down that path, I'm optimistic we'll get an agreement … soon."

On the personal front, Catchings is really starting to think about her life after playing basketball. She will be 35 this July, and her hope is to play at least through 2016, to have another shot at the Olympics.

"I'm trying to figure out what I want to do next," Catchings said. "I don't want to get to the point where I retire, and then I think about it. These next couple of years, I'm trying to hone in on some things that interest me, and get involved in more opportunities."

Catchings says she doesn't want to coach, but she is intrigued by front-office work in either the WNBA or NBA. Catchings is not playing overseas this winter, which is why she was available for this appearance in Kansas City. Which is the city where, back in 1998, she won her NCAA title as a freshman with Tennessee.

At that point, the WNBA had only its inaugural 1997 season under its belt. That the league would still be around in 2014 is something the 18-year-old Catchings couldn't have been sure of when she was hoisting the national championship trophy. Now, she's a 12-year WNBA veteran.

Catchings wishes there wasn't this uncertainly in Los Angeles. It's a franchise seemingly in limbo, with no information coming from the league as to what is next for the Sparks.

"You look at what L.A. stands for in our league -- being one of the founding teams," she said. "L.A. is kind of in a world of its own, because it's such a big market. I wouldn't say necessarily that I'm worried, but it's more, 'What do we have to do to figure this out?'"

Of course, she has been through worrisome times with her own Indiana franchise. Going into the 2009 season, Pacers ownership had indicated the Fever might have an expiration date if they had a lackluster season attendance-wise.

Indiana made the WNBA Finals that year, losing in five games to Phoenix. Whether things really were as dire as the worst-case scenario seemed then, the fact remains that results on the court -- and the fans' response to that success -- elevated the Fever. Indiana won the WNBA title in 2012, and the franchise now seems on solid ground financially.

Throughout this offseason, we've seen other signs of optimism throughout the WNBA. Atlanta has a new coach (Michael Cooper) and a new general manager (Angela Taylor) -- both veterans of the league who left and returned.

"To be honest, I wasn't sure if I would ever be back in the WNBA," said Taylor, who previously worked in the league office, with Minnesota, and then with Washington. "I did know I was still passionate about it. My ultimate hope was for the WNBA to be successful, whether I was involved or not. And I knew one thing I still wanted was to win a WNBA championship."

So in talking with Catchings, Taylor, and various other coaches and general managers over the past week, the overall feeling I get is that no one thinks the sky is falling. Yet there is a resignation that the league's loose ends are not tied down. Everyone remains in a holding pattern for now as the calendar is about to turn to February, with no CBA, no season schedule, no confirmation about the Sparks' future.

Hey, but at least we can make plans for July 19 in Phoenix. Right?

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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