Sports drafts restrict the labor rights of athletes in ways that no other endeavor in professional life does, as Kevin Arnovitz has written about for ESPN. When a software engineer graduates, they are not forced to work for Facebook, though they would prefer to work at Google or another of the frightful five.
Only in sports does a worker have to work somewhere regardless of how incompetent or dysfunctional a given workplace is. Sabrina Ionescue lucked out with a new ownership group in New York, instead of James Dolan, the worst owner in professional basketball.
However, Satou Sabally and Bella Alarie may very well have chosen to play elsewhere had they been given the choice. Having two stars, Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins, in two years force their way out and a coach who is currently named in a lawsuit around a relationship with a former player, does not inspire confidence.
Maybe a player is very political and they would prefer not to play for the Atlanta Dream, with an owner who is a conservative politician accused of engaging in insider trading while ignoring the early days of a pandemic.
To be clear, none of these examples are digs at players currently playing for their teams. Atlanta is likely to be my #1 League Pass team, but it would be better for players to have options. And it would not hurt interest in the league. A three hour event on ESPN including Sabrina Ionescue announcing the team she has chosen to sign with would be incredibly compelling.
The salary cap would still exist, (abolishing that is a topic for another day) such that it’s not likely Ionescue would be signing with the Mystics if a WNBA team had to bid closer to what she she would be worth, not holding down her pay through a draft. Though really, how many people would complain at getting to see Ionescue and Elena Delle Donne play together. I certainly wouldn’t.
But the chances of the WNBA abandoning the draft entirely is unlikely. However abolishing the third round, something the NBA does not have, seems far more plausible.
How many third round picks are expected to make their team’s rosters this year? Mikayla Pivec has a chance with Atlanta. Any others? What is the purpose of having a round of a draft that ties a player to a particular team, but does not give the player even a 50% chance that the player will play for that team?
Over the past two years, not a single third round pick is with the team that picked them. In each draft three players got cups of coffee with the team that drafted them in the third round. 29 minutes total for players drafted in 2018 and 96 minutes in 2019, by my count. Temi Fagbenle was a third round pick in 2016 and has had a good WNBA career, but likely she would have anyways had she signed with Minnesota as a free agent.
With no third round, players who were picked in the third round would have options on where to sign training camp deals. Juicy Lundrum has real talent and a team that was light on guards might give her a serious look, but what are the odds she actually makes the Connecticut Sun? A team that just made the finals is not likely to take a third round guard.
The WNBA should reconsider tying up a player’s labor rights for minimal benefit even to the teams, who simply bring the players in only to cut them. Making the WNBA is hard enough as it is. Tying up a player’s choice in the third round should end.