CBA opt-out deadline looms for WNBA, players' union

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike is the president of the WNBA players' union executive council. Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire

Throughout what was a fun 2018 WNBA season with a lot of peak performances, there also was dissatisfaction expressed by several players regarding salaries, travel and other aspects of life in the league. So with a deadline approaching, will the players decide to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement with the WNBA? We'll soon find out.

The current CBA went into effect in March 2014 and runs through October 2021. However, both the league and the union have the right to opt out now, which would terminate the agreement after the 2019 season. Either side has until Oct. 31 to exercise that provision.

The WNBA would not comment on whether or not it has considered opting out. The union, the Women's National Basketball Players Association, has put the issue to a vote.

The players, many of whom are with their overseas teams, have cast their ballots through an online voting process that was open from Oct. 14-21. Terri Jackson, the WNBPA director of operations, said the votes will be reviewed and certified.

Then the union will inform its CBA committee of the results, followed by the WNBA players as a whole, and then the league. The CBA committee is a group of 35: the players' executive council, led by president Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, the board of player representatives (primary and alternate) for each team, and select other players.

The CBA committee has spent the past several months studying whether opting out is the best option, taking part in conference calls and attending two in-person meetings. One of those was with the union's legal counsel, the Dechert law firm, in Washington, D.C. That meeting also was attended by financial consultants from Deloitte, plus representatives from both the NBA and NFL players' unions, all to help provide advice for the WNBA players.

Jackson said she's proud of the effort put forth by the CBA committee, specifically, and the WNBA players in general to inform themselves as much as possible before making their decisions.

The WNBA began in 1997, and the union was formed in 1998. There have been four previous CBAs signed: in 1999, 2003, 2008 and 2014. Some players -- including the Sparks' Candace Parker recently -- have said they thought there wasn't enough engagement by the union membership as a whole before the 2014 agreement. Jackson, who took over as union head in 2016 after previously working for the NCAA, has endeavored to make sure that isn't the case now.

"The players took their time working through a pretty complete presentation on the business of basketball," Jackson said. "They understand very well what decisions the league and the teams have made since this CBA was negotiated.

"With the information provided by the league, they are learning the WNBA's business model. As they do on the court, they have put in the work. And whatever their decision, it will be thoughtful, and it will be what's right for protecting the legacy of the W."

If the players opt out, it will not impact the 2019 season. But a new CBA would need to be in place before the 2020 season, which is also an Olympic year.

The WNBA currently has two other major priorities to take care of: appointing a new president and finding a buyer for the New York Liberty, an original league franchise that has been for sale since last year.

Lisa Borders stepped down as WNBA president earlier this month to become president and CEO of Time's Up, an organization advocating for women in the workplace. Two other WNBA executives -- chief operating officer Jay Parry and senior vice president of league operations Ann Rodriguez -- also left the league this year.

Thus, the WNBA will be replacing the bulk of its leadership. In light of that, Jackson said the union offered to extend the opt-out date past Oct. 31, possibly giving the league a chance to get a president in place before a decision was made. WNBA officials declined the extension.

Jackson also requested the players have some substantive input on the next WNBA president, such as meeting with the finalists for the job. She said league officials indicated to her it was open to that.