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The WNBA Takes the Lead by Hosting a Virtual Draft

CIARA LONG, HOST: Like everything else, sports leagues are having to adapt to coronavirus realities. The NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball have all suspended their games. And yesterday, the WNBA announced it will move forward with plans for its annual draft next month. But it will do everything virtually.

Howard Megdal is a freelance writer, and editor of The IX Newsletter, who recently wrote about the move for the New York Times.

We started by talking about how women’s basketball had actually been building momentum in the past weeks.

HOWARD MEGDAL: We are just a couple of months out from the collective bargaining agreement being reached between the players and the league that involved a massive amount of new investment in higher salaries. And so the league was poised—and potentially still is poised on the other side of this—to be able to take advantage of a new and different reality. And then this comes along and it knocks things aside in a way that's very frustrating to everyone in sports, but particularly for those who care about the women's game and opportunity at a critical juncture.

LONG: So I wanted to talk to you about the WNBA's decision to hold their draft virtually. What does the draft typically mean for women's basketball players? I mean, it's a big moment.

MEGDAL: It’s huge. It's my favorite thing to cover, is the draft. Because you see, every five minutes, a woman's dream come true. Something she's worked for her entire life, right, as long as she can remember playing basketball. And you see it again. And again. It's a big moment for families and for teams, as well, who are looking to add talent and try and come up with a scenario by which they win a WNBA championship.

So it's disappointing in that way, but the glass-half-full way of looking at it, of course, is now players get to experience that moment and in a time when no one is getting to do much of anything. The WNBA, in a way it doesn't typically have, has the stage all to itself. There's no other live sports, there's not even another draft. The NFL is going to hold their draft the following week. So the WNBA gets to chart its own course and have the eyes of the nation on it all at once.

LONG: And how does the stop in college play impact players who are on the edge of the draft?

MEGDAL: It hurts them. It absolutely does. There are players who can—and have—year after year proven themselves in March in the biggest moments. And then there are people like you said, on the periphery, people who maybe wouldn't get drafted, but they have a great performance. The right coach and general manager sees it, and suddenly you get a second or third round pick. And you end up in camp and you're able to impress people. So, absolutely. In ways we're never going to be able to measure, the professional opportunities have shifted based on this happening.

LONG: And if the season suspends or it can’t start for any reason, will players still be paid?

MEGDAL: None of that has been decided. That’s the thing, you know, Major League Baseball just came up with a framework for it. But as of right now, the league still hasn't even officially postponed its opener. So I think it's a frustrating thing for everyone involved, but there's an understanding that it's just not possible to long range plan.

LONG: Thanks so much for your time today, I really appreciate it.

MEGDAL: Thanks for having me on the radio show.


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