LAS VEGAS – WNBA All-Stars Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier are leading the charge to combat the controversial prioritization clause of the 2020 WNBA collective bargaining agreement and took the next step at Saturday’s All-Star Game to gain interest for their upcoming endeavor.
The former UConn teammates are creating a new women’s basketball league that will take place every January to March under the title Unrivaled. The Miami-based Unrivaled league will consist of 30 female basketball players on six teams competing in 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 exhibitions.
Collier confirmed that planning for Unrivaled was underway during All-Star weekend in Las Vegas.
“I think everyone’s really excited for it,” the Minnesota Lynx forward said. “It’s been really cool talking to everyone, and we have a bunch of meetings this weekend just to try and get it off the ground.”
An estimated half of all WNBA players have been playing overseas during the fall-to-spring offseason in recent years. Their international seasons sometimes overlap with the beginning of the regular season. The prioritization clause, which takes effect this year, is the WNBA’s effort to encourage players to prioritize the league over their foreign commitments.
Players will be fined if they do not report to their teams by May 1 or the start of training camp, whichever comes first. A season-long suspension is issued for players who don’t report by the start of the season.
The league hoped the new clause would help increase player loyalty, but since players receive higher salaries abroad, the opposite effect could take place, and the league could start seeing top-level talent leave the WNBA permanently.
Unrivaled is a possible solution to this issue granted the participants can make a suitable amount of money to incentivize them from playing abroad each offseason. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert stated Saturday that the WNBA will gladly support players remaining in the United States during offseasons.
“We want to become the center of women’s basketball,” Engelbert said. “Not just during our season but all year round… We hope (Unrivaled is) successful and we’ll support them in a lot of different ways from a marketing perspective.”
The WNBA has stated that although they support the idea of marketing Unrivaled and its players, it will not fund the new league. Instead, funding will come from a number of private investors.
“I think what we’re hoping to get out of sponsors is people who are excited to support women’s sports, specifically women’s basketball, and want to be a part of the change,” Stewart said.
Unrivaled’s ultimate goal is for player salaries to equal or come close to matching WNBA salaries, despite still falling short of international salaries. Stewart, one of the frontrunners for the 2023 WNBA MVP Award, is making $180,000 this season with the New York Liberty. She reportedly makes $1.5 million playing overseas every winter.
Recent events involving Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner’s nine months of detainment while traveling to join her Russian Premier League team have caused many players to look for safer alternatives.
“I’m never going back overseas, so it’s safe to say I will be here,” Griner said. “If I’m playing in (Unrivaled) or if I’m just being there supporting, I’ll definitely be around it. I think it’s amazing what they’re doing.”
There has been no announcement on which players will be invited to take part in the exclusive league, but it’s speculated that All-Stars and other well-established veterans will take priority. Participants will be chosen by a committee whose members have also yet to be announced. The committee will not feature any active players, however, to prevent a conflict of interest.
No matter who participates, Unrivaled presents a compelling compromise to satisfy the WNBA’s prioritization clause, ease players’ offseason traveling apprehensions and gain more domestic hype for women’s basketball during the lengthy WNBA offseason.
“Everyone’s been really positive,” Collier said. “Everyone wants to be a part of it, which is great to hear.”