When a WNBA team decided not to play after a travel nightmare, basketball fans and analysts alike were stunned by the league’s response.
After the team had to take a loss, it sparked a new conversation around the treatment of female players versus their male counterparts.
The Las Vegas Aces were en route to Washington D.C. last Thursday for their game against the Washington Mystics when a series of flight delays and cancelations turned their cross-country travel day into a 25-hour ordeal.
The team’s original 1 p.m. departure out of Las Vegas got pushed back until after 1 a.m. when the flight finally took off. After a nearly five hour layover in Dallas, the team eventually arrived at their hotel around 4 p.m. the next day.
With only four hours before the 8 p.m. tip-off, the Aces decided as a team to cancel the game looking out for the health and safety of the players.
The team apologized to fans, but said in a statement that taking the court “would put us at too great a risk for injury.”
The team’s starting guard Kayla McBride, 26, tweeted throughout the ordeal citing the continued delays and lack of sleep, eventually commenting on the notion that they would still be expected to play. “No shoot around. No night of sleep. No beds. No food … and you want us to play? Oh OK.”
No shoot around. No night of sleep. No beds. No food. Right now we will land in DC at 245pm that has us going straight to the gym bc of traffic and bags…and you want us to play? Oh ok.
— Kayla McBride (@kaymac_2123) August 3, 2018
On Tuesday the WNBA ruled that the Aces would forfeit their game against the Mystics that was canceled and take a loss for missing the game. The penalty of taking the loss cuts deep — it strikes a blow to the team’s playoff hopes.
Since the league’s decision, fans and analysts have discussed the disparity between how the WNBA handles player travel compared to the NBA.
Professional men’s teams take chartered flights for away games, while women fly commercial airlines. The NBA contract also prevents teams from being forced to play the same day they cross two time zones, a provision the WNBA rules lack.
USA Today sports columnist and ABC News contributor Christine Brennan said there is a disparity between the “perks” within the two leagues.
“They would love to be getting the perks that the men get…unfortunately women’s sports just aren’t there yet,” Brennan said. “It certainly was troublesome for the players.”
Carolyn Swords, the Aces’ WNBA players association representative, said the team was in contact with the union from the time the delays began Thursday evening and the union was then in contact with the WNBA to find a way to postpone the game, according to ESPNW.
ESPNW reporter for women’s basketball Mechelle Voepel said the league has previously chosen not to comment on chartering flights for WNBA teams.
When I asked WNBA earlier this year about possibility of sometimes using charters and other travel issues, they did not comment. Of course, it’s because those things are going to come up in collective bargaining, so league is pretty circumspect about saying anything.
— Mechelle Voepel (@MechelleV) August 7, 2018
In an ESPNW column following the decision, Voepel wrote that teams in the league have already experienced difficulties this season due to a compacted schedule, including back-to-back road games on consecutive days.
“The Aces’ travel issues bring up the long-simmering question of whether the league should have charter flights. But that is part of the bigger issues of WNBA compensation and working conditions that will be negotiated for the next collective bargaining agreement,” Voepel explained. “Discussion about CBA issues has been constant throughout this season.”
Voepel added that there are even disparities within the WNBA since certain teams are “better positioned” than others.
“The league prohibits charter flights because of financial and competitive-balance issues,” Voepel said. “Some WNBA teams are better positioned — particularly those owned by NBA franchises — to use charter flights. And that’s a problem in a 12-team league that has put a premium on trying to keep a level playing field.”
The WNBA ruling has sparked a conversation that could pave the way for future discussions around fairness for professional female athletes.