The WNBA 2020 Draft will be a virtual event this year, the league announced Thursday.
The WNBA confirmed that the Draft will still take place on April 17 as originally scheduled, but without the presence of players, fans or the media due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"The WNBA Draft is a time to celebrate exceptional athletes whose hard work and dreams come true with their Draft teams," said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. "Protecting the health and well-being of our prospects, players, employees, and everyone connected to our game, as well as the general public, is paramount."
Draft logistics are still being worked on with ESPN, although Engelbert confirmed that he would announce the election that night on the league's network of broadcast partners. She just isn't sure where she will do it; It could be your home, league offices, or somewhere else.
The New York Liberty has the No. 1 pick and is expected to recruit Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon, who won the AP College Basketball Player of the Year earlier this week.
The commissioner, who is starting her first full season this year after starting work in the middle of last year, said the league will honor Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester in the Draft. The teens were among the nine people who died in the helicopter crash on January 26, including Kobe Bryant.
Engelbert said the league also plans to honor the former NBA star in the draft and next season.
The virtual draft is the only certainty that Engelbert has about the upcoming season that is slated to begin on May 15.
She said the league has discussed a variety of pandemic-dependent scenarios. Two WNBA cities are the virus' main hot spots: New York and Seattle. The Las Vegas casino, where the Aces play, is closed, as is the Connecticut Sun's home stadium.
"There is a lot of logistics involved from the start of training camp to the start of the season," said Engelbert. "The main guiding principle is always the health of the players, the fans and the employees. We are not taking any stage of the season off the table, including the season finale on May 15."
While it seems unlikely at the moment, the league will kick off on May 15 due to the virus, Engelbert said the WNBA could start its season before the NBA or other sports leagues resume.
"A league of our size and scale is smaller than other major leagues," he said. "We could give the track this season before other leagues, since we only have 12 teams and 144 players."
The postponement of the 2020 Olympics also gives the WNBA some flexibility with its schedule, if the season doesn't start on time. The league would go on a one-month hiatus starting July 10 to allow players to participate in the Tokyo Games.
"We were already planning the stage around what our season would be like if we played games during our monthly parenthesis," he said. "We have an advantage here to use that time. We are already analyzing the availability of the arena and how to obtain transmissions of our game in that period."
Engelbert is also exploring a number of other possibilities.
"Every day brings new information, we are not locking, taking anything off the table," said the commissioner. "It is premature to do that. We are following the direction of public, state and local officials.
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