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WNBA to hold a shortened 22-game season without fans

Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics might be headed back to the court soon. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The WNBA will play a shortened 22-game season in Bradenton, Fla., without fans in attendance, the league announced Monday.

All 12 teams will report to IMG Academy in early July, and the site will host training camp and games and provide housing. The league did not announce safety guidelines that will be in place to protect players and staff amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and a contract with IMG Academy is still being finalized.

The WNBA also announced players would receive full pay and benefits.

“We are finalizing a season start plan to build on the tremendous momentum generated in the league during the offseason,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement, “and have used the guiding principles of health and safety of players and essential staff to establish necessary and extensive protocols. We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan.”

WNBA proposes 22-game season to start July 24 with full pay for players

The NBA has outlined a similar scenario for its teams finishing the 2019-20 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, with limited contact outside a bubblelike environment. The WNBA is still working out details with the players’ union, but a recent proposal included opt-out options for players uncomfortable playing in the current environment. Those with high-risk medical conditions could decide not to play and still receive full pay. Any players without a medical excuse can opt not to play without punishment but would not be paid.

The announcement outlined training camps beginning in early July and the season starting in late July. The recent proposal specified a July 24 start date. The original May 15 start date was postponed because of the pandemic, and the normal 36-game schedule will be cut nearly in half. The league had some flexibility in its schedule because it had planned for a break from late July to early August to allow players to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed to 2021.

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IMG Academy is a prep school and popular athletic training destination for amateur and professional athletes. The facilities include four basketball courts.

The league’s announcement also stressed a commitment to giving players a platform to drive actionable social justice reform as protests of racial inequality and police brutality continue across the country.

“We have always been at the forefront of initiatives with strong support of #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, the LGBTQ+ community, gun control, voting rights, #MeToo, mental health and the list goes on,” Women’s National Basketball Players Association President Nneka Ogwumike said in the statement. “This is not only necessary from a humanitarian perspective, but it may be one of the biggest opportunities that this league has and will ever have.”

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