The WNBA, in a one-sentence statement, announced on Tuesday afternoon the Las Vegas Aces would be charged with a forfeit for failing to appear at Capital One Arena for their game on Friday night against the Washington Mystics.
The Mystics thus get a win added to their record in what has become a jumbled playoff chase in which the league’s top two seeds receive byes into the WNBA semifinals.
Washington (18-11) later earned a 103-98 win at Phoenix to clinch a playoff spot and move into sole possession of third place, one game behind the Atlanta Dream.
The league had issued a statement Friday night calling the game a cancellation rather than a postponement, an indication it would not be rescheduled after the original tip-off was pushed back an hour to 8 p.m. because of the Aces’ lengthy travel delays.
“We worked extensively with both the Aces and Mystics to come up with a workable solution,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement, adding that lack of future arena availability was also a factor. “While not ideal, it was the best available solution to accommodate both our fans and the scheduling challenges. Since the Aces chose not to play, the result is a forfeit.”
The Aces arrived at Reagan National Airport around 2:20 p.m. on Friday following a harrowing 25-plus hours trying to get to the District. They initially had planned to depart from Las Vegas early Thursday afternoon on a direct flight that was canceled after eight hours of delays.
The team instead boarded a red-eye to Dallas, where multiple delays left them waiting in the airport for a flight that departed at approximately 11:20 a.m. Eastern on Friday.
Players tweeted about their travel woes before boarding the flight from DFW to DCA, with guard Kayla McBride, the Aces’ leading scorer, suggesting it wouldn’t be fair to be forced to play under those conditions.
Aces players subsequently issued a joint statement indicating their decision stemmed from fatigue and injury concerns.
The team did not provide a statement following Tuesday’s decision by the league, but Women’s National Basketball Players Association Director of Operations Terri Jackson addressed a need to reexamine the league’s policy prohibiting flying charter because of the possibility of a competitive imbalance.
“As the players’ union, we remain hopeful that the league will accept our proposal to form a joint task force that will develop scheduling/travel policies and guidelines, which could be implemented as soon as the 2019 season,” Jackson said. “As always, the health and safety of the players remains the highest priority.”
The Aces last played Sunday at Connecticut, where they lost to the Sun, 109-88, in just the third game in two weeks for Las Vegas.
Following the game, Sun players Chiney Ogwumike and Layshia Clarendon expressed support for the Aces’ decision to sit out. Ogwumike is a vice president of the WNBPA executive committee, and Clarendon is the committee’s first vice president.
Sun Coach and General Manager Curt Miller, however, said his team would have played had it been faced with the same situation as the Aces.
The league has not said if it is considering penalizing the Aces, whether in the form of a fine or impacting what could be a lottery selection in this year’s WNBA draft if Las Vegas misses the playoffs.
The Aces were two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot heading into Tuesday night’s slate.
Other ramifications of the Aces’ decision could include the Mystics securing a top-two seed over another club that owns the head-to-head tiebreaker because Washington received a forfeit win in the aftermath of Las Vegas’s no-show.
The first two rounds of the WNBA playoffs are single elimination, a scenario all teams prefer to avoid.
Washington, however, did advance to the WNBA semifinals last season as the No. 6 seed. It was the Mystics’ first trip to the semifinals since 2002.
Thibault expressed strong disagreement with the Aces’ decision and Mystics forward Monique Currie, a WNBPA vice president, while empathizing with Las Vegas’ circumstances, said she would have played were the situation reversed.
“I’ve been through this when I coached at Connecticut,” Thibault said Friday night shortly after the first cancellation in league history. “We bussed from Cleveland to New York and we played a game where we walked in with 52 minutes to go.
“I understand that it’s a hardship, but everybody has hardships.”
Kevin Blackistone contributed to this report.