Cathy Engelbert named first-ever WNBA commissioner

Photo Credit: Christa Neu/Lehigh University

We have to admit…when Mark Tatum said at the WNBA draft that the hope was the W would have a new leader prior to the start of the regular season, he delivered.

When it was hinted that this would be a different sort of hire, they delivered.

In a day that was mostly, up until that point, filled with Liz Cambage news, the AP’s Doug Feinberg dropped a bombshell with a report that a new league commissioner, as opposed to a “president” would be announced today.

Other outlets also confirmed the news, then it was made official during a noon airing of SportsCenter on ESPN.

Engelbert will join the WNBA once her four-year term as CEO of Deloitte comes to a close. That will happen on July 17…approximately a week prior to the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas. Meaning this year’s All-Star is shaping up to be quite the event.

It will likely be how Engelbert welcomes herself officially to the WNBA as Mark Tatum transitions out of his interim role. There’s also this supposedly related to the game as well.

The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.

–NBA commissioner Adam Silver (per league press release)

Hiring someone with a strong business acumen was crucial for the WNBA both on a short-term and long-term basis. For a short-term basis because Engelbert may be able to bridge the gap existing between the owners and the WNBPA heading into what is sure to be a contentious CBA negotiating period prior to a prospective 2020 season.

It was also important long-term because the WNBA has never had someone in charge of the league that held the title of commissioner. The tenures of Val Ackerman, Donna Orender, Laurel Richie and Lisa Borders were all short-lived tenures.

Crucial for the WNBA is someone who looks at the job as a long-term thing instead of merely a stepping stone to something bigger and better in their view. Hiring someone from a major accounting firm who also has extensive basketball acumen could be what the league needs to bring some stability to it, but only time will tell.

Engelbert also brings a progressive background to her new post, including a 16-week family leave policy she implemented through her days at Deloitte.

I see tremendous opportunity to bolster visibility for the sport of women’s basketball, empower the players, and enhance fan engagement. I look forward to using my business expertise and passion for basketball to promote women in the game and beyond, and to working with the teams and world-class athletes to help grow this league into a thriving business.

–Cathy Engelbert (per league press release)

She played basketball while at Lehigh University, where she played under current Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.

Engelbert has been named one of Forbes’ most powerful women the last four years and has been listed among Crain’s 50 Most Powerful Women in New York.

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