Remember when Howard Megdal at Sports Illustrated released an in-depth report about how the New York Liberty and its owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai had got themselves into collective bargaining agreement (CBA) hot water?
For those that need a refresher on what the Megdal report centered on, it centered on the Liberty chartering flights to ensure its players would arrive on time for home games. CBA jargon dictates that the reason why chartered flights – a common issue within our WNBA circles – are only not approved because of the belief they would create a competitive disadvantage.
That, of course, was debunked by the fact that the Liberty went through its worst stretch of the season last year when New York had flown the charge. The Liberty at the Olympic break were almost assured one of the eight playoff berths before a late-season lull nearly cost New York a playoff berth and nearly sent them back to the lottery that the franchise had been mired in since the two years at Westchester.
When the report came out – and when it was revealed that the response within the WNBA was to punish the Liberty for addressing an issue many a player was hoping the league itself would address – it looked less like a Lib scandal and more like a WNBA issue it should have already addressed.
Already, we are in the beginning stages of the 2022 season and a number of teams have already experienced travel woes. Among those has been the Phoenix Mercury, Connecticut Sun and the defending champion Chicago Sky.
Obviously, New York has other issues it has to worry about that right now are perhaps more pressing than chartered planes. The Liberty, after winning its season opener at home against those same Sun, have dropped six consecutive games – including a Keesusk rematch that was a rout in favor of Connecticut.
If there was any season that could have used chartered flights to ensure the travel issues of previous WNBA seasons not named the bubble season of 2020 did not repeat themselves, it was the 2022 season. Let us remember that this year’s WNBA season features 36 regular season, plus an All-Star weekend to take place in Chicago plus an updated playoff format that paves the way for even more postseason games.
Megdal’s report even mentioned how the Tsais even presented a proposal to the WNBA for them to cover the cost of chartered planes for the next three seasons. It was voted down by the Board of Governors – a decision that has to baffle even the most novice of W onlooker.
At least three teams – Chicago, Phoenix and Connecticut – have already been through travel problems during the 2022 season. Given how WNBA travel typically operates, it is almost a guarantee that even more teams will have their fair share of travel trouble spots prior to when we crown a 2022 WNBA champion later on this year. In those three teams, we are mentioning a team that finished with the best regular season record in 2021 in the Sun (plus has the league’s reigning MVP in Jonquel Jones) and the two teams that participated in the Finals last season in the Sky and Mercury.
This means that the Tsais will almost assuredly be sitting prettier than they already are. Who knows how pretty the Liberty’s owners will be sitting after the 26th season is in the books given what has already transpired on the travel matter.
At the very least when the Tsais did put the Liberty on chartered planes in 2021, it showed a willingness of at least a team’s owners to rectify an issue that commissioner Cathy Engelbert has only paid lip service to up to this point. If it is a CBA violation that saw New York receive a $500,000 fine, then the CBA is going to be the way the WNBPA handles this issue in the coming seasons.
It must also be acknowledged that the fine the Liberty received for what was unveiled in Megdal’s Sports Illustrated was 10 times the fine the NBA levied against the seafoam, black and copper’s Barclays Center partners in crime – the Brooklyn Nets – for allowing Kyrie Irving to sashay around New York City’s COVID-19 protocols at the time. For most of the 2021-22 NBA season, Irving could not play in New York City because he was unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Engelbert will almost certainly be asked about this at All-Star weekend in Chicago because the early season travel trouble spots the WNBA has already encountered in 2022 should be a wake-up call. Instead of punishing the Liberty for what it did, the W’s chartered plane era needs to takeoff.