Crystal Basketball: Fight over (charter) flights will be why WNBPA opts out of CBA in 2025

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Over the last few years, the debate over chartered flights has become a hotly contested subject within WNBA circles. While the New York Liberty got in hot water with the WNBA over this issue in 2021, we have actually seen the W become more progressive on this topic over the years. 

Charters were addressed by Cathy Engelbert during last year’s All-Star festivities in Chicago when she announced that charters will be provided to the two teams participating in the Finals. Those two teams turned out to be the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun. 

The WNBA’s chartered flights program was expanded for this season. Then an unfortunate incident occurred in Dallas at one of its two airports that reignited the call for chartered flights. 

A social media shock jock by the name of Alex Stein harassed Brittney Griner in Dallas-Fort Worth by bringing up the Russia saga again and claiming she hates America. The Phoenix Mercury were at the airport after a game against the Dallas Wings and were traveling to Indianapolis to continue its road trip at the Indiana Fever. 

The sad part about what this individual did was he got exactly what he wanted out of that unfortunate altercation – attention. Stein’s irony is that he wants to claim BG hates America but yet he’s riding Griner’s coattails to make himself more of a celebrity. 

Since the incident, the Atlanta Dream announced that they would be traveling with beefed up security – ala the Liberty. The chorus of WNBA owners (or “governors” in NBA speak) is growing with both the Mercury’s Mat Ishbia and the Dream’s Larry Gottesdiener both coming out in favor of charter planes.

While the current collective bargaining agreement for the WNBA and its players runs through the 2027 season, there is an opt-out clause for the WNBPA that would take effect following the 2025. Either the league or players can choose to opt out. 

The WNBPA paved the way for the current CBA by opting out of the previous one in 2018. As a result, that pact with the league became null and void at the conclusion of the 2019 season. 

Of course, a lot was altered with the entirety of the W being sequestered to the bubble in 2020. 

Another issue that will soon become more of a hot-button topic is the issue of prioritization. In exchange for higher salaries, the WNBA is wanting for players to prioritize their domestic teams over the overseas clubs they play for during the offseason.

One problem – those overseas clubs pay more money than their WNBA teams. Players may be a bit more cautious than before re: playing overseas following BG’s Russia ordeal from last year, but money still talks at the end of the day. 

Players – such as Breanna Stewart – have already been critical of the WNBA’s upcoming prioritization rules without said rules even taking effect. Who knows how coarse the discourse will be around prioritization once those edicts take effect starting next year. 

It feels like decades ago when, right before the pandemic took hold in North America that the WNBA and the WNBPA announced the CBA on “Good Morning America.” It was hailed as “groundbreaking.” Looking at it from the perspective of it some years later, the praise of said CBA appears to have gone out the window. 

The two sides were celebrating their ability to come to an agreement that would ensure labor peace for the next several years. And while the WNBA has done a few things to expand charter flight usage, something tells us this may be the issue that gets the players to once again opt-out of the CBA following the 2025 season. 

Players are not only looking at the fight over chartered flights as a way to make the experience of being one of the 144 best players in the world better. They also see it as a way to weed out any owners that are against charters and only see ownership of WNBA teams as a charity as opposed to a real investment. 

Free agents converging on the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty during this past offseason was no accident. The top free agents did so to send a message to the other teams and the league itself – owners who want to invest and are for charters will be blessed with talent while everyone else gets left in the dark.

We may be back at the bargaining table again after 2025, WNBA family. Hopefully a full-season chartered flights program for all teams will be ready for takeoff.