With March Madness on the verge of reaching its crescendo, this is also declaration season across women’s college basketball.
Will she or won’t she? Will she decide that she is ready to take her talents to the next level of the WNBA? Or will she decide that she wants to stay and enjoy one more season of the college life?
We have seen two sides of the coin with a pair of the nation’s premier ballers. One of those is Maddy Siegrist, Villanova’s resident star who chose the Philadelphia school over programs in her native New York State.
Siegrist announced that she would indeed be going pro by declaring for the WNBA Draft. According to Lines.com’s latest mock draft, Siegrist is projected to be a fifth overall selection by the Dallas Wings.
Then there is Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson, who was also expected to declare for this year’s draft. Lines had the standout Lady Vol as a lottery pick, but that draft board has certainly changed now that Jackson has decided to use her COVID year to come back to Rocky Top for one last season.
WBasketballBlog has a 2024 mock draft, but it has yet to be updated given Jackson’s announcement. The 2024 WNBA Draft has been heralded by many a pundit as the equivalent to the 2003 NBA Draft that saw LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade at the top of said board.
It includes Angel Reese, Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Deja Kelly, Hailey Van Lith, Diamond Johnson, Cameron Brink, Georgia Amoore and many others.
But the number of players that have decided to stay for another season – many of whom are doing so by using their COVID year options – could be sending a message to the WNBA. And it is one Cathy Engelbert and W management needs to listen to.
Firstly, NIL has changed the entire game. Women’s basketball is one of the top sports that is seeing NIL money flow into the hands of the moneymakers – the players themselves. Whether it is the Cavinder Twins at Miami and how much money is flowing into their bank accounts, or Reese at LSU or the entire team at South Carolina, NIL has completely shifted the thinking of many top women’s ballers.
Reese, Clark and Bueckers now have the option of looking at college sports the same way coaches, athletic executives and television networks have looked it for eons – as a business. Making a decision to leave college for the pros if NIL money is all but a guarantee now has the added wrinkle of weighing if it is a financially sound decision for these women. And a good bit of them may be deciding that it is not.
Then – there is the added uncertainty as to if a draftee will even make a roster. The depth of next year’s draft will particularly make next year’s training camp a painful one in terms of roster cuts. Someone who is heralded as a top draftee is not necessarily all that guaranteed to make a roster.
Also – there is the chartered flights issue. College has charters while the WNBA only recently allowed chartered last season for the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun when they were the two participants in last season’s Finals.
Engelbert needs to get the hint that these changes in college sports – particularly NIL – is making it where the collegiate product now appears more attractive to a premier women’s college player than the WNBA is. When Engelbert does her media availability prior to the draft in a few weeks, no question she will queried about this issue.
A rash of WNBA free agents sent a message to the W this free agent period by converging on the Aces and New York Liberty – two teams with owners who have been credited for actually investing real money in the W’s product. Collegiate athletes may be sending a loud and clear message as well that the future for the WNBA has to be chartered flights, higher salaries and either roster or league expansion.
The players have the option of opting out of the collective bargaining agreement following the 2025 season. Many of those taken in upcoming drafts may find themselves on the executive board of the WNBPA.
Is the WNBA willing to listen? Because it appears to be crystal clear what the players’ message is.