The 2022 WNBA season is still a distant spot on the horizon, but this afternoon, it came into view with some clarity. The league dropped its schedule, a crumb of content for what is typically the slowest part of the offseason. But, following a Black Monday that saw the dismissals of a pair of head coaches—the New York Liberty’s Walt Hopkins and the Phoenix Mercury’s Sandy Brondello—this week has been anything but quiet.
A week ago, Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports TV first broke news on the season’s important dates. The initial major takeaway from the schedule, of course, is the calendar shift. While the front end is about a week off last year’s calendar shift, the season’s finish is potentially much earlier. This is due, in part, to the lack of the Summer Olympics. The major deadline on the backend, however, is the looming FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Australia, which begins September 22, 2022.
|WNBA Key Dates Comparison, 2021 to 2022|
|Event||2021 Date||2022 Date|
|WNBA Draft||April 15||April 11|
|Preseason||May 1||April 22|
|Regular Season Start||May 14||May 6|
|All-Star Weekend||July 14||July 9–10|
|Olympics Hiatus||July 15–August 11||N/A|
|Commissioner’s Cup||August 12||July 26|
|Regular Season Ends||September 19||August 14|
|Start of Playoffs||September 23||August 17|
|Latest Possible Playoff End||October 19*||September 21|
|Note: The 2021 Finals ended on October 17, because the Chicago Sky won in four games.|
The other thing that stands out, as reported by Rachel Galligan for Just Women’s Sports, is that the 2022 season will balloon to 36 games:
“For the first time in the league’s 25-year history, teams will play a 36-game regular season schedule. The league planned to implement a 36-game schedule last season but scaled it back to 32 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on the calendar, that means teams will play 36 games in just over 90 days this season. A source tells Just Women’s Sports that it will be common for teams to have nine games over 17-day stretches and, as a result, coaches could implement load management to rest their stars and starters more often.”
“The 36-game schedule will provide fans greater opportunities to see the best players in the world compete at the highest level,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a statement issued by the league. “Year two of the Commissioner’s Cup brings added incentive to the first half of the season for players and teams while offering fans conference rivalry competition through which to support their favorite teams.”
While we do not get an opening night rematch of the Sky/Mercury Finals, we do revisit the exciting semis series that saw the Merc take down the Las Vegas Aces in five games. While that’s the headliner, it’s just one of four games that will tip off the season on Friday, May 6 (all times eastern):
Fever @ Mystics, 7 PM
Sparks @ Sky, 8 PM
Aces @ Mercury, 10 PM
Lynx @ Storm, 10 PM
The following evening, on May 7, the other four teams will get into action:
Sun @ Liberty, 6 PM
Dream @ Wings, 8 PM
A primary concern of the expedited start date is the availability of overseas players. While some leagues will end with enough lead time for W talent to return for the regular season (though possibly not training camp and/or preseason), others will not. As examples, France’s regular season schedule doesn’t finish until the end of April, and Spain’s won’t conclude until April 17, 2022. Other leagues may be less of an issue, including Russia (whose postseason ended on April 27 last year), Israel (whose regular season is set to end in early February this time around), and Turkey (completed in late May last time, but this year’s regular season wraps up in early January). The EuroLeague Women calendar projects the Final Four to take place from April 8–10.
While most veterans playing across the Atlantic are assured their roster spots, young players that journeyed overseas to hone their skill set may be on more precarious footing. Missing reps while being on a roster bubble could spell doom in a league that has become unforgiving as its talent outpaces its capacity. It’s something to monitor in the months ahead.
With regards, however, to this campaign’s scheduling inflexibility, my fingers are crossed that there are ongoing discussions between the league, the WNBPA, and the owners regarding travel accommodations. Time and again, the players soldiered through airport delays and tight middle seats, battling conditions that often robbed them of time to recover, to watch film, or to simply relax amidst a grueling year, all while a pandemic continued to rage on around us. The league will look to mitigate some of the travel concerns with “Series” Play, again scheduling consecutive games in the same city for teams that are spread apart geographically, but that only goes so far.
League says you can’t fly charter because different owners have different financial circumstances. I’m working with Commissioner Englebert to find a charter sponsor. Conversations with airline CEOs going well. They get the idea of equity for women athletes.
— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) October 2, 2021
Curt Miller says that for the Sun to travel to Chicago tomorrow, they had to separate the team onto three different flights from two different airports since the teams — in the WNBA semifinals — travel commercial.
— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) October 1, 2021
Getting the schedule this early means we don’t know quite yet what a lot of the premium matchups will be. Come February 1, 2022, a ton of free agent talent has the potential to swap jerseys and create fresh rivalry contests. We don’t know the draft order (which will air Sunday, December 19, at 3 PM on ESPN), so we can’t yet circle when the top two picks will go head-to-head. Here are a few off the top to look forward to, though:
- Sky vs. Mercury (May 31 [in CHI], July 2 [in PHX], and August 14 [in PHX]) There will be three rematches of the 2021 Finals.
- Aces at Dream (July 19) This will be Tanisha Wright’s first time coaching against Vegas, where she was an assistant until this offseason.
- Sky at Sparks (July 14) Candace Parker was injured during last year’s visit to LA (and the game wasn’t in Staples Center/Crypto.com Arena), so this will hopefully be her first on-court return. While the Sky actually open their campaign against Parker’s former team, they won’t be in Los Angeles until this date.
- Sun at Storm (June 5) These two teams run it back after a fun and competitive season series from last year.
- Liberty at Sparks (July 3) Last season, both defense-heavy games in this matchup ended on blocks, the first by NY’s Bec Allen, the second by LA’s Brittney Sykes.
Even though this is a somewhat condensed season, I’m grateful we’ll again have an AT&T All-Star Game, which hasn’t always happened throughout the W’s history. The lack of this exhibition—and of All-Star voting in those years—has created gaps in the sport’s record books. All-Star appearances, an easy-to-count accolade, is a fun and measurable view of a given player’s success against their peers, and it would be great to see the ASG as a schedule staple going forward. (During Cathy Engelbert’s time as Commissioner, the only season without an ASG was 2020, its ultra-compressed schedule in the Bradenton bubble making it near impossible.) We’ll also see the return of the Commissioner’s Cup, this time presented by Coinbase, with all games completed between May 6 and July 7. The league has not yet announced this year’s prize pool.
Still, we inch closer, breaking the seal on our 2022 calendars to pencil in matchups, finally able to count the days until we can fill arenas again. In just over five months’ time, we’ll be back to watching Kahleah Copper’s double-clutch finishes at the rim, Arike Ogunbowale’s heat-check threes, Betnijah Laney’s midrange jumpers. The champs in Chicago will have reassembled a roster to defend their title. Fans will swarm to social media to fire off predictions and hot takes. This is an important step towards that, with lots of offseason excitement still to come.