In an era dominated by social media, women’s basketball is experiencing a moment like never before. Brittney Griner is back. The WNBA has countless storylines. And thanks to Angel Reese, Caitlin Clark, and Jill Biden, the collegiate game is shattering TV ratings. But, for the game to reach another level one thing must happen — WNBA expansion, which will lead to more roster spots in the world’s best women’s professional basketball league.
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Too many players, not enough roster spots
The WNBA has a numbers problem. Too many players, and not enough jobs. According to Just Women’s Sports, only 15 of the 36 drafted players from the 2023 WNBA Draft were on opening day rosters to start the season. With only 12 teams in the league, there are only 144 roster spots in the WNBA. This year alone, the No. 11, 13, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 33, 34, and 36th picks all were at home when the season began.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new problem. In 2021, only eight players from that draft appeared on opening day rosters. In 2022, the number was 15, the same as this year. And while you can say the numbers are improving, it still means that being a first-round pick in the WNBA doesn’t guarantee you a job.
“The first thing when I came in, I said, ‘OK, we have 12 teams in a country of over 300 million people. That is not enough,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert back in February. “So that’s why we do talk about expansion, and you have to be in more cities to grow more fandom. So that leads me to be here today.”
Nashville, Philly amongst expansion city options
According to The Athletic, Nashville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and Toronto are the cities that could be the best options for expansion. Just a few weeks ago, the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky played an exhibition game in Toronto for the league’s first game in Canada before the start of the 27th season.
“The energy was amazing. When we came out, the seats were filled to the top and they were cheering already. I was blown away,” said Sky head coach James Wade. “You guys have something special here, in Toronto. I saw so many Maple Leafs jerseys, baseball jerseys and thought ‘The WNBA deserves that too.”
When the WNBA started there were only eight teams. At one point, it grew to 16 franchises. It’s now down to 12, with the Atlanta Dream (2008) being the latest expansion team. Between the collegiate game, the dominance of Team USA, and the growing buzz around the WNBA, women’s basketball is experiencing a rightful, and long-overdue, popularity peak. If this isn’t the best moment to grow the game, then I don’t know what is. Besides, in a post-Brittney Griner world, we need to give our women the best chances to play at home.
Carron J. Phillips