WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert responds to criticism over roster sizes: ‘We need a little more time to transform the league’

Days after Storm great Breanna Stewart and several WNBA stars publicly pushed the league to expand rosters, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said she’s focused on growing the league to address the players’ concerns. 

“We’re transforming the economics of the league,” Engelbert said. “We want to bring new owners into the league longer term. We need to find the right time to do that. We’re doing a lot of data analysis. … We’ll continue to do that analysis and hopefully this summer at some point we’ll be able to say more. But we want to be thoughtful about it.” 

Engelbert, who began a 12-city tour of the league with a stop in Seattle for the regular-season opener, said the WNBA is looking at adding two expansion teams in the next few years. 

“We don’t want to jeopardize the momentum we have, but we understand the issue about roster sizes,” she said. “But when you’re a country the size and scale of ours and you’re only in 12 cities, growing the league is a way to do that as well. Then you open up roster spots. I don’t think it’s about rosters per team. It’s about more opportunities to play for more players to play.” 

Earlier this week, Stewart said the league needs to consider adopting a practice squad, developmental league or easing the constraints of the WNBA’s hard cap to allow teams to sign one to two extra players. 

Since the start of the league’s current collective-bargaining agreement in 2020, the rise in players’ salaries has vastly eclipsed the salary cap. As a result, 10 of the league’s 12 teams began the season with 11 active players, one shy of the limit. 

“The new CBA is like a blessing and a curse,” Stewart said. “Obviously, salaries are better. The way we’re treated is better, but we’re losing players. And we’re losing fans.” 

Engelbert, who took over three years ago, said her focus is using the league’s new $75 million capital raise to increase fan experience and grow the league globally. She said WNBA games will appear on 160 national platforms, which is the highest ever. 

However, increasing roster sizes will have to wait for now, Engelbert said. 

“There is a point in time when hopefully we’ll have the economic strength to have these conversations, but right now is not that time,” she said. “We’re coming off two very difficult COVID years. One where we had no fans. And last year, especially here in Seattle, no fans until the back half of the season and limited fans at that point. … We need a little more time to transform the league.” 

SHOE DELAY 

Production delays prevented Stewart from unveiling her Puma signature shoe Stewie 1 on Friday. Instead, the Storm star wore the Rick and Morty version of LaMelo Ball’s Puma MB.01 sneakers. 

“First night, first game back here I wanted to have something special,” Stewart said about the highlight orange and yellow shoes. “They’re flashy. I only wore them once.” 

MYSTICS CLAIM BURKE 

Kennedy Burke, who played last year in Seattle and was waived this week by the Storm, did not clear waivers and was awarded to the Washington Mystics. 

“A player like that, it’s not surprising that she gets picked up,” coach Noelle Quinn said. “She’s a proven talent in our league. She’s been with us. She’s been with other franchises. She’s capable of guarding 1 through 4. … Not surprising at all, especially with the needs going around with a lot of teams.” 

Burke averaged 4.7 points and 1.4 rebounds last year with the Storm while appearing in 23 games. She missed Seattle’s training camp while playing in Spain. 

NOTE: 

— According to the website FiveThirtyEight, the Storm have the sixth-best odds of winning a WNBA title at 9%, behind Connecticut (19%), defending champion Chicago (18%), Las Vegas (18%), Minnesota (12%) and Phoenix (11%). 

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