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WNBA postpones start of season this month because of virus

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2019, file photo, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at a news conference before Game 1 of basketball's WNBA Finals between the Connecticut Sun and the Washington Mystics, in Washington. The WNBA draft will be a virtual event this year. The league announced Thursday, March 26, 2020, that its draft will still be held April 17 as originally scheduled, but without players, fans or media in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic. “The WNBA draft is a time to celebrate the exceptional athletes whose hard work and dreams are realized with their selections in the draft,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The WNBA season will not start on time next month
because of the coronavirus pandemic, and when it begins is unclear.

league announced Friday it will delay the season for an indefinite
period. Training camps were to open on April 26 and the regular season
on May 15.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement
Friday the league will “use this time to conduct scenario-planning
regarding new start dates and innovative formats.”

“Our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees,” Engelbert said.

WNBA, which was set to being its 24th season and is the longest running
professional women’s sports league, will still hold a virtual draft
April 17. A few college underclassmen — including Oregon’s Satou
Sabally, Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter and UConn’s Megan Walker — have
said they will enter the draft.

They have until Tuesday to
withdraw their names from the draft and still keep their college
eligibility assuming they haven’t signed with an agent.

other major sports league has been put on hold cecause of the virus.
Engelbert told the AP last week that the WNBA could begin its season
before the NBA or other sports leagues resume.

“A league of our
size and scale is smaller than other big leagues,” she said. “We might
be able to tip this season off before some other leagues since we only
have 12 teams and 144 players.”

The postponement of the 2020
Olympics gives the WNBA flexibility with its schedule. The league was
set to go on a monthlong break in July to allow players to participate
in the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed for a season.

were already scenario planning around what our season would look like if
we played games during our month hiatus,” she said. “We have an
advantage here to use that time. We’re already looking at arena
availability and how to get broadcasts of our game in that period.”

said that whenever the WNBA does start, it will follow a strict
protocol regarding the health and well-being of players, coaches and

Two WNBA cities are major hot spots for the virus: New York
and Seattle. One of the the Storm’s homes for the season, the Angel of
the Winds Arena, is being used as a coronavirus isolation site.

Seattle Storm CEO and general manager Alisha Valavanis backed the commissioner’s ruling.

are grateful for the front line workers who are courageously combating
COVID-19,” Valavanis said. “Our league must do its part to keep our
communities safe. These decisions are part of something much more
consequential than sports. We look forward to coming together to enjoy
Storm basketball games when its safe for us to gather.

The Las Vegas casino where the Aces play is shut, as is the Connecticut Sun’s home arena.