WNBA postseason travel memo includes scenarios for commercial flights, sources say

Alexa Philippou, ESPNAug 30, 2023, 07:19 PM ET

CloseCovers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer

The WNBA sent an internal memo to teams this week clarifying its stipulations for postseason travel, including scenarios in which teams might need to fly commercially, sources confirmed to ESPN on Wednesday.

The news was first reported by The Next.

Although most WNBA travel is commercial, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced in April that the league would “have charter flights for all postseason games” for the 2023 season. Technically, teams still have the ability to do that. But a recent memo specified teams essentially can’t take charter flights for multiple travel legs in between playoff rounds.

This would apply if, for example, a lower-seeded team upsets a higher-seeded team in the first round with a two-game sweep on the road. That team would get one charter flight at its disposal going into the semifinals: Either to get home from the first round, or to travel to the semifinals from its home market. The other flight would need to be commercial.

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The league also says there’s an option in that scenario for the team to charter directly from the first round to the semifinal city. However, a team that sweeps its first-round opponent would have a lengthy break — perhaps as long as an entire week — before Game 1 of the semifinals, which is slated for Sept. 24.

There could be another long break after the semifinal round, a best-of-five series, as Games 3 and 4 are set for Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, while Game 1 of the Finals is scheduled for Oct. 8.

The league has expanded the availability of charter flights in recent years. In 2019, charters were permitted during the postseason when teams had to cross multiple time zones with a day in between games. Last year, the league chartered the entire WNBA Finals, as well as the visiting team for the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game. In addition to playoffs, charters this season were available for games on back-to-back days requiring air travel.

Engelbert, who has said the league put in a little over $4 million into charter flights for 2023, has maintained paying for full chartering across the entire season is not yet financially viable for the league. Individual teams are not permitted by the CBA to pay for their own charters, as it is considered a competitive advantage.

ESPN’s M.A. Voepel contributed to this report.

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