WNBA’s Cathy Engelbert ‘very confident’ of successful season if protocols followed

11:42 PM ET

Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The WNBA had two positive COVID-19 tests upon first arrival of players and staff, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, but have not had any positive tests since.

Engelbert, who is inside the “bubble” at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, said that to this point, the measures the league has taken to safely play its 2020 season — which begins Saturday — have been effective.

Engelbert spoke in a media teleconference Wednesday and addressed a broad range of topics, including how the league is combating the pandemic. Most of the players reported July 6, although some have entered the bubble since then. There are some players who hope to play this season who have not arrived yet, and will have to quarantine once they do.

“Knock on wood every day, but things are stable here,” Engelbert said. “So far, the plan and the protocols are working. Wearing masks, washing hands, daily temperature checks.

“We’ve done an enormous amount of work understanding data and consulting specialists. I am very confident that if we follow the protocols and the science, we will have a successful season leading into the playoffs in September, culminating in the Finals in October.

“Again, I’m not superstitious, but the more I talk about how well things are going, I do get a little nervous. But I’m very confident right now.”

WNBA players, coaches and staff, along with referees, are living in the so-called bubble, with lodging in villas and hotel rooms on the grounds of IMG Academy. The games will be played at Feld Entertainment Center, about 20 minutes away by bus, and gameday staff there will not be coming into the IMG bubble, although they are still subject to COVID-19 testing. Plexiglass barriers will also create a buffer between gameday staff and players. No media or fans will be at games.

Engelbert also said that unlike with the NBA bubble in Orlando, there is not a so-called “hotline” to report protocol violations in the WNBA bubble.

“But we do follow up on any observations,” Engelbert said. “We’ve asked the IMG Academy staff, as well as our teams, to be very honest, to let us know if they’re hearing or seeing anything not in compliance with our protocols. As soon as we get any information, we investigate it and follow up and take the appropriate action, send the appropriate reminders out.”

Engelbert also said there was protocol in place to deal with anyone who might need medical attention, too, including possibly an MRI or X-rays.

“We have set up a ‘clean corridor’ with our medical staff, the local diagnostic center,” Engelbert said. “There’s actually one attached within IMG Academy. Then if we need to use a hospital capability, we do have some of that on campus in the bubble as well.”

Engelbert was also asked about the continued controversy about Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has voiced opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement being embraced by the WNBA.

“As commissioner, I’m committed to making sure that this season is dedicated to the players’ platform that vigorously advocates for social justice, to make sure Black Lives Matter,” Engelbert said. “We’re proud of our players for speaking out on these issues. They have always led and will continue to do so. There’s nothing political about that. It’s a statement of their values.”

Regarding the topic of ownership, though, Engelbert commented on the celebrity-led group that announced Tuesday it was bringing a National Women’s Soccer League team to Los Angeles.

“The growth of all women’s sports is a good thing. When I took this job, I said part of my job also is to think more broadly about women’s sports,” said Engelbert, who officially became commissioner in July 2019. “We would love those type of ownership groups to be interested in the WNBA as well.

“It’s a model we’ve been looking at with female ownership groups, diverse ownership groups. It’s something we continue to look at when we think about growing our franchise values and, down the road, look at expansion.”

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