Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In case you want to know

ESPN vainly calls itself, "The Worldwide Leader in Sports." Actually, it is the world's leader in male dominated sports.

Their nightly "Bottom Line" is so sexist, it's disgusting.

For example, during the January 28th Tennessee-Duke women's basketball telecast, no mention of the WNBA's new collective bargaining agreement, the third such pact in women's pro sports history. No mention whatsoever.

The following day, USA Today ran a 41-word piece -- yes, I counted each word, on the agreement, which replaces the old one that expired at the end of the 2007 season, in their sports section's back pages. While back at ESPN, still no mention.

In case you want to know, here is the highlights of the new agreement, which will commence with the 2008 season and continue through 2013:

--Player salaries, which still dwarfs their NBA counterparts, are guaranteed to increase each year, along with individual minimum and maximum player salaries

--a revenue sharing component will kick in, should league revenues hit agreed-upon benchmarks: The WNBA has a new eight-year TV pact with guess who --- ESPN

--adjusting free agency to increase more player movement, which include reducing the number of core players each team may designate from two to one, beginning in 2009: a core player gets exclusive negotiating rights to the particular team in exchange for an offer of a fully guaranteed, one-year contract at the maximum salary

"This is a landmark agreement for our players," says WNBA Players Association Director of Operations Pam Wheeler in a released statement on Monday.

I have covered the league since its inception, and the Minnesota Lynx since they joined the WNBA two years later. I actually love covering it, unlike the other so-called local beat reporters, who seem like they would rather paint fences than be caught at a women's game.

I want the WNBA, which starts its 12th season this summer, to succeed, which gives me the right to be critical as well.

The new CBA, as impressive as it is, still doesn't hide the fact that the league still struggles for acceptance in America's sporting landscape. It is still viewed by many as an afterthought, rarely taken seriously by the sports media.

Media coverage is spotty at best, ignored at worst.

WNBA President Donna Orender, who I feel still doesn't quite get it, or if she does, doesn't let on that she does, acts more like a cheerleader than her league's top spokeswoman. She avoids tough questions like warm weather at this time in Minnesota. She continues to give us the same old cheers that the league is the longest running and most successful women's pro league in the country.

I agree with the longest running part, but when teams such as Minnesota, rarely sell out games. When several teams had folded, the most recent was Charlotte. When you can't even convince ESPN, supposedly one of your partners, to even run game scores or decent highlights, then the 'most successful' part must be questioned. The all-sports network acts more like a silent partner.

And with Turner Sports now in charge of NBA TV, the league's former 24-hour television network -- which by the way, its bottom line did announce the WNBA's new deal, it remains to be seen if they will be as committed to showing women's hoops. Currently, the channel is slated to show 70 regular season contests in 2008.

My second by the way: we still don't know all the intricate details of their TV deal. Do you think NBA Commish David Stern would keep similar deals with his league so secret -- I think not. Stern would climb Mt. Everest to tell the world.

And, yet another by the way -- as long as Stern likes the WNBA, the league will continue to exist. The day he turns his back on the women's league, it's curtains, I'm afraid.

Finally, with the CBA finally ratified, the league can conduct its expansion draft. In case you didn't know, the Atlanta Dream will come on board this summer, making the league's two conferences even with seven teams each. The expansion draft is expected to be held on February 6 -- each team can protect six players.

This means the Lynx is sure to lose one of its youngsters, perhaps Shay Murphy, to the Dream.

An interesting name for the new Atlanta team, an area for years can't sell out Atlanta Hawks games during the normal basketball season, or the baseball team in their normal season. Team officials, and the league, must be dreaming to think, a women's team will do better in Peachtree City.

After this draft, teams can focus on the college draft, which takes place the day after the national championship game.

In case you want to know.

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