Analysis: WNBA releases 2019 schedule

The WNBA released its 2019 regular season schedule Tuesday afternoon. Last year’s regular season was compressed to 94 days to accommodate the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup held in Tenerife, Spain. Each team’s 34 regular season schedule in 2019 will span 108 days, providing players more rest in between games, more practice time, and better basketball. Here are more takeaways from Tuesday’s release.

The total number of back-to-backs across the league is down from 23 to six. Nine teams (Washington Mystics, Phoenix Mercury, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Las Vegas Aces, Indiana Fever, Dallas Wings, Connecticut Sun, and Chicago Sky) played multiple back-to-backs last season. The Atlanta Dream were the only team without one; the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx played one apiece.

Stretches of three games in five days league-wide are down from 40 to 29. The Aces, Wings, and Sky led the league with three such stretches.

Four game in seven-day stretches are down from 17 to eight. No team will play more than two 4-in-7s.

5-in-9s are down from 10 to one. Eight teams played a 5-in-9 stretches, including nine games in 16 days for the Sparks. The Dream were the only team slated for multiple 5-in-9s in 2018 with three.

Not only did teams have 34 games packed into a shorter window of time. A shorter season left fewer windows for time on the practice floor. Across the league there were 48 instances of teams having three or four days off and just 10 of five or more days off. Those numbers are up in 2019 to 79 and 29, respectively.

Each team will have three or four off-day periods five different times. Seven teams last season had four or fewer. Additionally, nine teams will have multiple breaks of five days or more. In 2018, only seven teams even had one such stretch.

A nightmare scenario for the Aces this past season sparked discussion of the league’s scheduling processes. Because teams fly commercial, their options are limited. Having a single day between games to travel does not necessarily guarantee lengthy windows of time for rest and recovery. A delayed or cancelled flight could turn that entire off-day into a full travel day.

In the upcoming CBA negotiations, teams traveling and playing every other day must also be taken into heavy consideration. The number of total cross-country flights required (13) will be the same in 2019 for teams that have just one day before their next game.

Back-to-backs were nearly eliminated for the upcoming season. Regional back-to-backs—often including two of Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles—may be difficult to avoid. Finding ways to add an extra day for teams that are traveling across time zones every other day could eliminate future headaches for the league office due to cancellations and delays beyond their control.

The season kicks off May 24 with Wings at Dream and Fever at Liberty. The defending champs will host the Mercury May 25 in Seattle on ABC.

James Wade will make his WNBA head coaching debut May 25 in Minneapolis as the Sky take on the Lynx. Wade was an assistant coach on Cheryl Reeve’s staff in Minnesota for the past two seasons.

New Wings head coach Brian Agler will face off with his former team on July 9 in Dallas. He resigned as head coach of the Sparks in November after four seasons with the club. They made two trips to the WNBA Finals in that run, including a Game 5 win on the road to clinch the 2016 title over the Lynx.

The league announced in a release that 16 regular season games will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC in 2019. Free agency officially begins February 1. The league has yet to announce the date of the 2019 WNBA Draft.

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