- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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It isn't a contest or anything but I'll take a second to recognize the first Division I women's hoops media guide for the 2005-2006 season that appeared in my mailbox: that of the Washington Huskies.
The official start of practice is almost upon us. I just about tripped over a pile of tapes in my office the other day, looked through them and soon was watching the end of Michigan State-Tennessee from the Final Four. My veterinarian, whom I'm fairly certain has purple blood, requested a detailed assessment of Kansas State's freshmen. My dentist, a diehard Jayhawk, inquired as to whether Kansas will make a move up the Big 12 ladder this season.
But before gleefully turning over our lives to the college game again, let's quickly recap the WNBA season and forecast what's ahead in the offseason.
A couple of weeks have passed since Sacramento won the franchise's first title and became the league's third new champion in a row. The Monarchs' triumph will be the lasting memory from a season that also had some other big stories. There was another strong-but-not-quite-enough effort from Connecticut, runner-up for a second year in a row. A recoronation for Houston's Sheryl Swoopes, the MVP in a dead-even race with Seattle's Lauren Jackson. New teams for Olympians Dawn Staley and Katie Smith. The rather inexplicable struggles of Detroit. An entertaining and high-octane
And, of course, the unforgettable "Henry Bibby Era" in Los Angeles, which was to women's basketball coaching what the Renee Zellweger-Kenny Chesney union was to matrimony. (By the way are any states working on a
constitutional amendment to ban celebrity marriage?)
Donna Orender took over as president of the WNBA, and got points just for being so relentlessly positive all the time. That was needed. But she has some work to do for next season.
One key issue is the conflict between the WNBA playoffs and the World Championships, which are set for Sept. 12-23, 2006, in Brazil. This, of course, could impact whether some foreign players compete in the WNBA next season. And considering one of them -- Seattle's Jackson of Australia -- is one of the league's biggest stars, that's a pretty large concern.
Will the WNBA somehow rearrange its season? If so, how? It's one thing to take a month-long break for the Olympics, as was the case in 2004. Hey, you do that stuff for the Olympics. But altering the schedule for the World Championships is another matter.
OK, obviously my view is influenced because I'm an American. But I think it's just as much influenced by common sense. FIBA needs to accommodate the WNBA's schedule, not the other way around. I realize FIBA might not think so, but the United States is the leading nation for women's basketball, as far as I know.
That is, unless somebody can clue me in on another country in which women from around the world get college scholarships to play basketball or where there's a pro women's league that has averaged more than 8,000 fans a
game over the last nine years.
Why did FIBA schedule the World Championships without regard to the pinnacle of the season for the pro league in the United States? It does not make sense for the good of women's basketball.
Orender will have to deal with the scheduling of the WNBA season -- but there are plenty of other headlines WNBA fans will be following in the offseason. Mainly, player movement. Teams can protect six players from the expansion draft that will help stock the new Chicago franchise. Chicago can take one non-protected player from each of the other 13 franchises. The date of the expansion draft has not yet been set.
In deciding whom to protect, teams will have to weigh the salary cap and future aspirations in its decisions to keep or obtain free agents. Teams must project what effect moves will have on team chemistry and improvement.
The league expects teams to abide by both the spirit and the letter of the collective-bargaining agreement. I was told by league sources that if a team has an unrestricted free agent and protect her because they already it has a "deal" with her to sign her next year, that team is essentially getting away with "protecting" more than six players. Which is something the league will frown upon -- although what it will do besides frown, I'm not sure.
The WNBA's Web site -- http://www.wnba.com -- has lists of all the
unrestricted and restricted free agents. The protected lists, which are due next month to the league and the Sky, are not supposed to be made public. Some of them might leak out, though. You can do some guesswork and come pretty close to projecting them. And then, if you'd like, you can play general manager of your favorite team.
WNBA.com also has a list of where many WNBA players will be
competing overseas. That's another thing fans can keep track of during the WNBA offseason.
Finally, every April and September, as the college and WNBA seasons close, I hear from new fans who happened to catch the NCAA Tournament or WNBA playoff games and got "hooked" on the sport and want more information.
Increasing numbers of college fans are interested in following the pro careers of their favorite players, including in the overseas leagues, which pre-Internet, were mostly a complete mystery to American fans.
To that end, we offer this: The WNBA's best-informed "junkies" tend to congregate at a Web site called RebKell's junkie boards. The address is http://boards.rebkell.net. These folks are hardcore and are on top of everything. If you are hardcore and haven't visited it, this is your place. If you are, I guess, medium-core or less, you'll still want to check in now and again.
ESPN.com's WNBA and women's college basketball boards are a good spot to visit, too, although you have to just ignore the emotionally stunted, lonely louts who "hate" women's sports but have so much time on their hands they wander over to post high-intellect stuff like, "WNBA [stinks]!!"
Another great site to bookmark is http://www.womenshoops.blogspot.com, which posts thoughtful commentary and links to WNBA and college hoops stories and other women's sports issues. There are other good sites as well,
and a little navigating with the help of the above-mentioned sites will let you keep up with what's going on everywhere with women's hoops.
Yes, the college season will start soon, but the WNBA has its own kind of "hot-stove league" quality now, which is neat. Happy offseason, WNBA fans.
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.