The WNBA postponed the semi-finals series between the Minnesota Lynx and second-seeded Seattle Storm, following inconclusive Covid-19 testing results this Sunday. Multiple players, each for the Seattle Storm, received these inconclusive results and will be retested sometime Monday, per Matt Ellentuck of Here’s Basketball.
Game 1 of the series, originally scheduled for Sunday, has been conditionally postponed for 9 PM ET Tuesday, depending on the outcome of today’s tests.
The league has stressed over and over that health and safety is their priority in operating the WNBA bubble, or Wubble, and as such I’m interested in seeing how the decisions around this series will play out. It’s possible that these inconclusive tests were just faulty, and there’s no actual coronavirus cases among the Storm—if they can confirm this by Monday night (which is uh, tonight) with a full set of negative tests, they will play. Given how quick the WNBA was to announce a new game date and time, it seems that the schedule makers are really really crossing their fingers that this will happen.
If there are confirmed positive cases on the Storm, we’re entering uncharted waters. The only covid-positive WNBA players so far received their positive tests before entering the bubble, and as such either missed the entire season or joined their team later in when they were healthy. One or multiple positive cases on the Storm opens up a lot of questions for Seattle, and the league.
There is of course, the question of how coronavirus would have spread into the Wubble itself. I don’t want to speculate wildly on this, but I would expect the league to take all of the steps they can to trace all contact made over the last few weeks by any player that tests positive. The league promised a safe environment insulated from coronavirus to their players, and many said it was impossible. If there is a positive case; preventing any further spread should immediately become the league’s first priority (even if that really, really, really messes up the playoffs). It does confuse me that the WNBA is trying to get the Storm and Lynx playing the day after these inconclusive tests, this is the same league that set an excellent example by requiring three negative tests to enter the Wubble.
Navigating positive tests would also be a huge obstacle for a Storm team that’s already successfully navigated being without their head coach. Best case scenario if there are positive tests, the Storm are forced to play with a shortened rotation. A few players test positive and have to leave the Wubble, and the Storm no longer have the advantage of having a 12-woman roster in a year when many teams have had to make due with 10 or less. But even if they lose players that play big minutes, this is the same Storm team that made a deep playoff run last season without their two MVPs. They can weather that. Worst case scenario, the WNBA cancels the series. This happens if they have a significant enough loss of players that they can no longer field a team, or if the league decides to simply proceed with an abundance of caution.
Assuming in this scenario the Storm are eliminated from the playoffs, would the Lynx simply be given a bye to the finals? Or would the league get creative with a round-robin play-in between the Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun, and Lynx? There unfortunately isn’t an option to postpone the playoffs long enough for players diagnosed with COVID-19 to recover fully, the European basketball season will be tipping off shortly after the planned conclusion of the Finals and many WNBA players are under contractual obligation to play overseas.
Which, in itself, underscores how important all of these decisions are. The WNBA is tasked not only with defending the health and safety of their players and employees, but with protecting communities all over the world. When the season is over, players will either return to their homes in the states, or go abroad to play for teams in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, or Australia. The WNBA, like each of us, has a profound responsibility here to consider the health of the entire human race when deciding how to move forward in the event of positive cases this late in the season.
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photo credit: AP Images