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As the 2022 WNBA season got started this weekend, there was once again ample discussion about the roster crunch teams face and the number of quality players that find themselves getting cut at the end of training camps. This year saw some eyebrow raising cuts, like Te’a Cooper from the Sparks and Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield from the Lynx, and players and fans alike pointed to there being only 144 roster spots in the 12-team league as the biggest problem for the WNBA right now.

While expanded rosters would help, the way to open more spots for players would be expansion, which the league understands and commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the Seattle Times over the weekend that the goal is to add “two expansion teams in the next few years,” bringing the league to 14 teams.

“We’re transforming the economics of the league,” Engelbert said. “We want to bring new owners into the league longer term. We need to find the right time to do that. We’re doing a lot of data analysis. … We’ll continue to do that analysis and hopefully this summer at some point we’ll be able to say more. But we want to be thoughtful about it.”

“We don’t want to jeopardize the momentum we have, but we understand the issue about roster sizes,” she said. “But when you’re a country the size and scale of ours and you’re only in 12 cities, growing the league is a way to do that as well. Then you open up roster spots. I don’t think it’s about rosters per team. It’s about more opportunities to play for more players to play.”

Expansion is something WNBA fans and players have been wanting for years, and the league pulling in $75 million in investments from various companies and improved national TV deals shows that positive momentum the WNBA has right now. The biggest stumbling block towards expansion isn’t a lack of interest from the outside, but the internal battle among league owners that came to light this offseason.

The league’s $500,000 fine of Liberty owner Joe Tsai for booking charter flights for the team over the second half of last season showed the fracture at the ownership level, where new owners like Tsai, Mark Davis, and Marc Lore come in as owners of large men’s teams and want to provide that level of investment into facilities, staffing, and travel are butting heads with longtime WNBA ownership groups that don’t have that same level of cash flow. For now, the old ownership groups have the majority, but every expansion team figures to close that gap as one would expect owners of new teams to be in that Tsai/Davis/Lore realm.

Adding two teams rather than a larger expansion would be a middle ground of bringing more money into the league while also not guaranteeing that massive changes will come immediately to how teams are expected to spend on their teams — which is why expanded roster sizes or a developmental league funded by teams is likely not something that they could get the Board of Governors on board for right now.

As for where the two new teams will play, that likewise remains to be seen, but there are plenty of potential investors that have made clear they want a WNBA franchise in their city, from old homes of early WNBA franchises like Houston to new potential homes like Toronto (where Drake wants in if the league heads north of the border).


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