The WNBA Facing Elimination

NEW YORK, NY – The New Orleans Hornets are headed to the Western Conference. The WNBA may be headed for a fall.

NEW YORK, NY – The New Orleans Hornets are headed to the Western Conference. The WNBA may be headed for a fall.

Following a Board of Governors meeting Tuesday, NBA commissioner David Stern said the WNBA and its union has until April 18 to iron out their differences or the upcoming season will be canceled.

"We'll know in the next 10 days or so whether there will be a WNBA season," Stern said.

Stern also said the Hornets would move west to make room for the arriving expansion team in Charlotte, which begins play in the 2004-05 season.

Entering its seventh season, the WNBA saw four of its 16 teams fall by the wayside. Two teams were relocated to San Antonio and Connecticut, and Stern would like to see the league – which has been subsidized by the NBA – eventually become self-sufficient.

"We've sweetened the spot, so to speak, for all of our teams to subsidize them so that they can make the transition to the owner model that we think is essential for the long-term success of the league," Stern said. "And now we want to roll up our sleeves with the players and make this a permanent landmark on the American sports scene.

"I've gotten authorization from the owners on a budget that allows us to subsidize it for $12 million this year. But in these financial realities, I've done my job. But I can't do more."

Stern said the subsidy allows for a cost of living increase for WNBA players. The union does not think the increase is sufficient and said as much in fruitless negotiation sessions last week in Chicago.

"We're not in the same ballpark," Stern said. "And frankly, I understand the individual players' perspective."

The Hornets, who vacated Charlotte for New Orleans last summer, are fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 41-35 mark. They are one of just three teams in the East to post a winning record against the more powerful West, going 15-13.

The Hornets have the option to move to the West next season, but must notify the NBA of its intention by May 1. The expansion team in Charlotte, owned by BET network CEO Robert Johnson, will be in the East.

A Hornets spokesman said Tuesday night that owner George Shinn, after consulting with co-owner Ray Wooldridge and basketball people within the organization, is leaning toward not making the move until the later date but had yet to make a final decision.

The expansion team in Charlotte would give the NBA 30 teams, 15 in each conference. That would give the league the option of creating six divisions of teams each, much like the NHL. However, Stern did not address that issue.

April 15, 2003
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