Los Angeles Sparks stand out Nika Ogomec She said via social media Monday night that the “transformational growth” in the WNBA is being hampered by continued travel issues and what she sees as “onerous arguments” against possible solutions.
Ogwumike and the Sparks had travel problems Sunday at Virginia’s Dulles Airport after their win over the Washington Mystics. After two delays, Sparks’ flight was canceled and rebooked on Monday morning.
“For the first time in 11 seasons, I had to sleep at the airport,” In a video posted on social media in the early hours of Monday morning, Ogomek said. “Half asleep in an airport, half in a hotel. There weren’t enough rooms after our flight was delayed, it was delayed (again) and then canceled at 1am, it’s now 1:44, and we’re now ‘here until 9am'”
Sparks took a flight Monday morning and was back in Los Angeles by noon. They will host the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night as the WNBA wraps up its final week of the regular season.
Multiple sources told ESPN that every Sparks player actually got a hotel room, but not all of them are in the same hotel due to a limited number of rooms being available. But due to the late time and the need to get back to the airport with such a short turnaround time for the rescheduled flight, some players chose to stay at the airport. Sparks player Lexi Brown also confirmed it on social media.
According to a CNN report, more than 900 flights were canceled across the country on Sunday, and nearly 700 were canceled on Saturday as airlines continued to grapple with issues including staff shortages and weather.
The WNBA’s travel situation continues to be an issue that players raise on social media, and Ogwumike’s reputation as chair of the Players Association’s Executive Committee has drawn attention to her position.
NBA Commissioner Kathy Engelbert has said several times that the NBA does not have charter flights due to the high costs. But, at a press conference before the All-Star Game in July, she announced that the league would rent all WNBA Finals games. The WNBA can also choose to rent early in the playoffs if teams cross multiple time zones with limited time between matches.
The WNBA’s most recent collective bargaining agreement, signed in January 2020, does not include covenants, and league rules prohibit any of the twelve teams from choosing to lease individually because that could create a competitive disadvantage between them. It was revealed earlier this year that New York Liberty was fined $500,000 for using charters in last season’s times. Engelbert also denied a report that Liberty owner Joseph Tsai had offered the league a plan that would cover charters for all WNBA teams.
With her prominent union role, Ogwumike was instrumental in passing the CBA, but she noted in a statement on social media that a lot has changed about air travel since the COVID-19 pandemic, and that must be taken into account.
“During these unprecedented times, the required form of commercial travel continues to be a huge burden on our players and their bodies,” Ogoomyc wrote. “It is a serious health and safety issue that must be addressed.
“Competitive advantage is a onerous argument that is over-welcomed. It is a phrase preventing transformational growth across our leagues. New and emerging ownership groups have demonstrated the ability and eagerness to invest the resources needed to grow this league in the areas that demand it the most.”
In July, Minnesota Lynx coach Sheryl Reeve expressed her frustration at what she felt was the league’s slow reaction to problems with the Lynx traveling to Washington for a game. When asked about it, Mystics coach Mike Tybolt initially said he was “sick of hearing” WNBA travel delays and that he doesn’t feel sorry for Lynx because it happens to every team. However, he later apologized for his remarks.
In light of Sparks’ issues on Sunday, Ogoomyc, with union support, wrote on social media on Monday that she hopes this will lead to further improvements in travel.
“We reiterate our standing call for the league’s ownership and team to work together to identify a manageable solution to this problem whose origins are complex, but whose remediation is simple,” Ogomec wrote. “It’s time to allow teams to invest in charter flights between games, starting with the 2022 WNBA playoffs, and continuing with the full season starting in 2023.
“In the spirit of collaboration, we invite both private and commercial airlines to recognize this bold leadership opportunity: American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, NetJets, Wheels Up and JetSuiteX, among others: we encourage you to meet us at the table and share our players WNBA to help eliminate the toughest opponent they face every season: travel.”
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