Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2021 and has been updated to reflect the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season ahead of the 2022 WNBA Draft.
Some of the best-known names in women’s college basketball will not be drafted on April 11 when the 2022 WNBA Draft is held.
In 2021, Paige Bueckers has built an unprecedented freshman season for the Connecticut powerhouse, a program that itself has seen a fair share of unprecedented marks. She led the Huskies to the brink of the title game and became the first rookie to win over 20 awards, including the John R. Wooden Award for College Basketball’s Most Outstanding Player.
If she was a male player, she could have chosen to be a sole pick as the likely No. 1 pick in the draft. His childhood best friend, Gonzaga rookie Jalen Suggs, had that option and was selected fifth overall by the Orlando Magic in the 2021 NBA draft.
“Two kids from the same neighborhood, same background, same everything go to school 3,000 miles apart. Their paths are 3,000 miles different,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said at the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tournament. NBA and make millions and millions of dollars.The other will be back at UConn.
The WNBA operates with different eligibility rules than the NBA. These rules are increasingly a talking point that came to the fore with Bueckers, then again in 2022 with the rise of National Player of the Year and NCAA champion Aliyah Boston, and he’s not as clear that a call to change the rules is with the NBA.
Why Can’t Paige Bueckers, Aliyah Boston Make WNBA Draft?
Most college players aren’t eligible for the WNBA draft until they’ve completed four years of college. But there are a few exceptions in the collective bargaining agreement for juniors like Texas’ Charli Collier, who was selected No. 1 in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
A player who turns 22 during the calendar year of the draft may forfeit his NCAA eligibility and register. Sabrina Ionescu could have declared herself a junior in the April 2019 draft, for example, as she turned 22 on December 6 later that year.
A player who graduated from a four-year school prior to the draft or within three months of the draft may declare. Many players graduate in three years and begin graduate programs to stay for a fourth.
International players who do not play college ball in the United States are eligible if they turn 20 during the calendar year of the draft. The Seattle Storm drafted Ezi Magbegor in 2019 when the Aussie center was 19.
The draft rules have been around since the league’s inception in 1997 and the current ABC runs until 2027, so they’ve been around for a while. Bueckers is staying in school until at least 2023, when she turns 22 in October. Boston won’t turn 22 until December 2023.
WNBPA Considers Draft Eligibility Changes
There was a lot to wrap up in the ABC after the players retired after the 2018 season. The new contract includes higher salaries, better benefits and more accommodations for professional athletes.
Sue Bird, a four-time Seattle Storm champion and vice president of the WNBA Players Association, said the union briefly discussed it during CBA negotiations in 2019, but didn’t revisit it with so much else. on the table.
“It wasn’t the priority at the time,” Bird said, via The Associated Press. “I think what’s interesting about this conversation is that I think players should always have a choice. Players should always have a choice.
His longtime teammate, foe and friend, Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi agreed.
“I think the next step is to have a choice,” Taurasi said, via AP. “Will the kids do it? Probably not. We should have this option. If you are the best in your profession, you should be able to improve.
Bueckers and fellow freshman phenom Caitlin Clark from Iowa were both asked about it last year and objected, noting that the choice was not available to them, so there is no reason to disagree. ‘think it. Along with Boston, they are part of an incredible class of 2024 that includes Aaliyah Edwards (UConn), Cameron Brink (Stanford) and Hailey Van Lith (Louisville).
WNBA players who leave college early
There are very few players who choose to leave college early as an eligible junior. The benefits, and especially the money, aren’t there like they are in the NBA.
In the previous ABC, rookies like four-time UConn champion Breanna Stewart made around $40,000 a year on a rookie contract. WNBA rookies drafted first through fourth in 2021 will receive $70,040 in base salary. That’s life-changing money for a lot of people, but it pales in comparison to the $8 million that a No. 1 NBA draft pick will fetch.
WNBA players have historically supplemented their salaries with potentially more lucrative overseas contracts and marketing deals. But that money is scarce to start with for rookies.
For some, it’s worth it. Notre Dame star Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm) and Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B (Los Angeles Sparks) entered the 2015 draft early. In 2016, Aerial Powers (Minnesota Lynx) left Michigan State as a junior and UConn’s Morgan Tuck left with one year of eligibility remaining after taking a redshirt as a sophomore.
“Trends take more than a year or two to really develop,” Lisa Borders said as WNBA president in 2016. “Let’s revisit that again in a few years and then see where we are.”
South Carolina redshirt juniors Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis followed in 2017. Diamond DeShields left Tennessee as a junior to play overseas in Turkey ahead of the 2018 draft which also included first-time entrant Azura Stevens from ‘UConn. Jackie Young left Notre Dame and was the No. 1 pick for the Las Vegas Aces in 2019. And in 2020, Oregon’s Satou Sabally, UConn’s Megan Walker and Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter were first-round picks. as eligible juniors.
It’s a few years later, a trend is here and it’s time to revisit it.
Eligibility rule benefits women’s football
The impact of allowing players to declare early runs deeper than just one talented player like Bueckers or Boston. Keeping top talent in college year after year grows the collegiate game, and in women’s basketball, it still has an outsized impact on women’s basketball in general.
“That’s what has helped our game grow, the fact that these kids are staying in school a little longer,” Auriemma said. “Building a brand for themselves, building a brand for the university.”
Fans will tune in for another college season to watch Boston, Bueckers and other talent that showed up in the tournament. It allows players to create their own brands and explore name, image and likeness matches. Ionescu did it with his talents on the pitch and his degree off the pitch.
But there are also not enough places for the number of talents currently in women’s football.
“I like the demands right now selfishly because I think it makes women’s basketball grow,” former UConn star and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said in 2021. “We’ve seen the ratings [in the 2020-21 season] in women’s college basketball and the tournament and the Final Four. These women are on a huge stage on this platform, and I would love to see them continue to be on this stage until they are fully ready for the WNBA.”
The sad reality is that there aren’t many places to go if they choose to leave early. Natasha Cloud, Diamond DeShields, Lexie Brown and Erica Wheeler commented on a Highlight Her chart last year, noting that there are only 12 spots on each of the 12 teams. But this list number 144 is not exact either. Due to higher salaries and team salary caps, analysts and WNBA general managers believe it could be lower.
The rosters are currently inflated, and the leap from the college ball to the professional level is significant. Second- and third-round draft picks are already long to make lists and some first-round picks might not make it either.
The league needs expansion first for the growing talent coming into the professional ranks. We would all like to see Bueckers or Boston in the WNBA sooner rather than later. But without more teams, it makes no sense for the game if they were to jump now. That could change by the time the CBA expires, and their collegiate exploits could force a change for generational talent. For now, there are other changes to accomplish first.