Thanks to COVID-19, the WNBA’s 2020 season will operate on an abbreviated regular-season schedule.
But not even a global pandemic is deterring the Connecticut Sun from aiming for their first-ever WNBA title.
The Sun is coming off a thrilling 2019 campaign, making their way to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2005. But Connecticut fell one game shy of the championship in October and will look to avenge that loss in 2020.
The WNBA’s landscape looks a bit different now than in years past, however. The pandemic has turned the league upside-down, delaying the start of the season by 2 1/2 months, shortening its regular-season schedule from 36 to 22 games and forcing players to make difficult decisions of whether or not to play in the abbreviated season. Things still will be competitive, but different nonetheless.
So, how exactly do the league’s schedule and return-to-play plan impact the Sun?
1. An altered roster
Several WNBA players already have chosen to opt-out of the league’s 2020 season, many due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. Connecticut hasn’t been immune to this, losing at least one of its biggest players before play even began.
Sun star Jonquel Jones announced her decision to opt-out of the 2020 season June 22, calling it “one of the toughest decisions” of her WNBA career. She is Connecticut’s only player choosing to sit out the season, though the roster likely will be in flux throughout the next two months.
Two Sun players, Natisha Hiedeman and Briann January, already have tested positive for COVID-19, though Hiedeman has recovered as of Friday. And considering COVID-19’s extensive reach, they likely won’t be the only players to return positive tests, either.
That means Connecticut will have to be prepared for the worst, though they should hope for the best. At worst, all five of the Sun’s typical starting five will be out with the virus at one time, though an outbreak like that on any team likely would cause the league to pause either the team or the league’s schedule.
2. A shortened regular season
The WNBA originally was scheduled to begin play more than two months ago, but hey — better late than never, right?
This won’t be the season teams were expecting to play in 2020, to say the least. At 22 regular-season games apiece, each team has a slimmer chance at reaching the postseason than in previous seasons, making the push for the playoffs all the more competitive.
No, it’s not the 36-game schedule teams (and fans) are accustomed to. But it’s not all bad news. There are quite a few interesting matchups on tap for this season, so perhaps those will make up for the late start and abbreviated regular-season slate.
3. A social justice angle
Though no one on the Sun opted out of the season for social justice reasons, that doesn’t mean the team isn’t focused on the issue(s).
The WNBA has dedicated its 2020 season to social justice, according to a statement released by the league July 6. In fact, the league’s 2020 opening weekend will be dedicated to the “Black Lives Matter” movement in particular, with “all aspects of the game and player outfitting” designed to “affirm ‘Black Lives Matter’ and honor victims of police brutality and racial violence,” per a separate statement released July 13.
Several Sun players already have proudly displayed their newly-customized jerseys, which now feature Breonna Taylor’s name beneath their own name and number. Connecticut will partake in the WNBA’s opening weekend dedicated to social justice, kicking off Sunday’s slate of games at 12 p.m. ET against the Minnesota Lynx.