As the 23rd WNBA season draws near, there is plenty excitedly new but also concerns that might make its devotees blue. Pro women's hoops has anchored itself in the nation's sports conscience, though some rough waters must be navigated. The league gained widened exposure with a multi-year deal that brings 40 games this year to the CBS Sports Network. The TV schedule launches Saturday, one night after a pair of openers.
It recruited Cathy Engelbert from the professional services company Deloitte, where she was CEO, to run the show. While previous WNBA overseers have carried the title of president, she becomes the inaugural commissioner. Its players will don new shinier uniforms, and a redesigned logo will lend to marketing efforts.
Not all is bright. The commish must juggle various challenges, perhaps none greater than an absence of several luminaries on the court for parts or all of the season.
Former MVP Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) will take a season-long sabbatical to recharge, and Skylar Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings) will miss an undetermined stretch of games while on maternity leave.
Injury is the culprit in the other cases.
The latest MVP will not be around to defend her individual and team title. Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) needs the entire season to rehab a torn Achilles tendon.
Two more ex-MVPs will get a late start: Diana Taurisi (Phoenix Mercury) after back surgery and Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) because of a damaged hamstring.
The bug also bit Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) with torn knee ligaments. Then Sue Bird was declared out long term on Tuesday by the Storm, which appears unlikely to repeat as champion. Bird faces a knee operation.
The one-two injury punch means Seattle will cede the favorite's role to the Las Vegas Aces (5/2), the L.A. Sparks (3/1) or the Washington Mystics (3/1), the 2018 runners-up.
Englebert can do little about players' health, but she can bring peace to an unsettled labor situation. The union opted out of its agreement with the league last fall, and a deadline for a contract looms before the 2020 season.
Attendance declined for nine of the dozen teams, and the lessened star power poses an early test for the commissioner to fill more seats. An influx of collegians is being counted on to make a quicker-than-normal impact.