Thank you, WNBA bubble, for giving women's basketball some respect it deserves

Here's who you need to follow for content. Can the college game get more attention this winter?

The launch to this 2020 WNBA season felt different. Almost a good type of different.

We all know that the Covid-19 pandemic forced the season to take place inside an IMG Academy bubble. If you’re one of the cool, hip kids, then you say “wubble” with pride. Each of the 12 teams are cooped up on the Bradenton, Fla. campus for a 22-game season that’ll live on into September. There are players and coaches separated from their families. All of the interaction away from the bubble happens virtually. All of these participants’ lives will feel weird for quite some time.

None of that is a positive, per se. The effect that has on perception of the WNBA — and women’s basketball as a whole — makes those of us who have passion for the game want to scream and tell all of our friends HEY, LOOK! I TOLD YOU THIS IS COOL. The game is at the forefront of sports as only MLB, MLS and the conclusion of the NWSL are the only other major team sports in action. The WNBA is getting a whole bunch of national spotlight. A lot of games are on the big television networks, so folks worldwide have the chance to catch all of it.

The results are some pretty cool stuff. The Opening Day matchup between the Phoenix Mercury and the Los Angeles Sparks drew an average of 54,000 viewers, according to ESPN. A 20% increase from 2019 and the most-viewed opener since 2012.

I’ll be the first to say it: I’m new to the WNBA game and it really opened my eyes. I’ve been invested into the college game, mostly SEC, for the last three years. I’ve loved women’s basketball for a while, but the WNBA brings some great moments.

Entering the games, I asked which team might be ideal to follow. I didn’t know much about each roster and wanted a better gauge. The great Matt Ellentuck laid everything out for us searching here. I wasn’t looking for fandom, specifically, because I have a few Atlanta Dream stories with UGA ties in my plans. But, some teams got in on the bidding.

The Dream followed with some savagery.

Now to the important action. We saw No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu make her debut. Chennedy Carter of the Dream get all shifty and live up to the “Hollywood” nickname with 18 points and a victory. I realized that the Connecticut Sun’s Alyssa Thomas plays with two torn labrums … and yes, she balls out. There was the thriller between the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces, which came down to the final two seconds.

We LOVE the NBA getting in on the fun, too. There were plenty of orange WNBA hoodies worn by the stars that sports fans love — LeBron James and Trae Young, to name a couple. The coolest thing happened Monday morning, too, as Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving is giving $1.5 million to WNBA players who chose to opt out for various reasons.

Awesome news for Elena Delle Donne, the Washington Mystics star who opted out due to medical issues … although a panel didn’t see her as high-risk. It also helps Atlanta Dream starters Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes, who didn’t feel comfortable playing due to racial inequities.

I don’t want to make this political, at all, but I also enjoyed the steps being taken for social justice. These players and coaches used their platform to seek answers for the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville, Ky., and found numerous ways to protest against racial inequalities.

So, for someone who has seen women’s basketball get its share of disrespect — although on a different level — this past weekend made for such a cool experience. I’ve also had the luxury of following some great writers. There won’t be much WNBA coverage on this newsletter (unless there’s a Georgia tie, then I’m all over it), so be sure to read these folks.

  • Bria Felicien, who is about everywhere in the women’s sports landscape. She writes Dream (and a few UGA) stories for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also does the occasional freelance story for Sports Illustrated, edits at The Next and is soon to start The Black Sportswoman newsletter.

  • Lindsay Gibbs is not only a hilarious Twitter follow, but also creatively tells stories around women in sports. She shines through her newsletter, Power Plays, and is all about WNBA, NWSL and any other women’s sports league.

  • You can’t miss out on The Next. It has everything you could need on the WNBA and the college game. They’ve got a huge team and those folks will have you fully covered.

  • In terms of mainstream media, The Athletic features the most-comprehensive coverage of the WNBA. Two of the featured writers are Charlotte Carroll and Erica Ayala.

  • Across the Timeline has everything you might need from a data-driven standpoint, and also features a lot of history.

  • There’s quite the variety of coverage with the WNBA athletes from UConn, along with the Connecticut Sun in the area. My friend Alexa Philippou of the Hartford Courant is all over those happenings.

  • Winsidr could be the Macy’s department store of WNBA coverage. Everything you might ever desire.

  • Numbers? You’ve got them at Her Hoop Stats. I can’t wait to utilize this during the college season.

That’s a lot of sources for WNBA coverage. They’re all great and will provide something unique. If you’ve got the smallest inkling to follow the world’s best women’s basketball players, these are ideal places to start. The list is eye-opening, because there are a ton of sources and places to search. The sport is beginning to garner more respect as it deserves, and those of us with newsletters, blogs and sites are dying for it to take that needed next step.

Once the WNBA season ends in September, the anticipation will build for a college women’s basketball season. And that brings me to a question.

How can college basketball earn more respect?

I’m not necessarily talking about the premier teams that start five Avenger superheroes. We know that there’s attention toward UConn, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Oregon.

Below that, however, there’s a huge gap. I notice it while covering games at Georgia. Where’s the fan base beyond the core of boosters or long-time season ticket holders? Where’s the media coverage beyond myself, the local newspaper and the student-run publication?

The obvious answer is to win. Georgia needs to do that and it’ll result in more of a following. But will it really matter all too much?

This isn’t only for Georgia, but other programs like it. It’s a bummer to see a lack of recognition for women’s basketball for most Division I programs. The game is fun and full of action, even without high-rising dunks. These athletes work as hard as men’s basketball or football players do. They have stories and dreams of their own.

So, why can I count the number of attendees in the student section on my hands most nights? Why have media members not shown up to anything since the 2018 NCAA tournament loss to Duke? Why do most SEC arenas feel empty with the upper-level seats blocked off?

I don’t blame my fellow colleagues. There isn’t enough attention to warrant a consistent flow of women’s basketball content, although I’m hopeful I can continue to provide it. Not many recognize the excitement within women’s basketball, nor do they have an itch to see the likes of Carter and A’ja Wilson visit Stegeman Coliseum.

All of it boils down to respect for women’s basketball and perception of the game. The WNBA faced it, and is finally on the rise it deserves. The college game makes its case to be next.


Contact: Brandon Sudge can be found on Twitter (@brandonsudge and @ladydogsreport). You can reach Brandon via e-mail at brandon@ladydogsreport.com.

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Photo credit: Atlanta dream guard Chennedy Carter celebrates with teammate Elizabeth Williams during a win over the Dallas Wings at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Dream — Twitter // Ned Dishman — NBAE via Getty Images)

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