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Cathy Engelbert: WNBA rosters ‘are the right size’ despite squeeze

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert (Evan Yu/Just Women's Sports)

Cathy Engelbert thinks the WNBA’s rosters are fine the way they are.

As the push for expansion grows – especially as the NWSL has expanded twice in the last four years – the WNBA and its commissioner are facing growing criticism for the limited spots available in the league.

The 2023 WNBA Draft brought with it excitement for the futures of some of the college game’s brightest stars. But with that came the reality that the WNBA might not have room for all of them.

After all, just 17 of the 36 picks from the 2022 draft made their team’s opening day rosters. And with just 144 roster spots available and an ever-increasing talent pool, it’s only going to get harder to make the jump to the next level.

On Monday, Engelbert reiterated that while expansion is in the league’s future, it’s not in the near future. And while she stated that she would love to “bring in two teams over the next few years,” they’re looking to add four teams in the “longer term.”

“We are progressing nicely. Earlier this year, you probably saw I visited Portland. Next month, I’ll be in Toronto,” she said. “My plan is to continue to visit a few more markets in the coming months with groups that we’re having discussions with, with potential ownership groups that have showed interest. I feel really good.

“The last thing we want to do is bring new owners in who are going to fail…. I am so glad we didn’t rush it. Now is the time to get into the due diligence phase with some of these cities.”

But she wouldn’t give a timetable, with her reason being that “as soon as I give a timetable, I assure you it won’t be right.”

Some have pointed to expanding roster sizes as a way to help ease the squeeze while the league considers expansion. But Engelbert isn’t sold.

“We’re often asked about that roster size question. We think today our rosters are the right size,” she said. “I think for now the roster sizes are set for this season into next. But that’ll be for sure a discussion in the next round of collective bargaining, as will a variety of other issues. And I think with expansion on the horizon, my personal view is to give 12 to 24 and hopefully more roster spots will be something obviously that expansion will afford us.

“All the discussion on roster sizes and expansion, but you want to make sure you’re doing it not in just adding, adding, adding, just because you don’t want to degrade the quality of the game,” she continued. “That’s one that’s important to protect. I don’t think the quality has ever been better in this game right now, the women’s game, both at the collegiate and at the professional level.”