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WNBA stars found new offseason league as overseas alternative

(Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

There’s a new professional women’s basketball league on the horizon founded by former UConn teammates and current WNBA stars Napheesa Collier and Breanna Stewart. Announced on Thursday, Unrivaled is an innovative 3-on-3 league that will run in the WNBA’s winter offseason and serve as the “most exclusive basketball league in the world.”

The league initially will target 30 of the top players in the WNBA, with six teams and five players per team. Unrivaled will run for 10 weeks from January to March with three games played per week, and it also will feature a single-elimination 1-on-1 tournament. The league’s official launch year has not yet been determined.

In its inaugural season, Unrivaled will be based in Miami, Fla., and competition will take place in a custom facility with a state-of-the-art LED surrounding and a shortened 65-foot basketball court, which will provide an experience the women’s game has never seen before. The facility will also include fan seating, a weight room, recovery resources and content studios.

The new league aims to host at least one event in a larger arena during its debut season and currently has several locations in consideration.

Players’ salaries for the 10-week season are expected to be competitive with top WNBA and overseas salaries, a source informed Just Women’s Sports. The maximum WNBA annual salary is currently $234,936, and the average salary is just over $100,000 a year. Each Unrivaled player will also have equity in the league. Unrivaled’s revenue streams will consist of advertisement and sponsorships, media rights, merchandising and ticket sales.

The league is currently in the midst of fundraising, and Stewart told ESPN she’s already had conversations with potential business partners.

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Napheesa Collier, Unrivaled co-founder, is a three-time WNBA All-Star with Minnesota. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The timing of the new league coincides with fan interest in women’s basketball reaching historic highs. The 2022 WNBA season on ESPN was the most-viewed since 2006, and ESPN’s 2023 season-opening broadcast peaked at 1 million viewers and was the most-watched regular season game on cable television in 24 years. At the NCAA level, the 2023 championship game between LSU and Iowa averaged 9.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever.

Unrivaled will provide players with an opportunity to tap into the growing market and with another means of offseason income.

For years, many WNBA players have gone overseas in the winter months to compete and supplement their WNBA incomes. That option has become even more tenuous since the WNBA’s prioritization rule went into effect this year, fining players with over two years of WNBA experience if they did not report to their teams by May 1. In 2024, the consequences are much steeper: Players will be suspended for the season if they are not present by the start of training camp, according to the clause written into the league’s CBA.

The Unrivaled season is expected to wrap up in March, leaving its players with plenty of time to prepare for WNBA training camp.

“It’s the ability for players to stay home, to be in a market like Miami where we can just be the buzz and create that with the best WNBA players,” Stewart told ESPN. “We can’t keep fighting [the WNBA’s prioritization rule]. It is a rule that takes away our choices, which should never be a thing, especially as women, but it is still a rule.”

One of the biggest benefits of players competing in the WNBA and Unrivaled is rest. For the first time, top professional players who wish to earn an income through basketball in the winter won’t be forced to balance two full-season leagues and a 12-month schedule. With the start of WNBA training camp in April and the completion of the season in September, Unrivaled and WNBA competitors will have three months from October, November and December to rest their bodies.

Unrivaled plans to invest in content creation and brand visibility, giving its players an opportunity to market themselves during the WNBA offseason and grow their individual brands year-round.

The league could also be in a unique position to lure top college players out early with substantial contracts compared to WNBA rookie salaries, which currently fall within the range of $65,000 to $74,000 annually.

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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