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The WNBA now won’t suspend European players for representing their countries in Women’s EuroBasket or the World Cup

There is a little-discussed change that could sway some Europeans who are on the fence about whether to play in the WNBA. There are no changes for the Olympics, however.

Las Vegas Aces v Washington Mystics - Game Two
Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh won’t be penalized for representing Belgium, should they return.
Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

UPDATE: I had a Twitter exchange with Richard Cohen, who is WNBAlien on Twitter, regarding fines in the CBA.

In Article XIV, Section 7 of the new CBA, teams or the league can still fine players for missing games. However, the language has still softened around players who participate in international tournaments so they aren’t penalized as heavily as they were in the past.

It will be interesting to see how these things will be applied in practice over the next several seasons. The article is below.

The new WNBA and WNBPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed to earlier this month and the actual document is now online!

For the Washington Mystics, I more or less saw this being a good thing. But one of the questions we didn’t know was regarding international breaks for national teams, in particular for teams not named the United States.

There were no accommodations according to Article XIV, the article about player conduct and discipline (pages 114-119) of the previous CBA for players who take in-season breaks for their national teams. Because of that, players were suspended without pay. In the 2019 WNBA season, Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh were suspended because they were Belgians representing their national team for 2019 Women’s EuroBasket.

So will the WNBA break for Women’s EuroBasket? If Meesseman or Mestdagh sign new WNBA contracts, will they have to deal with suspensions every other year when Women’s
EuroBasket rolls around?

The WNBA is not pausing for Women’s EuroBasket

If there is something European players like Meesseman and Mestdagh would presumably want, they would want the season to pause completely for Women’s EuroBasket. However, that’s not happening. As you might imagine, the WNBA, like any other sports league, doesn’t want to pause midseason for non-WNBA events. It takes momentum and spotlight away from the league.

And in fact, Article XIV, Section 9 of the new CBA (p. 125) has rules that explicitly mention WNBA prioritization, starting with the 2023 season. Players who decide to play for any other non-WNBA basketball team midseason will be suspended without pay for the remainder of the season AND the following season from that season forward.

Before you panic, let’s get to the next headline below, which is that ....

The WNBA will stop suspending players simply for playing in Women’s EuroBasket

Pages 127 and 128 of the new CBA now includes a safeguard for players who represent other countries for FIBA competitions, at least after 2023. Players who miss training camp or midseason for FIBA continental tournaments or the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup won’t be suspended for the season and the year after that in 2023 on.

As long as the player agrees to leave no earlier than two weeks before the FIBA competition, like Women’s EuroBasket and returns to the team within 48 hours after her national team is eliminated from that competition, she’s safe. There is no mention of players losing their pay, so these players should still get their full pay.

There are no exceptions for the Olympics because there already is a one month break for it. And it is unclear whether the 2019 rules still apply for 2021 and 22. But since there are a good number of Americans who are Europeans based on FIBA rules, I would think that these changes are in effect immediately.

How does this affect the Mystics?

This change should benefit Meesseman and Mestdagh from a financial perspective. They now won’t have to sacrifice their pay in the WNBA to play for Belgium in Women’s EuroBasket like they did last season. Because of that, more Europeans may be willing to test the WNBA waters, especially since this new agreement is very forward-thinking around a well-rounded athlete.

However, I can see an unintended consequence on European players. Teams may now start trying to offer lower salaries to Europeans who have many years of WNBA experience as a way to “make up” for the time they would miss. I don’t see Mike Thibault and the Mystics trying to lowball Meesseman, especially when she is the team’s longest-tenured player. But other teams could do that,.

What do these changes not address?

This season is an Olympic year. If Belgium makes the Olympics, it’s still possible that Meesseman and/or Mestdagh sit this season out or not join the team until August.

Since the new WNBA prioritization rules don’t apply this season, they could be able to focus only on Belgium without being suspended for two seasons, assuming they sign new contracts before the spring.

However for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France, European WNBA players will have to play stateside until the designated Olympic break. If they stay with their teams for the season while on contract, they can be suspended for over one year.

There is one more important thing that the new rule change won’t change. Even though European nationals stand to gain more money, they will still miss time every odd-numbered year if their national teams make Women’s EuroBasket. And because of that, it’s still difficult to see someone like Meesseman be a realistic WNBA MVP contender, though it’s also a bit easier to see happen.

What will likely end up happen with Meesseman and Mestdagh, especially if Belgium makes the Olympics?

I don’t anticipate either of them re-signing with the Mystics or any WNBA team until after we know whether Belgium is Olympic-bound or not. Then, if Belgium makes the Olympics, their decision to either sign a contract early or hold off on signing until after the Qualifying Tournament is over.

Meesseman is the one who’s more likely to re-sign, since Mestdagh was an end-of-the-bench reserve last season. Washington should still core her anyway.