The check-in: Abolish the expansion draft
Plus: Launch updates, schedule releases, and more!
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1. I hope this was the last NWSL expansion draft.
Last Friday, the NWSL had an expansion draft — an event which allowed the two new NWSL teams, Bay FC and the Utah Royals, to pick players from other rosters to join their new franchises. There were a few caveats, of course: Each of the 12 existing teams were allowed to protect nine players on their roster, meaning those players could not be picked by Bay FC or Utah; and current teams could make trades with the expansion teams ahead of the draft to ensure roster protection — meaning their entire roster would be off-limits on expansion draft day.
During the draft, it was possible for 12 players to be selected. But only seven players were selected overall — both teams used multiple “passes,” meaning they declined to draft anyone during their allotted time. Bay FC selected five players, and Utah selected just two. And since the draft, each expansion team has already traded one of the players they selected to another team. It’s madness.
Nobody is happy about the expansion draft, it seems. San Diego FC and USWNT forward Alex Morgan said on Instagram, “It should not exist.” San Diego Wave general manager Molly Downtain said, “There's other ways to do this. This is not focused on the fact there are humans involved. We must evolve and find a a better process.” North Carolina head coach Sean Nahas said, “I don't think people actually realize the damage that is created by this process and what it does to players, clubs and those relationships. We should be protecting the league and not 9 players per roster.” As Jeff Kassouf wrote at The Equalizer, there are other ways to do this.
Expansion is exciting, but it can also be tricky — you want to give new teams enough resources to be competitive right away, but also have to be careful not to give them so many advantages that they automatically jump ahead of existing franchises. I don’t know that it’s an exact science, and I certainly don’t have all of the answers. But the status quo cannot hold. It is incredibly toxic for existing teams to have to publicly protect only nine of their players — imagine returning to that team for training camp knowing you are viewed as more expendable than your teammates. And it’s unfair for both current teams and players to have their fate completely in someone else’s hands. It honestly feels draconian, especially when compared with international soccer, where there are no drafts at all.
The most frustrating part is that I feel like the chaos and discomfort of the expansion draft has overshadowed what should be one of the most exciting times in the NWSL off-season calendar: Free agency! This is only the second year that players in the NWSL have been able to exercise their rights as free agents, and this year, lots of marquee names are on the market. The truth is, the advent of free agency — which players had to work hard to get in their collective bargaining agreement — has, in many ways, eliminated the need for an expansion draft.
Kassouf suggests that perhaps in lieu of an expansion draft, expansion teams could be given an early, exclusive negotiating period with free agents, as well as additional allocation money and/or a temporarily increased salary cap, more early-round picks in the college draft, and more international roster spots in order to give expansion teams enough leverage to build competitive rosters.
I understand that many American leagues have expansion drafts, but given the wide gender salary gap that still exists in sports and the vast, growing international market for soccer talent, I think it’s time for the NWSL to blaze its own trail in this regard.
2. Texas volleyball does it again.
Headed into volleyball’s final four last weekend, Wisconsin and Nebraska were favored to make it to the title game, and Nebraska was favored to win the whole thing. But, it turns out, it was foolish to count out the defending champions.
Texas took down Wisconsin 3-1 in the semifinals, absolutely cruising through the third and fourth sets. Then, in the championship match, the Longhorns served 12 aces and the most outstanding player, Madisen Skinner, had 16 kills on their way to demolishing Nebraska 3-0 in front of a record crowd of 19,727 in Tampa.
Despite being one-way traffic, the match was the most-watched college volleyball match in history, averaging 1.7 million viewers and peaking at 2.1 million viewers.
We absolutely love to see it.
3. Let’s quickly check in with the PWHL, which is 12 days away from its inaugural puck drop.
The highly-anticipated debut of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) is less than two weeks away, and things are starting to come together, thank goodness. Rosters are set. There’s a complete schedule. You can buy tickets — and you better hurry, because they’re going quickly in some markets: The Ottawa PWHL team is expected to have a sold-out crowd of more than 8,000 in attendance for its opener against Montreal on January 2, which would be a record for a professional women’s hockey game in North America; and the Toronto PWHL team, which is playing in a venue that only seats 2,600, has already sold out all tickets for the season.
There are still some lingering questions, though. Namely: Where will these games be broadcast??? We’re still waiting on official word, which I’m sure will come soon, because there’s no other option.
4. Speaking of broadcast partners, the Pro Volleyball Federation has signed its first media deal with CBS Sports!
The Pro Volleyball Federation, which tips off on January 24, has announced CBS Sports as its first media partner.
Per Asli Pelit at Sportico, “The network is the first official media partner to be announced as part of PVF’s media rights package, which is expected to include domestic and international rights. The multiyear agreement includes a minimum of 10 matches to be aired in 2024, plus the semifinals and championship match of the PVF’s championship weekend.”
5. The 2024nWNBA schedule has been released, and the social media teams crushed the unveiling.
The 2024 WNBA schedule is finally here, and most of the teams had a lot of fun with the announcements. Here are a few of my favorite videos, which unfortunately you have to click through and watch on Instagram because E*on M*sk still blocks twitter embeds on Substack. (No, I won’t ever get over it.)
The Dallas Wings did a throw-back to iconic early-day WNBA commercials, including a cameo from Sheryl Swoopes:
The Mystics had a fabulous collaboration with Lip Bar:
The Storm went full Mean Girl:
The Dream recruited a drumline to get us hype:
The Lynx invoked GTA:
The Liberty had Stewie do the Hot Ones Challenge:
And finally, the Mercury had Sophie and BG do the Chubby Bunny Challenge:
Which one was your favorite?
Thanks so much for reading, friends! Paid subscribers will be getting my review of the Netflix World Cup documentary, “Under Pressure,” this Friday. Everyone else, I’ll see you next week.
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