The check-in: Launching a new professional league is hard
The puck drops in 33 days.
Hi, friends! First, I want to thank you all so, so much for the support I’ve received via paid subscriptions and donations over the past week. The outpouring has been overwhelming, and we’re making solid progress towards our end-of-year goal. This community is the absolute best.
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Enough of that. Onto the show!
1. Let’s check in on the PWHL, shall we?
The last time we caught up with the PWHL, the start-up women’s hockey league had just successfully executed its first draft. On Tuesday, it announced that the puck will drop for the inaugural season on New Year’s Day — which, terrifyingly, is in only 33 days. (Don’t shoot the messenger, please.)
So, I thought it was time for a check-in.
Here’s what we do have: Rosters starting to take shape. Right now, training camps are underway in all six markets — Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Minnesota, New York and Boston. Teams could bring a maximum of 35 players into training camp, but have to have to cut rosters down to 27 by today, November 29. The first waiver window will be between November 30 and December 2, and rosters have to be down to 23, plus two reserves, by December 11. The Athletic has a great signing tracker so you can stay up-to-date with the latest.
We also have dates and locations for the home openers for each team.
But there’s a lot we don’t yet have. There is not a full schedule, which I think is particularly rough. Not every team has officially announced its home arena for the full season. We don’t have broadcast information. And we don’t have team nicknames or logos — and we won’t have either of those things at all for the first season.
Instead, players will compete in very generic jerseys with the team’s location written diagonally across the front.
Hailey Salvian at The Athletic has an insightful deep dive into why the jerseys and branding aren’t complete. It basically boils down to: There simply wasn’t enough time. Stan Kasten, a member of the PWHL Advisory Board, actually told Salvian, “Doing this in six months is nuts.”
When Walter and BJK Enterprises got involved in 2022, there was an examination period — determining what a league could look like, how much it would cost and how they could get it done. In November, Walter brought Kasten in to lead the project. From there, leadership prioritized a collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union — and acquisition talks with the Premier Hockey Federation to unify the sport.
Both of those elements took six months to negotiate and were finalized at the end of June. Getting branding done for this season required a level of bandwidth that leadership, for whatever reason, did not have.
Of course, the PWHL could have taken the NHL’s advice and taken more time. They could have started the season in the fall of 2024 instead of in January. But Kasten and Walter made a commitment to the players that the puck would drop this season, and that commitment has come at the expense of “things being perfect on Day 1.”
“Things would be prettier, more perfect if we had waited a year,” Kasten explained. “But what was most important was getting a league up and running for all these women who had been waiting for this day for so long.”
So, here’s the thing: I get what Kasten is saying here. A lot of the players, particularly those who were part of the PWHPA and hadn’t played in a professional league setting for years, if ever, didn’t want to waste another year of their prime waiting around for the PWHL to perfect everything. Getting a CBA and player protections in place was the most important thing on the to-do list, and they did that!
But also, branding and names are a huge part of building a fanbase and an identity and promoting the sport — and, it must be said, it was one of the things that the PHF, the women’s league that the PWHL abruptly acquired and shuttered this summer, was the best at. I understand that the PWHL wants to do its own thing and start fresh, but’s hard to see brands like the Minnesota Whitecaps, Boston Pride, and Metropolitan Riveters so unceremoniously discarded in exchange for, what at this point, is nothing.
But what’s far more concerning is that there still isn’t a way to buy tickets for the games, even the home openers which have been announced. I have no doubt that this will be rectified shortly — there is no other option — but no matter what, there’s going to be an extremely limited amount of time to promote games and actually get fans in the stands. It’s far from ideal.
Look, I’m sympathetic to the PWHL’s plight. Launching a new league is incredibly difficult to do, and it’s a fine balance between not wanting to make rash decisions and rush things and getting a product out there so that the players have a chance to be paid to play hockey and showcase their talents. I’m rooting for them to succeed, truly. But considering the thing that was supposed to set this league apart from the PHF was professionalism and resources, I don’t think it’s out-of-pocket to be concerned by how last-minute and slapdash this all feels.
We’ll continue to revisit this topic weekly in check-ins, because there’s a lot to be on the lookout for.
2 I’m sorry, if I had to see this trailer, so do you.
Remember in a previous lifetime — like, four months ago — when the USWNT was going for its third straight World Cup trophy, and Netflix announced it was going to be following their quest with cameras?
Well, after the team’s brutal Round of 16 loss, I’ll be honest, I’d pretty much forgotten about it. But alas, Netflix hasn’t. “Under Pressure,” the aptly named documentary, will premiere on Netflix on December 12, and the trailer was released today.
Yeah, this looks just as horrifying as I remember it being in real time.
I’ll watch it, of course. With (lots of) whiskey on hand.
Worth noting: The USWNT is back in action this Saturday, December 2, and Tuesday, December 5, in a pair of friendlies against China. Future USWNT coach Emma Hayes stopped by camp for a quick introduction, and the vibes seem good.
3. The NCAA College Cup and volleyball tournament are here!
The College Cup is taking place this weekend at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina on Friday, December 1 and Monday, December 4.
In the semifinals, BYU will face Stanford and Florida State will face Clemson.
My North Carolina Tar Heels were *thisclose* to making it to championship weekend, where they would have enjoyed a glorious home-field advantage. But alas! Facing BYU, UNC led 3-0 at halftime, thanks to a second-minute header by Maycee Bell and two quick strikes by Ally Sentnor. But the Cougars never gave up hope, and scored four goals in the final 30 minutes — including three in the final 10 minutes!!!!!! — to get the comeback victory.
The highlights are certainly worth a watch.
ALSO: The women’s NCAA volleyball tournament starts this Thursday!! Here’s the bracket. Nebraska, Wisconsin, Stanford, and Pittsburgh are the four top seeds, and everything seems to be heading towards a Nebraska/Wisconsin showdown in the final, which would be absolutely incredible. The University of South Florida will be hosting the Final Four on December 15 and 17, so if you’re in the Tampa area, be sure to get tickets.
Here’s a full bracket breakdown from Michella Chester:
4. We still don’t know what’s going on with Angel Reese.
Just to update you all on last week’s check-in, Angel Reese still has not been back with LSU, and Kim Mulkey still hasn’t given any insight into why. Cool.
In Reese’s absence, LSU is finding its stride on the court, though it will face its biggest test of the season this Thursday when Virginia Tech comes to Baton Rouge in a must-watch Final Four rematch.
Aneesah Morrow, a transfer from DePaul, has been particularly impressive for LSU, scoring a combined 65 points and 26 rebounds over the two games at the Cayman Classic over Thanksgiving weekend.
Here are a few other women’s basketball stories to put on your radar:
South Carolina continues to roll. In its two games last week, South Carolina beat South Dakota State 78-38 and Mississippi Valley State 101-19 (!!). They’re number one with a bullet headed into this week, when they travel to my neck of the woods to face UNC and Duke in back-to-back games.
Speaking of my neck of the woods, N.C. State looks GOOD. Like, super good. The Wolfpack got its second top-5 win of the season (it’s only November!) over the weekend, taking down Colorado 78-60.
University of Southern California (USC) Freshman JuJu Watkins is already a star. She has four 30-point games already this season, and has helped lift USC to No. 6 in the AP Top 25, USC’s highest ranking since 1994.
Speaking of USC, last night, Aaliyah Gayles made the first basket of her college career. It came in garbage time, yes, but it was one of the most significant baskets anyone will hit all season.
On April 16, 2022, Gayles — the No. 8 recruit in the 2022 class and a McDonald's All American — was shot in all four of her limbs in a shooting at a house party in North Las Vegas. You absolutely must read this feature on Gayles’ recovery by our friend Katie Barnes.
Here’s an excerpt from Barnes’ story that will really put it into perspective how much Gayles has gone through:
McNickle counted 18 bullet holes, allowing her to "guesstimate" Aaliyah had been shot nine times. The bullets fractured her left forearm and damaged her wrist, her right arm above the elbow, her right thigh bone, her right shin, her right ankle and her left shin. A ripped artery behind Aaliyah's left knee was of immediate concern. It was no longer able to distribute enough blood to her lower leg. Amputation might be the only choice.
The fractures and the cumulative damage to Aaliyah's body were alarming. These fractures weren't like ones caused by hard falls; they weren't straight-line fractures across the bone. The velocity of the bullets entering and exiting Aaliyah's body pushed the bullets through her bones, shattering parts of them.
McNickle coordinated a combined surgery. In the early hours of Easter Sunday, one surgeon repaired the blood vessel in Aaliyah's left leg and another inserted rods to stabilize the fractures in her right femur and tibia.
All of that happened just about 19 months ago!! It’s a miracle that she’s walking again, let alone playing basketball.
Here’s the rest of the Top 25 for this week, via ESPN:
5. Let’s end on a positive note.
Ajla Tomljanovic was sidelined for most of the 2023 season due to injury, so it was great to see her return to form at the WTA 125 MundoTenis Open in Florianopolis, Brazil, where she defeated Argentina's Martina Capurro Taborda 6-1, 7-5 in the final to take home the trophy.
SPEAKING OF THE TROPHY.
Look at it.
IT’S A BLUE CAT.
IT’S A BLUE CAT POSING SMUGLY WITH A TENNIS RACKET.
And you know what’s better than one cat posing smugly with a tennis racket? That’s right. TWO cats posing smugly with tennis rackets.
Sara Errani and Leolia Jeanjean won the doubles title, and each got to take home a special trophy of their own.
Why isn’t ever trophy a blue cat posing smugly with sports equipment???? I demand every trophy in the world receive an immediate redesign.