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Griner’s return, free agency, raises charter flight concerns

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after being traded with Russia in a dramatic prisoner swap in December clashed with free agency, leading to potential travel complications for the league over safety concerns for her. If Griner, who is a free agent, but has said she’ll be returning to Phoenix needs special travel accommodations — like charter flights — the league needs to come up with a plan for the 6-foot-9 star. Griner’s safety while traveling will be a top priority for the team and the league. “We are very aware of BG’s unique situation,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press. “We planned and thought about it with security experts. BG’s side, our side. We’ll find the right time to comment when she signs with a team.” That could come on Wednesday when free agents can officially sign. While the Griner situation is unique, other marquee players have raised the issue of charter flights, which teams find too costly. The current collective bargaining agreement requires all teams to fly commercially and does not allow teams to charter flights. Any change to it would have to be approved by both the union and the league. “No one wants to make sure it works more than I do,” Engelbert said. “That’s why we’re working so hard to transform the economic business model. We have seen positive changes over the past few years, but we will not jeopardize the league’s financial viability. We’re on the cusp of something big here.” HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST FOR THE WNBA TO CHARTER FLIGHTS? Engelbert says it would cost the league about $25 million each season for each of its 12 teams to charter flights to every game. That number is about $5 million higher than the commissioner’s previous estimates due to the new 40-game WNBA schedule this season, fuel costs and other factors. The estimated cost per franchise for charter flights would be approximately $2 million. According to two people familiar with the cost, air travel costs are currently around $150,000 for each team. People spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly address the issue. “We did it for the finals last year and we have experience with how much it costs for routes that we have to fly,” said Engelbert. “We are monitoring and updating our analysis. We will try to get an economic model to fund this as soon as we can.” WHAT HAPPENS IF A TEAM CHARTERS FLIGHTS? If teams violate the current CBA, they could be fined Fined $500,000 for chartering flights to away games in the second half of this season.HAS THE WNBA CONSIDER SUBSIDIES FLIGHTS?Coveted free agent Breanna Stewart, who has narrowed her picks to a few teams including New York, launched a social media campaign to try and get charter flights for the league. She tweeted, “I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA. I would contribute my NIL, Lots + Production Hours to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health and safety, ultimately resulting in a better product. Who’s with me?” and former WNBA and NBA players offered their support, though any change to travel restrictions would need union and league votes. “We would need a permanent commitment,” Engelbert said. “That’s 250 -300 million on dollars. Look at the goal and the media deal and the sponsorships. We’re nowhere near able to afford $250 million over the next ten years.” are accustomed to flying charter flights. So they traveled in college. Title IX legislation requires colleges to have equal opportunities for their athletic programs for men and women. The NCAA flies both the men’s and women’s teams on charter flights for the Tournament if they are more than 400 miles from the venue of their game This legislation does not apply to the pros, so NBA teams that charter between cities , teams do not have any impact on the WNBA.

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