WNBA CBA Explained: Salary Cap Advanced, Part 1

How do suspensions affect the salary cap? How many players can a team have on its roster? What is a training camp contract?

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Welcome back to our WNBA CBA and Salary Cap Explained series. As part of our mission to unlock better insight about the women’s game, we’re breaking down the rules outlined in the 350-page WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), covering the 2020 through 2027 seasons, in plain language. Each article will focus on a bite-size chunk of the CBA to make the concepts more digestible. To catch up on the previous seven pieces in the series, check out the list at the bottom of this piece. We are also compiling all of this information on the Her Hoop Stats website in a single FAQ document.

This is the second installment covering the league’s salary cap and how teams are required to manage their salaries to comply with the rules. In the first piece, we looked at the basics of the salary cap, including the levels of the salary cap, league guarantee, and team minimum. This installment will cover suspensions, roster limits, and training camp contracts. The third installment will look at how the salary cap deals with players who are cut following injuries, as well as cap holds.

How do suspensions affect the salary cap?

In some situations when a player is suspended for the remainder of the season — whether it is voluntary, the result of an injury competing for a non-WNBA team, or a penalty for withholding services — the player will be removed from the team’s salary cap. These usually happen before the season begins, but even if the player is under contract and fails to report at the start of the season, they are excluded from the team salary once the suspension begins as they have not earned any of their salary. In the case of a failure to report suspension, teams must wait at least 14 days from the start of the regular season before suspending the player.

This is what happens when players opt out of the season, like Maya Moore in 2019 and 2020, and all the non-medical opt-outs that occurred before the shortened 2020 season. All those players informed their teams before the season that they did not intend to play that season, which is why it is called a voluntary suspension. A player like Natasha Cloud, who opted out to focus on social justice issues, was a voluntary suspension and her salary is no longer on Washington’s cap. Elena Delle Donne, on the other hand, will not be playing but the Mystics will continue to pay her, meaning she is not suspended and her salary stays on the cap.

An example of an injury suspension was Breanna Stewart, who tore her Achilles tendon while playing overseas in the WNBA offseason. The team doctor deemed she was unfit to play for the whole season and therefore she would not earn her salary, removing it from the team’s salary cap. Only injuries from playing for a non-WNBA team that will last the remainder of the season can result in the team removing the player’s salary.

If Stewart had torn her Achilles in the Storm’s training camp or while walking down the street, Seattle would have been forced to keep her salary on the cap even if they suspended her. This would be an odd situation where the team would have to keep the player on its salary cap even though the player is not getting paid. At that point, the team would probably just choose to keep the player happy and paid. Likewise, if the doctor believes the injury will last 42 or fewer days, the team has to retain her contract on the salary cap.

For any partial-season suspensions — which includes time off for pregnancy, discipline, and to allow a player to compete in non-WNBA events or tournaments — the player’s full salary counts on the cap, even if the player has a reduction in their base salary. This means if a player is earning $60,000 and loses $5,000 due to a suspension, the player will earn $55,000 but the team’s salary will still reflect the original $60,000.

How many players can a team have on its roster?

Teams may have a maximum of 12 players on their rosters, except for any players signed via the hardship exception and players on training camp contracts. Teams must have at least 11 players on their rosters throughout the season. In the event a team falls below 11 players, they must sign another player within 72 hours. The maximum and minimum roster rules include injured players who are left on the roster but does not include players who have been suspended voluntarily or due to injury.

This definition is different from the number of players on the cap when placing cap holds and from the definition of active players that determines when the emergency hardship exception can be granted. So, teams may have the rights to more than 12 players — including training camp contracts and players suspended for the season — but that is not a violation of the roster maximum.

What is a training camp contract?

A training camp contract is a non-standard contract that is only used in the preseason. Between February 1 and the first day of the regular season, teams may sign players to one-year, non-guaranteed, minimum salaries that aren’t added to the salary cap until the first day of the regular season when they become standard contracts if they aren’t terminated. Rookies in the first year of their contracts are also considered to be on training camp contracts until the first day of the regular season. Training camp contracts are meant to allow teams to check out many potential players in the preseason and are never included in a team’s final salary. Thus, they do not affect the team minimum or league-wide guarantee unless the player makes the team and it becomes a standard contract.

Missed our previous installments? Here are all the topics we have covered so far…

This series is about learning, so we want to hear from you! If you would like a clarification for any rule, suggestions for future CBA Explained topics, or any other questions, please feel free to let us know in the comments or tweet at us @herhoopstats.

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