- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

The oppressed players of the WNBA are rolling the collective-bargaining dice with Martha Burk.
The latest gamble goes with the casino-backed purchase of the bankrupt Orlando team.
These are desperate measures that smack of folly, if anyone cares to notice, which, of course, is another issue.
The true number of WNBA supporters is subject to manipulation, massive giveaways, kidnappings by school bus, the lost, logarithms and guesswork.
The leaders of the Mohegan Indian Tribe in Uncasville, Conn., have promised to hedge their bets in the interest of athletic competition, such as it is in the WNBA. The appearance is incriminating enough.
You could ask John Thompson, who caused a momentary stir after seeking to become a proprietor in the Las Vegas gaming industry at the time he was the coach of the Georgetown basketball team.
The two industries, gambling and sports, have a dark past, starting with the Black Sox. Pete Rose, hapless as ever, is part of it, too. Even the hint of a loose relationship between the two was off-limits until the WNBA came down with a bad case of financial frailty.
Burk might consider the marketplace before she recites the strong-and-invincible verse with the WNBA owners. They are guilty of benevolence, not sexism.
"By giving our support, we can raise the public consciousness about how the players are so far down in their pay and in their endorsement opportunities," Burk said last week.
That is not a talking point. That is an apple and an orange.
The recreation-league warriors play basketball, too, if it is necessary to follow Burk's logic. Their pay is nil, the same as their endorsement opportunities, because of the marketplace.
After six seasons, the WNBA is attempting to correct itself in response to its flat growth. The players are endeavoring to make more with less after their collective-bargaining agreement expired last September. The S.O.S. to Burk is a political move intended to strengthen their cries of poverty.
Burk, as the go-to woman of 2003, is not one to let the facts get in the way of a public fight. She has spent the last year slapping around Hootie Johnson and the Augusta National Golf Club, plus Andy Rooney just to mix it up. Good old Abe Pollin could be next. You never know. The Mystics do not live anywhere near as well as the Wizards.
There are other discouraging details beyond the casino-owned Orlando team. The Miami franchise has folded, the San Antonio NBA ownership has assumed the misfortune of the Utah franchise, and the Seattle franchise is looking to skip town. The Charlotte franchise, the lost stepchild of the Hornets, has been on life-support since almost the beginning.
The WNBA financial numbers are not pretty, no matter how creative the math. For the players, the trick in the negotiations so far has been to ignore the obvious. In the real economic world, not the one buffered by the deep pockets of the NBA, the WNBA probably would have gone the way of the well-intentioned ABL by now.
The ABL was the predecessor to the WNBA, either the sixth or seventh professional women's basketball league to go belly-up. It is hard to keep track.
The average player salary in the WNBA last season was $46,000, which is not bad for summertime work. The push to increase the average player salary, though understandable, requires either an economic miracle or the goodwill of the owners. A percentage of nothing either comes out to nothing or out of the pockets of the NBA owners and one Indian tribe.
David Stern and the NBA owners already have opted to marginalize their role in the WNBA. The NBA is not abandoning the WNBA. The NBA is just receptive to those outside parties, casino operators or otherwise, who are interested in sharing in the burden.
The WNBA has the look and feel of so many of those overly inflated high-tech stocks of the '90s. The league commenced to positive reviews in 1997, the summer following the strong showing of U.S. women in the Atlanta Games.
Officials took the reception as a signal to see what the market would bear and wound up exceeding it. An eight-team league in 1997 was a 16-team league by 2000, which has resulted in the number of teams going into this summer being anyone's guess.
This is the correction period, hard as it is for the players to accept.
They probably could stand to look at these negotiations in a more realistic manner.
They still have a league.

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