- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Washington Mystics forward Charlotte Smith-Taylor did not have time to relish a victory over the Seattle Storm on June 10. She was too worried about rushing home, packing her bags and catching some sleep before waking up at 5 a.m. to meet her teammates for a flight to Minnesota.

Smith-Taylor and the Mystics wearily boarded the plane that morning and then, not surprisingly, ran out of steam later that day in a 78-60 loss to the well-rested Lynx.

When Washington takes the floor in Seattle today at 3 p.m., it will be the first game in a marathon western trip: five games in nine days and three in the next four. And unlike their NBA counterparts, WNBA players do not travel on chartered flights. Teams are at the mercy of commercial airline schedules, meaning less time to practice and rest and more time in terminals.

“It would be nice to fly charter,” said Smith-Taylor, an assistant coach at North Carolina in the offseason. “I don’t know why we can’t. It’s quite an adjustment, especially for rookies. Whenever they fly at the college level, they fly charter.”

WNBA rules state all teams must fly commercially. The league did not state specific reasons for the policy, but some say its purpose is to create an even playing field between teams that could afford to charter a flight or borrow a jet from a brother NBA team and teams without the resources to do that.

Even if the WNBA permitted teams to charter flights, most franchises could not afford to pay for a plane for a full season.

NBA teams did not charter flights until the late 1980s, when the number of back-to-back games in an 82-game schedule made it necessary. Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer, a member of the Detroit Pistons team that was one of the first to have its own plane, said charter flights are not needed in the WNBA because games generally are spread out and teams rarely play on back-to-back days.

“It became necessary in the men’s league,” Laimbeer said. “It’s too expensive to be considered in our league. If our league was self-sufficient, maybe they’d consider it. But some teams make money and some lose a few bucks. You can’t have one team have an unfair advantage.”

Anne Donovan, coach of the Storm, said the added strain of flying commercially affects the quality of play. Teams tire more quickly, and games become the low-scoring affairs the WNBA has strived to avoid. The Storm recently returned home from a four-game trip in which Seattle lost every game and failed to score more than 70 points.

“It is all we have ever known,” Donovan said. “The way we travel causes fatigue and plays into low scores and hurts the overall product. The league doesn’t have the financial resources right now. Hopefully, down the line that will change.”

Because teams must fit their schedules to the flight schedules, teams on the road often will go days without having a full practice or even a full night of sleep. Players, like all passengers, arrive hours before their flight to clear security and sit around the airport waiting to board. With a chartered flight, players would be able to drive right up to the plane and leave soon after the game, allowing teams to squeeze in a few more practices over the course of an extended road swing.

After Friday night’s game in Phoenix, the Mystics travel to Sacramento for a game against the Monarchs the next night. The Mystics will be playing their third game in four days. Meanwhile, it is the Monarchs’ second game in two weeks.

“It puts a lot of pressure on you, especially if the other team has off,” Mystics coach Richie Adubato said. “It’s a hardship. It’s a case of your schedule dictates your successes and your failures.”

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