WNBA stars Stewart, Collier creating new offseason league in U.S.

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New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart and Minnesota Lynx three-time All-Star Napheesa Collier will launch a new women's basketball league called Unrivaled, which will play in Miami during the WNBA offseason, the pair told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.

Stewart and Collier, both UConn alumni, hope to provide fellow WNBA players with an option that can help players still earn a salary domestically while the WNBA is on break, rather than have to travel for overseas competitions. Under the proposed format, 30 players would be split into six teams, with three-on-three and one-on-one games taking place between January and March.

Stewart cited the prioritization clause in the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement as a catalyst for the new league. This year, the rule requires players to return to their team prior to the start of the campaign to be eligible for the season. In 2024, the arrival deadline will shift to the start of training camp or May 1, whichever is later.

However, several women's leagues in Europe - in which several WNBA stars frequently compete - run from October through the late spring. This year's WNBA training camps opened on April 30, potentially forcing stars to abandon their overseas teams late in their respective seasons.

"It's the ability for players to stay home, to be in a market like Miami where we can just be the buzz and create that with the best WNBA players," Stewart said. "We can't keep fighting (the WNBA's prioritization rule). It is a rule that takes away our choices, which should never be a thing, especially as women, but it is still a rule."

The idea came during a conversation between the two stars and Collier's husband Alex Bazzell, who first proposed the possible format. Participants would be paid through a combination of private funding and sponsorships; Twitter, DAZN, the WTA, and WWE are among the organizations that have professionals partnering with Stewart and Collier on the venture.

The prioritization rule was negotiated as part of the 2020 WNBA CBA but has already drawn sharp criticism during its first year in effect. Seattle Storm forward Gabby Williams, who left French club ASVEL before the end of their league's playoffs after suffering a concussion, decried the new mandate on Wednesday.

"I still think the prioritization thing is ridiculous," she said, according to ESPN's Alexa Philippou. "I'm sorry, I'll say it. Like literally, I'm only here because I got concussed.

"Something has to give. France needs to have shorter seasons, or the WNBA needs to (allow players) to make money and do both. And no, this doesn't give me any hope that I can do both."