Tuesday , Dec , 02 , 2008 Christopher Sells

Fading Comets

Fading CometsThe WNBA lost another franchise this week, as the Houston Comets have announced that they will be no more. When the 2009 WNBA season rolls around, there will not be a team in Houston. There had been problems in the front office; the owner decided in late summer to sell the team. The WNBA had taken over until a buyer could be found that would keep the team in Houston. A November deadline was set for this to happen. It didn’t.

The Comets’ remaining players under contract will find new teams via a dispersal draft later this month. Their history– the Comets won the first four WNBA titles– could soon be forgotten. The players that toiled for the team in its formative years– Sheryl Swoopes, TIna Thompson, Kim Perrot (R.I.P.), and Cynthia Cooper (now Cynthia Cooper-Dyke after her marriage. Really.)– could have their identites as the heroes of a once proud franchise begin to fade as the memory of the team becomes even more distant.

The Comets are the fifth WNBA franchise to fold. Two others have relocated and begun play under a new name in a new city. Part of the problem is a lack of profitability for the league and its teams. Attendance and viewership are not what the league hoped for and the debate rages on about the viability of a women’s professional sports league in the United States.

I’ve taken more than my fair share of shots at the WNBA. A quick search around this site will reveal that and some very lively conversation in the comments sections that followed certain articles. This is probably why few will believe that I was actually a fan of the WNBA. It was an extension of women’s college basketball at first, with just a few differences in the rules and a schedule that gave hardcore hoopheads something to do during the summer instead of watching men play organized stickball. The WNBA knew what it was and didn’t try to make you believe it was something different.

As the years have gone on, the league’s relevance has decreased dramatically. Marketing campaigns touting the players’ supposed better fundamentals mostly just annoyed fans of the men’s game, the same fans that the WNBA was trying to attract. Making matters worse, arguments about the excitement of a game that lacked the speed and athleticism of the men’s game soon disappeared as women began to dunk in games. It seemed that proponents of the WNBA wanted to make you believe that their game was better, instead of letting it coexist in the same universe as the NBA.

Around the time that the NBA started to step into the background, the WNBA started to fade from the public eye. The marketing was less aggressive, the commercials were less omnipresent, the write-ups in the papers of cities without teams began to shrink. Attendance at games decreased as certain groups became the WNBA’s desired demographic. Most of us now go on without even acknowledging the existence of the WNBA until there is a news story of some significance that draws our attention just long enough for someone to make a disparaging remark.

So answer this question for me, WNBA fans, if you’re reading. Make the case for the league. Tell us why we should be watching and why we should care. Ignore the sexist comments that you’ll probably run across and convince me and our readers that the WNBA is worth watching. It’s not about women’s basketball, since overseas leagues and women’s college basketball continue to do well. What is it about the WNBA that we’re not seeing? What are we missing?

If no one steps up here with a valid argument, someone at WNBA headquarters should ,because the writing may be on the wall. The clock could be ticking on professional women’s basketball in the states. Sooner than later, finishing up on campus could mean that women are once again faced with leaving the country or doing something different. The WNBA could go the way of the Comet(s), appearing before our eyes for a little while, only to fade from view, its destination uncertain, its fate unknown.