Every other year in women’s basketball is a bit of a headache for the WNBA. There are the Olympic Games to work around, and during each mid-olympiad FIBA has their world championships. For worlds, usually the only significant hit the WNBA takes is one of modifying their preferred season timeline. But national team preparations during Olympic years often cause WNBA teams to scramble as the participating nations recall players. With both the #2 and #3 ranked teams failing to medal in the 2010 worlds, this could have a troubling effect for the WNBA in 2012 if it isn’t planned for well ahead of time.
With both Australia and Russia losing during the quarterfinals of the world championship, guaranteeing no medal for either team, there will likely be a high degree of pressure from both Olympic committees to keep their players home to train with their respective national teams. In the past, this mindset has ravaged the WNBA. Only a few players with sufficient clout and courage have bucked the tide–Lauren Jackson being one of them. But they have been few.
The thinking goes that the prospect of a good finish increases if the national team gets to practice for an extended period as a team. The model for this, ironically enough, is the USA 1996 squad (the one that spurred the creation of the WNBA) that played for a year leading up to the Atlanta Olympics. They won the gold medal. The counter argument is that if you want to compete against the Americans, then you need to be honing your skills by playing against the Americans; i.e., you’re better served playing in the WNBA.
Of course, Team USA doesn’t have a choice. They play in the WNBA. They practice with the national team when they can, but for the most part the schedule is like that for the current world championship: you’ll get a week or two (or, in this year, one practice) with the whole team together. Practice mostly consists of early-round play and off-days. Despite this, the relative results don’t change much: USA usually wins gold–the team that doesn’t hardly practice together.
It doesn’t help that the 2012 Olympic Games will take place right in the middle of the WNBA season, from July 27 to August 12. It’s going to be a bit of a bumpy ride for the 2012 season if other leagues around the world don’t alter their schedules to help (which they likely won’t).
I’d be very happily surprised if non-USA teams encouraged their players to spend the start of summer 2012 playing WNBA basketball. I don’t think it adversely affects the final results. In fact, I think it works to their advantage. Except for the occasional really bad day that all teams, even those at the top, experience now and then, the best teams tend to place out where they should.