It's that time of year again! When the campaigning starts, the praise and criticism for one side or the other, what position classifies each person, and so on. No, not the candidates announcing their interest in the Presidency; it's WNBA All-Star game selection time!
The WNBA All-Star game has always been a little on the strange side. For one thing, people never seem to know until it's announced if there will be a game or what form will it take, regular East vs. West or USA vs. Someone, or who knows what else.
The problem is, in my eyes at least, for a niche sport that has few regular season games nationally televised, the All-Star game SHOULD be a big deal. It's one of those rare chances to get all of your best players in one place to showcase their abilities. It's an opportunity to say to a national audience "think how cool this would be to see in person" or to a potential advertiser "don't you want to have this product supporting yours?"
For those reasons, while any fan voting is essentially a popularity contest, I think it's particularly important that the WNBA gets it right. The current system, in my opinion, isn't giving the results the league needs to get. So how do you fix it? I'm glad you asked! Read on and I'll tell you!
The first thing we have to do to fix the All-Star game selection process is push the All-Star game back a week or so. Make it around the first week of August, when all of the teams essentially will have completed half their schedule. This will help eliminate the first problem with the All-Star balloting…it starts too early! Seattle and Phoenix have played two games thus far. How can you rate a player on two games’ production? By pushing the game back a week, you can hold off starting voting until all of the teams have played at least 5 games. Not the biggest sample, but let’s not forget that’s almost 15% of a WNBA season.
I understand the cost provisions and the reasoning that goes with an 11 player roster for a WNBA team, but this isn’t a regular season WNBA team. Add a couple more, give more players the chance to get in the game. You’ll keep players fresh, you’ll honor those deserving, and you’ll get a better game. I would also add one extra slot per team, the President’s pick. It doesn’t have to be used every year, or even for both teams, but it can be used to honor someone deserving. For example, this season Sheryl Swoopes or Taj McWilliams-Franklin could be added to the Western conference team.
Have you seen a baseball all-star ballot this year? Did you know there are 254 names on it? There are 66 players in each WNBA conference. Read that again; in total, only 132 in the entire WNBA. Put them ALL on the ballot. I know there may be some changes to rosters, so add a write in line, but lineups and rotations are an ever-evolving and changing thing, so why leave someone off that may deserve to be on it that wasn’t expected. Danielle Adams and her 15 ppg, for example, is not on the ballot, nor is Matee Ajavon, who due to Mystics injuries has been able to get her opportunity and thrived.
Teams in the WNBA don’t play set teams of a center, two forwards, and two guards. Teams like LA and Seattle play without centers and use three forwards, so why does an All-Star game have to be so rigid? Who needs positions? Let the people vote for their top 5. Trust me it’ll work out. Do you honestly think Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Katie Douglas or some other guards won’t make the team? Trust people to choose the best five, or at least their favorite five. To have to choose between Lauren Jackson and Candace Parker, or Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles, and not be able to just choose both isn’t fair to either the players or fans.
Still, we do have to protect the league from fan ballot stuffing (cough, San Antonio, cough) that may have occurred in the past. Who knows who deserves to be an All-Star better than the players, coaches and those that cover the game? It’s time to divide the voting into three pieces, each with equal weight.
In addition to the fan vote, let’s have the players and coaches select their All-Star team participants, with the rule being they can’t vote for their own team members. Their vote counts as 1/3 of the selection process.
Finally, let’s reward those hard-working and underpaid media members, by giving them a 1/3 say. Not just newspaper media either, let’s include the reputable bloggers and social media members. Use criteria of something like if you have been issued a credential by the team, you get a vote. Put it on the team to reward those that know the game and cover it with issued credentials. With Live Access, there is no excuse for anyone covering the WNBA to not have seen every team and every player at least once by All-Star voting. Trust them, they will respect the process if they are rewarded with it.
Add up the three parts, and there is your All-Star teams. Put them on the court, in their own jerseys, like baseball does, so that the casual fan can see the uniform and identify it when they come across it in the future, and that the fan that has plunked down cash for a player’s jersey can wear it to the game even more proudly. I can’t believe that there are huge sales of orange all-star jerseys to counterbalance that exposure. Let them have at it. You put all of the best, voted by their peers, the writers and the fans, and you will get the effort and excitement you want, too.
Maybe then it will be what an All-Star game should be, a HUGE marketing tool for the league.