On Friday, the Mystics and Aces game was canceled less than an hour before it was originally expected to tip off at 8 p.m. ET. All tickets were refunded to fans and an autograph session was still held.
OFFICIAL: Tonight's game between the Mystics and Aces has been cancelled. See below for all info. pic.twitter.com/DHx8zmBHKg— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) August 3, 2018
The Mystics were well-rested heading into Friday. Their last game was on Tuesday, when they soundly defeated the Dream, 86-71.
As for the Aces, they had a travel nightmare, as multiple flights scheduled to travel from Las Vegas to Washington were delayed. At first, Lindsay Allen and Moriah Jefferson looked like two normal travelers waiting for a pleasant flight to the other side of the country.
But delays turned into frustration as the delays started to go into the late night hours.
Going on hour 7 in the airport. Hoping we can get this resolved. Not trying to travel all night with a stop and have to play a big game tomorrow #SOS #CompetitiveDisadvantage #LAPhotobomb pic.twitter.com/L6CP5goGUG— Kayla McBride (@kaymac_2123) August 3, 2018
After taking an overnight flight into Dallas for a layover, the Aces experienced more flight delays to Washington, which originally prompted a tip-off delay from 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET. However, the team had to break up into three different flights to make it to D.C. Ultimately, the players were able to land in Washington before 3 p.m. ET.
With a tipoff at 8 p.m. ET and Washington’s infamous afternoon commute looming ahead, there just wasn’t much time for the Aces to even get into a routine.
No shoot around. No night of sleep. No beds. No food. Right now we will land in DC at 245pm that has us going straight to the gym bc of traffic and bags...and you want us to play? Oh ok.— Kayla McBride (@kaymac_2123) August 3, 2018
Ultimately, the game was canceled which was the right decision. But this game should have been postponed or canceled earlier than it actually was.
No one truly “wins” in this situation
The first group of people who faced the distress of the situation are the Aces. Friday’s game wasn’t just any other regular season game. A tiebreaker was on the line, and possibly a playoff seed should they end up with the same regular-season record.
If Friday’s game was played, the Aces would have probably lost because they would have been sluggish. This is because the players had practically no time to warm up or even eat before the game. They were in an airport or an airplane for 24 hours. In addition, there’s a higher risk of injury when players aren’t warmed up. Pregame shoot-arounds happen for a reason.
Still, now that the game is canceled, we’ll never know which team wins the head-to-head tiebreaker between the Mystics and Aces.
Mystics fans are also probably not happy with what transpired. Fans want to know exactly what time their games are going to be in advance. A delay of one hour may have actually been a good thing for many fans because of traffic.
But fans who were traveling to the game, only to see it canceled less than hour before tipoff, will certainly feel a little slighted. Though ticket prices may be refunded, travel costs aren’t. And if there’s a fan from out of town who came to D.C. for this game, they may feel like the weekend was ruined.
The WNBA needs to revisit its transportation policies
Friday’s game showed a major flaw with the WNBA’s dependence on regular commercial flights. First, players have to be subject to the same types of delays and possibly take multiple flights to get from one city to another during road trips. And as the Aces experienced on Thursday night, overbooked flights happen and the team could be broken up.
NBA teams generally don’t have to deal with that because they fly charter planes. And there won’t be overbooked flights because the only people on that plane are the players, coaches, key staff, and some press members.
WNBA players may be shorter than NBA players, but they are still taller than average. Flying economy means a less comfortable flight than for the average person due to their longer legs and torsos. Flying is probably not comfortable for NBA players either, but charter planes probably won’t cram players up like sardines.
In 22 years, this appears to be the first time a game was canceled due to travel delays. But for the WNBA to grow, games need to happen on time with the players warmed up and ready to go at tip-off. Limiting back-to-backs to the extent possible is part of the equation. Finding a more reliable travel solution for WNBA teams to prevent situations like these is another step that must happen for the quality of the game to grow like it has in the NBA.
UPDATE: A previous version of the article indicated that the WNBA canceled the game about one hour before tipoff. The announcement was made public less than hour before tipoff, but the Las Vegas Aces made the decision to not play the game about 90 minutes before.