Roster crunch: Shortage of spots in the WNBA leads to widespread cuts

New York Liberty guard Jaylyn Sherrod leaps to defend Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans in a preseason game, May 7, 2024.
New York Liberty guard Jaylyn Sherrod leaps to defend Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans in a preseason game, May 7, 2024. (King Jemison/MEDILL).

By King Jemison

Medill Reports

With the New York Liberty trailing by 26 points in a meaningless preseason contest, rookie Jaylyn Sherrod entered the game and immediately bodied up veteran Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans. Sherrod stripped Evans and streaked down the court for a sweeping layup. On the next possession, her physical defense forced another turnover. As the Sky called timeout, Sherrod fist-pumped despite her team’s large deficit. 

It wasn’t meaningless to Sherrod. She was fighting for her WNBA future. 

“Energy is just what I play with,” Sherrod said. “It’s just about going in and playing hard and really just maximizing the opportunity.” 

The score might not have mattered in the 101-53 Sky victory on May 7. But the opportunity certainly did to players on both teams seeking to earn one of 144 coveted roster spots in the league. Weeks after the women’s college basketball national championship drew more viewers than the men’s, the gap in professional opportunities remains as wide as ever. 

In their preseason matchup, the Sky carried 14 players, while the Liberty had 18. Both teams had to cut their rosters to 12 the following week. The Sky ultimately waived rookies Taya Reimer and Brynna Maxwell, both of whom were out with injury for the Liberty game. 

The Liberty made seven cuts in total, opting to start the season with 11 players. Despite her strong preseason performance, Sherrod was one of the final two players waived on Monday. 

“Making a roster is hard,” said Sky forward Isabelle Harrison, who has been in the league since 2015. “There’s limited spots, but I feel like the talent every year just gets more and more competitive.”

Last year, just 42% of WNBA draftees made an opening night roster. In the NBA, that number was 76%. Of the 14 NBA draft picks who did not earn full contracts by the start of the season, 10 signed two-way deals, allowing them to split time between the NBA and G League. The WNBA has no such option. 

This year’s 36 WNBA draftees had essentially two weeks to prove they belong. Training camp opened April 28, and rosters were finalized May 13. 

“It’s a tough situation because you all know that our training camp is very, very short,” Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon said before the Liberty preseason game. “But you still want to make sure you give them an opportunity.” 

The dramatically increased viewership for women’s college basketball has brought more attention to the difficulty top college players have in carving out a pro career in the United States. Though men’s and women’s basketball have roughly similar numbers of college participants, there are over three times more professional roster spots available to men. 

Both Harrison and Evans suggested a simple solution to the league’s roster crunch: more teams. 

“Expansion. I think it’s coming,” Evans said, “because we have so many talented women who miss out on the opportunity of living their dream because of the limited space. But the more we expand, I feel like it’s going to be even better for the league.” 

King Jemison is a graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. You can follow him on X @king_jemison