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Explaining the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup as it gets ready to open with 2021 season

It’s a tournament within a regular season, and it might be a model for merging how professional sports in Europe and the United States operate.

Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury poses for a portrait during the WNBA Media Day on May 6, 2021, at Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA is often the testing ground for the NBA when it comes to anything from officials to in-game entertainment. And this year might be yet another test, as the inaugural WNBA Commissioner’s Cup will be contested by all 12 teams in the league as a part of the regular season.

The rules are pretty simple: There are 12 teams in the league, two conferences of six each. Each home-and-home over the first two intraconference games will count towards Commissioner’s Cup standings. After each team has played those 10 games, the best team in the East will face the top team in the West for the first game after the Olympic break, scheduled for July 11 until August 15th.

The championship game will be Aug. 12 in Phoenix, days before the second half of league play resumes. The total prize pool is an $500,000, with at least $30,000 per player for the winning team. That’s a pretty good bonus for a league where rookie contracts are just five figures a season.

In Europe, sporting competitions often run concurrently. Soccer teams compete for the FA Cup in England alongside the English Premier League and potentially the UEFA Champions League or Europa League as well. A format like this might be a way for the franchise model of American sports to add some mid-year drama to the grind of the regular season. It’s something Adam Silver has said is intriguing for the NBA previously.

We’ll see if it catches on, but for now it’s a nice subplot to the 25th anniversary season for the WNBA.