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Las Vegas forfeits WNBA game canceled over travel delays

August 8, 2018

FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, file photo, Las Vegas Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer, left, offers his opinion on a call to official Fatou Cissoko-Stevens during the first half of WNBA basketball game action against the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville, Conn. The WNBA has ruled that Las Vegas will forfeit its game against Washington that was canceled Friday night, Aug. 4, 20018, when the Aces players decided not to play because of concerns about their health and safety after 26 hours of travel.(Sean D. Elliot/The Day via AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time in WNBA history, a team has forfeited a game.

The league ruled Tuesday that Las Vegas will get a loss for its game against Washington that was canceled when the Aces players decided not to play because of concerns about their health and safety after 26 hours of travel.

The Aces needed more than a day to get to Washington from Las Vegas because of flight delays and cancellations Friday. By the time the team reached its hotel it was 3:45 p.m. — about four hours before the scheduled tip. The Aces players talked things over and spoke by phone with the union Friday. They called the league to say they did not want to play.

The league said it “worked extensively” with both teams to find a “workable solution.” The WNBA added it delayed the start of the game until 8 p.m. to give the Aces as much time as possible after their arrival.

“While not ideal, it was the best available solution to accommodate both our fans and the scheduling challenges,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement. “Since the Aces chose not to play, the result is a forfeit.”

The Aces put out a statement right before the tip of their game Tuesday night in Atlanta.

“Our entire organization has the utmost respect for the very difficult decision our players made, and we stand with them,” Las Vegas president of basketball operations and coach Bill Laimbeer said.

“We are disappointed with the league’s decision, but our focus is now on winning as many games as we can in our drive for our first playoff appearance.”

Las Vegas went on to lose to the Dream 109-100, giving them two losses on the day. The team, which fell 2½ games behind Dallas for the final playoff spot, didn’t really want to talk about the league’s decision after the game.

“That’s in the past. We made that decision as a team the other day. We’re here now and we were focused on Atlanta,” Aces guard Kayla McBride said. “It is what it is. We stand by our decision.”

Atlanta coach Nicki Collen had a feeling the Aces would play with a lot of energy hours after the decision.

“I certainly knew this Vegas team, coming into this game, I knew they had added incentive with the ruling coming out today from the WNBA that it was a forfeit,” she said. “I knew the odds were stacked against us from a team that was going to come out really fired up. ... I knew they would come out at 100 mph.”

There was little precedent for the decision because the WNBA has never before canceled a game. There have been only a handful of instances over the past few decades in major sports in which teams have had to forfeit.

Most of those occurred because of fan involvement, notably the Chicago White Sox’s infamous Disco Demolition Night in 1979 when the field was so damaged the second-game of a doubleheader could not be played.

“We anticipated that this was a possible outcome that the players on the Aces seriously considered,” Terri Jackson, director of operations for the players’ union, wrote in a text message to The Associated Press.

The union added that it hopes the league will accept its proposal to form a group that will develop scheduling and travel guidelines.

“As always,” Jackson said, “the health and safety of the players remains the highest priority.”

Making up the Aces-Mystics game would have been exceptionally difficult because of the compact schedule. Both teams play virtually every other day over the next two weeks before the regular season ends Aug. 19.

The Mystics had to refund fans who had tickets for the game. As a goodwill gesture they are also offering tickets to another game.

Washington, which played in Phoenix on Tuesday night, declined to immediately comment on the league’s decision.

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AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this story.

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