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WNBA, Players’ Union Sign New Deal

April 25, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ The WNBA and its players’ union signed a labor agreement Friday, assuring that the struggling league’s seventh season will go forward.

The colletive bargaining agreement includes a free agency system and covers four seasons, with a league option for a fifth, the league and the union said.

The union said a week ago that it had reached an agreement in principle. NBA commissioner David Stern had threatened to cancel the WNBA’s season had a deal not been reached.

During the offseason, the WNBA shut down the Miami and Portland franchises and moved two others _ the Utah team to San Antonio, and Orlando to a casino in Mashantucket, Conn. Attendance at WNBA games has fallen since 1998 and the league reportedly will lose $12 million this year.

The deal guarantees an increase of 4 percent a year in the amount that teams will spend on salaries, totaling more than 17 percent over four years.

In the first year, minimum salaries for veterans will increase 5 percent, from $40,000 to $42,000, and the rookie minimum remains at $30,000. The players had asked for a $48,000 minimum, and the league’s original offer was $41,200 with rookie salaries cut to $25,000.

Players with six years of service _ those who have been in the WNBA since its inception _ became restricted free agents with the signing of the agreement, WNBA spokesman John Maxwell said.

Next season, players with five years of service will become restricted free agents, and after that, any player with four years in the league will become a restricted free agent. A restricted free agent’s original team can match any offer.

After this season, players with six years of experience can become unrestricted free agents, able to sign with any team in the league.

The WNBA is to hold its three-round draft later Friday, with the Cleveland Rockers having the first pick.

Teams will open training camp on May 1, exhibition games will begin May 6, and the season will start May 22.

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