ESPN Backs Down After Facing Backlash for Not Airing WNBA Draft on Main Channel

The WNBA announced that the upcoming draft scheduled for April 17 will still take place but will happen virtually due to COVID-19 concerns. The event will air on ESPN, which is a more recent change. The broadcast giant had originally planned to air the WNBA Draft on ESPN2 but altered plans after considerable backlash.

According to Dan Bernstein of Sporting News, ESPN announced on Thursday morning that the WNBA Draft would air on ESPN2. The original plan was for a movie to be played on the main channel. However, users on social media, as well as presumptive first overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, voiced their opinions about the decision. The decision to broadcast the draft on the main channel was made later on Thursday afternoon.

"This should be on ESPN!!! But that's just my opinion," the Oregon Ducks star wrote in a since-deleted tweet. Ionescu has not shied away from criticizing ESPN in the past. In 2019, she scored a triple-double during the women's basketball tournament. When asked about the achievement, Ionescu made a strong statement about ESPN.

"It's awesome to get one in the tournament," she said. "Probably still won't get recognized because they never ... ESPN never recognizes women's sports or getting triple-doubles, but I'm just happy that I was able to do it in front of the home crowd."

Ionescu was not the only individual criticizing ESPN for this now-altered decision. Several users on social media called out the broadcaster for relegating the live event to a secondary channel considering that there are no live sports taking place due to coronavirus concerns.

"No live sports on right now but 'hey, WNBA draft, we'll put you on ESPN2'," one individual wrote on Twitter. Others weighed in and said that ESPN was willing to broadcast WrestleMania events from years past but wasn't willing to give the WNBA the spotlight.

While ESPN didn't make the choice to air the draft on its main channel until receiving a considerable amount of backlash, the schedule change did ultimately take place. Now Ionescu and some of the NCAA's top talent will be on full display on April 17. Although they will do so virtually.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the Los Angeles Times that the players will be streamed virtually from their homes. She will then be announcing the picks from somewhere in New Jersey.

"The prospects deserve to be drafted, and this is part of their dream," Engelbert said, per ESPN. "It was a collective decision made by the league, in consultation with the teams. We felt it was really important to celebrate and recognize their hard work and accomplishment.

"While it's premature to say what the circumstances will be for training camp and the tip of the season, we're scenario-planning around the start of the season. And part of that is we have to have a draft. The teams are strategizing about their rosters, and the draft is also an important part of that."

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The WNBA Draft will take place on April 17. The broadcast on ESPN will take place at 7 p.m. ET.

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