The Las Vegas Aces, who are fighting for one of the league’s final playoff spots, declined to play against the Washington Mystics last week, citing safety concerns after traveling for more than 25 hours.
The WNBA announced in a one-sentence statement on Tuesday it considered the move a forfeit “because the Aces failed to appear for the game.”
It’s the first time a WNBA game has been canceled in the league’s 22-year history.
The result is costly for the Aces, who are now 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot after losing to the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday.
“Our entire organization has the utmost respect for the very difficult decision our players made, and we stand with them,” Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer said in a statement. “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.”
Aces: Playing was ‘too great a risk’
The Aces were scheduled to play at the Mystics on Friday, but flight delays and cancellations turned what is normally a four hour and 30 minute nonstop flight from Las Vegas to Washington into a chaotic trip that lasted more than a day.
Although the team arrived in Washington few hours before tipoff, the players decided they were in no condition to take the court.
Unlike in the NBA teams, which can all afford private charters, WNBA teams are mandated by the league to fly commercially to create an equal playing field.
“Given the travel issues we faced over the past two days—25+ hours spent in airports and airplanes, in cramped quarters and having not slept in a bed since Wednesday night—and after consulting with Players Association leadership and medical professionals, we concluded that playing tonight’s game would put us at too great a risk for injury,” the team said.
“Naturally, the issue of player safety is of paramount concern for all involved in the WNBA. This issue is bigger than our team and this one unfortunate set of circumstances, and we look forward to being a part of future discourse in the hope of preventing such incidents in the future.”
To try to accommodate the Aces, the WNBA delayed tipoff on Friday by one hour at Capital One Arena. The Aces didn’t show up for pregame warmups, however, and Mystics players signed autographs for fans instead. The Mystics also refunded fans with tickets that night, and offered complimentary tickets to another game.
WNBA president Lisa Borders said her office “worked extensively” with the teams “to come up with a workable solution,” but had little choice other than to penalize the Aces.
Washington head coach Mike Thibault expressed his disappointment that the Aces “didn’t come to compete.”
In the WNBA, the eight teams with the highest winning percentages, regardless of conference, qualify for the playoffs and are seeded based on their record. The Mystics clinched a playoff berth on Monday.