An Unusual WNBA Signing

Right after the 2022 WNBA Draft, there was the usual rush of signings for training camp along with the selected players signing their rookie scale contracts, but there was one move that flew under the radar that should have at least raised some questions. Three days later, the Chicago Sky signed Emmanuelle Tahane after she finished her Rhode Island career, keeping her on the roster until the end of training camp when she was waived right before the deadline. It is not immediately obvious how she was allowed to sign with a WNBA team at all.

Her College Career

After good youth national team appearances and club play with France’s national academy program, Emmanuelle Tahane headed to Missouri, where she spent the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons coming off the bench. She then decided to transfer to Rhode Island and sat out the 2019-20 season. Once she played again, she made an immediate impact, averaging a double-double and sharing conference player of the year honors. She had another strong season in their 2021-22 campaign, her fourth season of play, but only her third season of eligibility due to COVID-19 policies related to the 2020-21 season.

Entering the Draft

Given the treatment of the 2020-21 college season in eligibility terms, the WNBA has now operated under a special set of rules for the past two drafts, clearly articulating a declaration timeline. In the previous season, it was simple because everyone still had eligibility, but last season created more room for confusion because there were players who were automatically entered into the draft along with the players who needed to declare. The WNBA did not help matters, issuing its declaration list with no apparent vetting, meaning that the two categories were mixed together and may have included players who were not even eligible for the draft, unlike the NBA’s list, which had no players that should not have been on it despite being significantly longer. The WNBA released a list right after the initial deadline and a second list after the final deadline for players whose seasons did not end before the initial deadline. This added some players who were subject to the initial deadline without any clarification on whether they missed the initial submission or simply required additional confirmation that took additional time. None of the versions of the lists that were published included Tahane’s name, but she did sign a contract so she must have been available to be drafted by rule in order to comply with Paragraph f of Section 1 of Article XIII of the CBA, which states “No player may sign a Contract or play in the WNBA unless she has been eligible for selection in at least one (1) WNBA Draft.”

Her Professional Path

While she was not listed by the WNBA in draft declaration releases, there were other indications that Tahane had no intention of returning for her final year of college eligibility. She was announced as signing with her current agency Basketball Pro Agency before the day of the draft so that might be the basis of an argument that this was the action that triggered a draft declaration. Part of the problem is that the exact text of the agreement between the WNBA and the WNBPA has not been released, leaving the public only seeing press releases or graphics that detail the process. In this and similar cases, the specific language used would determine any wiggle room for what seem to be clear rules.

The phrasing in the CBA around declaration requirements is “she either has no remaining intercollegiate eligibility or renounces her remaining intercollegiate eligibility by written notice to the WNBA.” The graphic released publicly with instructions for declaration in 2022 provides the deadlines and was also obviously not detailed enough as it did not include information on criteria for players who did not need to declare, which probably led to the number of unnecessary declarations. The press releases accompanying the lists use the language of “Players who have exhausted all NCAA eligibility, including the additional year granted due to Covid-19, are not required to renounce in order to be available” surrounding which players did not have to declare.

How the various clauses above are interpreted, especially when it comes to timing, would determine whether it was reasonable that Tahane was eligible for the draft and her subsequent signing. Arguably, an agency agreement with certain terms would immediately make her intercollegiately ineligible. The updated wording of exhausting eligibility has different implications and the main question is around timing. If that agency agreement happened before the declaration deadline, it would be the easiest argument to make that everything was fine as it appeared to have happened. Conversely, it seems pretty clear that anyone with remaining eligibility who was not still embroiled in their current college season at the deadline did need to declare even if the WNBA appears to have been lenient in allowing players to declare after the deadline. It is also vaguely plausible that she did declare to the WNBA in a satisfactory manner, but was simply not included in any public releases.

Future Cases

With several seasons left with players who have played four years in college still retaining a season of eligibility, there are definitely some tweaks that the WNBA can implement to clarify some confusing aspects of the process of the past draft. The initial instructions as shown both to the public and to college players should make very clear which players do and do not need to declare. In order to avoid the confusion regarding this particular situation, players who still have eligibility as of the date of the instructions should have to declare to be available for selection short of an independently verifiable action that renders the player ineligible, like appearing in a professional game. The league should also fully examine their declaration list before publishing it, making it easier for third parties to look for unusual situations.

Part of the issue in this situation is that there was no good reason for there to be no declaration, especially given the number of players who did so even without needing to go through that process. One of the arguments for just publishing the name of every player who submitted their name to the league, regardless of draft status is the attention that it gives to the player and possibly to the draft itself. Rhode Island has never had a WNBA draft pick and their fans might be interested in watching knowing that one of their key players was available for selection, especially given that her subsequent signing showed that there was at least one team that was interested in bringing her into training camp. Absent any future communication from any of the parties involved, the assumption is that this situation was completely within the rules and simply had some aspects that were not completely covered by the words that have been released to the public. It would certainly be beneficial for the process to change for cases like this in the near future so that fans are not left wondering about the details.

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