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Everything You Need to Know About the Las Vegas Aces Salary Cap Allegations

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Basketball fans woke up Wednesday morning to an unexpected Las Vegas Aces salary cap circumvention controversy. Boardroom details the accusations and their potential impact.

The WNBA is investigating the defending champion Las Vegas Aces for allegedly finding ways to circumvent the league’s salary cap. According to The Next’s Howard Megdal, who first reported the news, the Aces are accused of using outside companies to offer additional compensation to pending free agents or extension-eligible players, keeping their official salary numbers under the cap.

Megdal confirmed these alleged under-the-table payments via nine league sources, though the Aces and WNBA have still yet to comment publicly about it.

While it’s unclear what exactly happens next, the ramifications of the investigation could be huge — look no further than the New York Liberty having to cough up $500,000 last year for chartering flights in violation of the league’s CBA. It was a significant financial penalty, but also could have played a role in bringing Breanna Stewart, a vocal advocate for chartered flights in the league, to Brooklyn.

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The Allegations

Megdal reports that the Aces are accused of telling agents over the phone that, at the conclusion of the phone call between team and agent, that agent would receive another call from an outside company. That company would be ready to offer additional compensation to the player that the agent represents if she signs with the Aces. In return, the player’s obligations to the company would be minimal.

The relevant part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement that this would violate appears in Article XV:

“It shall constitute a violation of Section 1(a) above for a Team (or Team Affiliate) to enter into an agreement or understanding with any sponsor or business partner or third party under which such sponsor, business partner or third party pays or agrees to pay compensation for basketball services (even if such compensation is ostensibly designated as being for non-basketball services) to a player under Contract to the Team.”

In short, no pay for play outside of the specified salary that goes on the books between the team and the player.

The Impact

From the Aces’ side, they have a team that could very well repeat in 2023. They were already the best team a year ago, and now that they’ve added Candace Parker and Ayisha Clark, they appear to be even better. With this season bringing something of a consolidation of power between the Aces and Liberty, the two teams seem destined to meet for a championship.

Is that worth whatever fallout may come from this scandal? Some Aces fans may say yes. Just ask the Houston Astros how many people are apologizing for their 2017 World Series, in which they are accused of doing far worse. Megdal even reports sources around the league are worried this will benefit the Aces. After all, they clearly care enough about winning to (again, allegedly) circumvent the rules. Why wouldn’t a player want to find a way to sign with Las Vegas?

There’s a lot still unknown here, however. Without clear precedent as to what happens next, the best analog we can find is in the NBA, when the Timberwolves were forced to forfeit $3.5 million and their first-round pick for the next five seasons after circumventing the cap to sign Joe Smith in 1999. But that’s a different league, run by different people, under different circumstances.

As WNBA players around the league wake up to this news, some are already weighing in.

This is going to get interesting and the WNBA is going to have to respond in some way. With free agency ongoing and the draft just a few months away, things are going to have to move fast.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.