The WNBA and its players union have agreed to amend the collective bargaining agreement on fines for overseas play.
According to emails obtained by The Associated Press, players will no longer be fined for missing time for overseas national team commitments if they notify their WNBA teams in advance. About a dozen players, including Epiphanny Prince, Natalie Achonwa, Shavonte Zellous and Allie Quigley, missed games last season and were subsequently fined.
"It's huge," WNBA Players Association president Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever said. "I think as a league, last year was a big experiment with a lot of players having to represent their countries to play in the Olympics. How do you penalize those people?
"It's something we tossed around a lot. We talked with a lot of the foreigners, who want to play in the WNBA. It's an honor to represent their country, a win-win for all."
With this being an Olympic year, even more players will miss time. It's not just those from teams that already have qualified for the Rio Games, but also those playing in the last-chance qualifying tournament in mid-June.
The league and union settled last year's cases on an individual basis, and players will be getting at least some of that fine money back. While most of those fines were 1 percent of their salary for each game missed, a few players were given a 2.5 percent penalty — the maximum allowed. Tiffany Hayes and Aneika Henry of the Atlanta Dream were fined the higher amount after they missed five games to play in a 3-on-3 tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan.
"I think it was good they changed it," said Hayes, who was penalized about $10,000.
She was unaware that she could potentially get some of that money back.
"Getting that money back would be very good," she said before the Dream started their exhibition season in Connecticut.
Those fines came on top of the money the players lost for being suspended without pay for the games they missed.
"In a sense they were getting double fined," Catchings said. "We consider it a win-win where everyone benefits. Any time you can get money back, we're like 'hallelujah.' We're looking to the future of the CBA. For the league, it's important to have foreign players feel comfortable to play in the WNBA and still represent their country."
Under the CBA, which was ratified in 2014, either the team or the league could impose the fines on the players but not both. Now, only a team can impose the fines unless the player doesn't give it adequate notice. Then the league can still fine her.
A sticking point last year was the amount of the fine and whether players would be fined. The CBA set a maximum amount but no minimum. It was the union's understanding that if the team chose not to fine the players, then that would have been the end of it. However, even when a team didn't fine, the league still imposed a financial penalty on those players.
"The resolution accurately reflects the intention of the collectively bargained agreement between the players and WNBA regarding national team obligations and fines," said agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who represents Prince among her WNBA clients.