The WNBA has decided on a new president a week before the 2019 season will tip off and six months after its former president stepped down.
Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will be the WNBA’s new president, the league announced Wednesday.
A message from Cathy Engelbert, the first-ever WNBA Commissioner 🗣 pic.twitter.com/Nbw7mW0MJW
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 15, 2019
Engelbert has been with Deloitte, a consulting firm that deals with with Fortune 500 companies, since 2015 when she became the first woman to run one of the industry’s Big Four companies, per High Post Hoops.
She takes over for Lisa Borders, who resigned in October, and is the fifth president in league history.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement:
"Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women's basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience, including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities."
Engelbert played college basketball at Lehigh under Muffet McGraw, now the iconic Notre Dame coach. She steps into an exciting yet complicated time for the league as the players association opted out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) last fall.
Engelbert: basketball background, business mind
Engelbert spoke with Vicky Valet at Forbes for an April 2018 feature about her “rise to the top.” She knows the struggles of being both career woman and mom, having resigned from Deloitte in April 1997 while five months pregnant with her first of two children.
She quickly returned and graces lists such as most powerful women, most productive people, best CEOs and most powerful moms. Engelbert moves it forward through work with Catalyst, a nonprofit for advancing women in the workplace, and became the organization’s first female board chair in 2017. She proposed a 16-week paid family leave program that was put into place, per Forbes.
Engelbert told Forbes she was the first female coach of a middle school travel basketball team in her town. Her experience in the sport is extensive, from growing up playing in Collingswood, New Jersey, to winning the East Coast Conference championship under McGraw in March 1986.
McGraw told ESPN she is the “perfect choice”:
"She has the ideal resume for the job: Division I playing experience, plus extraordinary success in corporate America. She is smart, steady, confident, has a passion for the game, and has the respect of everyone she has ever worked with."
According to Her Hoop Stats, Engelbert started as a walk-on and worked her way up to captain.
WNBA hires president 6 months into search
Little was said about the WNBA’s search for a new president with the exception of speaking out about the silence and lack of a hire. The league said its goal was to hire before the season started.
Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, one of the most outspoken in women’s basketball, told Lindsay Gibbs of Burn It All Down in April the league should have a loftier goal since it shouldn’t take this long.
“It’s not putting this president in the best position. When you’re coming in to the league beginning play — and this happened with past presidents — and essentially they just travel around the league and just watch. They’re not working because they don’t know anything yet. So it doesn’t give them a chance to kind of get a leg up.
“In my experience that first year is sort of a waste.”
The league season begins Friday, May 24, leaving nine days between the hire and tip-off. According to Mechelle Voepel at ESPN, Engelbert will not start until July 17.
Active offseason, CBA will highlight tenure
The WNBA’s offseason has been packed with news good and bad. Along with its league pass and previous deal with ESPN, games will air on CBS Sports Network after a deal was struck last month. New uniforms and a “refresh” of the brand were released, including a new logo. They also saw success from a promotion with “Captain Marvel.” And one of the premiere teams, the New York Liberty, is under new leadership that could hopefully lead them to Brooklyn with a larger fan base and arena.
Yet there’s also the loss of some of the league’s top talent for opening night, including reigning MVP and Seattle Storm champion Breanna Stewart losing the season due to injury. The players association opted out of the CBA in November and wants to negotiate salaries, playing conditions, marketing tactics and the schedule. The current agreement expires at the end of the 2019 season.
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