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Lisa Baird previews the NWSL 2021 College Draft and gives us information overload

Lisa Baird heard you wanted more info and decided to give you everything you ever wanted.

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Have you been hankering after more information in the NWSL offseason? Well a finger on the monkey’s paw just curled, because Lisa Baird spent 40 minutes on a conference call absolutely blasting everyone with relentless information whether they asked for it or not. Let’s dive right in! You’re getting bullet points because...well you’ll see.

  • Full schedule announcement soon
  • US Soccer is no longer the manager of NWSL
  • Second edition of Challenge Cup will be mid-April, though they haven’t finalized all the tournament rules yet and exact match dates and locations aren’t set
  • They’re planning for CC 2021 to be in home markets but have a backup plan for a bubble in case they need to respond to changing situations in those markets
  • Baird would like to see the CC stay as part of the NWSL schedule every year
  • NWSL regular season begins mid-May
  • Sacramento will join the league in 2022 and NWSL will have 12 teams that year, but no comment from Baird on who is in the ownership group. She did mention letting Sac Republic owners Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez comment on the situation instead of her.
  • CBS and Twitch “continue to increase their investments” in NWSL
  • League will announce additional national sponsors in the coming weeks
  • League has a new multi-page COVID medical protocol draft they just shared with clubs and the NWSLPA
  • In the next six months, the league will engage with ownership to “define a strategic plan that will set the next decade of growth for the NWSL.”
  • All draft rule changes this year were a response to the pandemic; Baird can’t say yet if rules will revert for 2022
  • NWSL changed the ownership group’s governance structure last year “to be able to have real experts in our ownership and general mangers and coaches deep diving different areas.” That includes forming various committees, including product, commercial, advisory, and finance.
  • In terms of actionable support from NWSL for Black players, DEI (diversity, equality, inclusion) is attractive for their sponsors and broadcasters, and part of the strategic planning process will be making “concerted efforts to bring voices into the boardroom, into decision-making opportunities” and helping them “understand where we need to go in terms of policies or rules or governance or initiatives or programs.”
  • League will not be sharing the results of the investigation into the Utah Royals’ internal culture
  • Catarina Macario’s rights cannot be picked in the draft

Lisa Baird in her own words on the draft itself

On making changes to encourage top prospects to enter the NWSL draft instead of going overseas: “We know that the NCAA is one of the strongest development partners we have. We’re going to continue to partner with the NCAA to do the right thing to continue to engage them and make sure players realize that the NWSL is an incredible option. Whether that makes for rule changes in future years, I don’t know, we’ll see. I’m leaving it to the product committee to help us define future rules.”

On the rule changes for the 2021 draft impacting college player rights and lasting until the start of the 2022 preseason instead of expiring at the end of the 2021 season: “We did make the decision to change this exact timing fairly late in the process. The product committee spent a lot of time thinking through what the right term was. I’m pretty confident what they did were balancing what the term was with the right way to re-enter the draft. And there was a tweak from that on how they get in versus waiver helps us preserve parity in the league.”

“I’m just going to stress this: every single player, with our new rules, which were made for the pandemic, has the right to decide whether to play in our league or not. That is fully in their discretion. This just really allocates the rights among the different clubs. So I’m really confident that what we did this year, again adjusting to the pandemic, making sure every player had the chance to make that decision on her own, with the advice of her coaches and with her moms and dads, is going to make the right decision for her. I’m pretty confident that we’re doing, again, is guiding the best interest of the players and that player has the right to make that decision.”

On free agency and whether the league will change how they use the draft in the future: “Right now I think we’re doing the right with the players in mind. They have the right to always make their own individual choice. I think the future of the rules of the game - again I’m going to rely on the comprehensive strategic planning process that we will be doing with each of our committees to put together the plan, the initiatives, on what will guide our long term success for the next decade... I do know that we need to continue to invest in our players to make sure that we attract and retain the best players in the world.”

Take a moment to digest all that, then join us for the 2021 NWSL College Draft tomorrow. We’ll be livetweeting results and updating draft picks as they come in. You can watch the draft live on NWSL’s Twitch at 7 PM ET.