The WNBA is frantically searching for a new owner for the Los Angeles Sparks franchise.

This was certainly not the kind of New Year's goal WNBA president Laurel Richie had planned. But that's the key project that unexpectedly landed on her desk when Sparks owner Paula Madison called her just before the holiday and said her family could no longer run the team. It was an 11th-hour bombshell, which happens all the time in sports, but nonetheless throws the future of women's professional basketball in Los Angeles in jeopardy.

What a sad state.

Unless someone is at the ready to buy a team and start on-the-job training now, Sparks players should be concerned. Coach Carol Ross and the rest of the Sparks staff were laid off Dec. 31.

“It's premature to go into any level of detail, but we are in conversations with a host of people who have expressed interest in owning a WNBA team,” Richie said in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Newspaper Group on Friday. “We are knee deep in discussions right now.”

The start of the season is just months away, so moving quickly is paramount. On Friday, espnW reported that the NBA's Golden State Warriors were among groups interested in purchasing the franchise.

Richie said there are several options for the Sparks, one of the inaugural WNBA teams. The league started in 1997, and Los Angeles is a premier team having won championships in 2001 and 2002 with Lisa Leslie, a three-time league MVP. The Sparks have made the playoffs five of the last six years.

The Sparks also lead the league in attendance, but the Sparks' deal with major sponsor Farmers Insurance ended this year, according to the Associated Press.

The Sparks signed Ross, the 2012 WNBA coach of the year, to a contract extension one month ago. The Sparks' team website is still advertising season-ticket packages and has no news about the state of the franchise. Of course, with the entire staff laid off, there is no one to make changes.

Madison told the Associated Press that her family has lost $12 million since purchasing the Sparks in 2007. Richie said that half of the league's teams are profitable.

Interestingly enough, there was seemingly no Twitter campaign from Sparks players — or any WNBA players — to save the franchise just yet. The Sparks have star Candace Parker, one of the league's most marketable players. Parker had her University of Tennessee jersey retired in a ceremony Thursday and hadn't Tweeted about it.

Most professional players are overseas competing for other professional teams, and news about the unknown future of the franchise, surely was shocking.

It certainly was in Los Angeles.

“It's definitely a sad thing for me to see,” Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, the USC women's basketball coach and WNBA Hall of Famer with Houston, said in a phone interview. “Like the Comets, the Sparks are such a storied franchise, and it's such an important part of the heritage of women's professional basketball in America.

“It would be a tragedy to lose their franchise. I'm just torn apart about it. Hopefully, they'll find a solution that keeps a franchise in L.A., and successful. It's a difficult situation, I know, but it's so important that the WNBA has a healthy franchise in L.A.”

There's so much to do in Los Angeles, so any basketball team not named the Lakers, Clippers, USC and UCLA has an arduous task drawing attention and fans. Even the Trojans' and Bruins' men's basketball teams are struggling to attract fans these days.

“This is definitely a difficult market, but there can be some creative ways to not lose money and to actually make money and be successful,” Cooper-Dyke said. “They were winning. There's a lot of excitement generated around Candace Parker and company. I think where there's a will there's a way. They should look for it as opposed to allowing that franchise (to fold).”

Richie said she and her staff are working to find a solution.

“It was a surprise when I received the call from Paula. It was right before the end-of-the-year holiday period,” Richie said. “Managing a sports team is a complex business. We, from the league level, work hard to be in touch and support our teams, so you never want these kinds of things be a surprise. But, they are a reality of our business.”

Obviously, one of those options is that the end of women's professional basketball in Los Angeles could be near.