WNBA Announces Changes To Playoff Format

For the last few seasons, and increasingly during the 2021 WNBA season, players, coaches, and fans have pleaded for a change to the league’s playoff format. On Thursday, the WNBA announced its plans to officially change the postseason format that has been in place since 2016.

The league has introduced a new format that will start in 2022, featuring a 3-5-5 breakdown. That means the first round will be a best-of-three series, followed by best-of-five semifinals and Finals rounds. The change to the format goes from a four-round postseason to three rounds, removing single-elimination games and byes altogether.


Photo courtesy of WNBA.com


According to the WNBA, the top eight teams (the highest winning percentages over the regular season) will still qualify for the postseason, with all eight taking part in first-round, best-of-three series. Along with no teams receiving byes, there will be no reseeding after the first round, which has taken place since 2016. 

First-round action will feature matchups between the #1 and #8 seeds, the #4 and #5 seeds, the #3 and #6 seeds, and the #2 and #7 seeds. Winners will then advance to the best-of-five semifinals and, later, the best-of-five WNBA Finals.

The new playoff format will include a 2-1 format in the best-of-three round, with the higher seed in each series hosting two of the three games, if necessary. The semifinals and Finals will remain in a 2-2-1 format. In totality, this new format will add up to eight playoff games. 

“We have been evaluating different playoff formats over the past 12 months, and the new playoff format being announced today will enable fans to engage with all of the league’s best teams and top stars right from the start of the postseason with all eight championship contenders immediately involved in exciting, first-round action,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a news release sent out by the league. “Following significant discussions with our Competition Committee and a Playoff subcommittee we formed last year, it was clear that while the prior format’s single-elimination games created a win-and-advance level of excitement to the start of the postseason, the new best-of-three series format will provide added opportunities to create and showcase rivalries with all playoff-eligible teams participating.”

In 2016, the league changed its playoff format, removing Eastern Conference and Western Conference brackets in favor of one central bracket in which teams were seeded based on records and win percentages to determine the top eight teams that made the playoffs. Additionally, the number of playoff rounds increased from three to four. 

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Within the postseason format that had been in place for the past six seasons, the first and second rounds included single-elimination contests, and the semifinals and Finals featured best-of-five series. The top two seeds in the standings received a double bye into the semifinals, while the third and fourth seeds received a single bye to automatically appear in the second round. After each round, teams were re-seeded and realigned as they continued to advance.

The format was initially viewed as a nice change for the league and its players, in order to ultimately get the top two teams in the WNBA Finals regardless of what conference they reside in, but many have thought it was time for an adjustment to the format.

“I think we shoot ourselves in the foot with the playoff format; it’s the best time of our season, but we’re limiting games played,” Minnesota Lynx head coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve said during the 2021 season, according to ESPN. “We don’t get to see as many of the great series that people tend to get emotionally involved in.”

The news of an updated playoff format is a welcomed one, although the change from a 1-1-5-5 format to a 3-5-5 format is somewhat surprising. Regardless, this new format will give teams a better chance to not only take part in more playoff games, but continue to advance in the postseason and ultimately come away with a WNBA title.

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