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Beginning with the league’s 26th season, the eight teams with the highest winning percentage regardless of conference will be seeded based on their record and compete in bracket-style play with no team receiving a bye to start the postseason.
During the WNBA Finals, Breanna Stewart put the discussion on whether or not the league needs to adopt a new playoff format simply.
“Ya, it’s the format for college, but this isn’t college,” Stewart said ahead of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.
The 2021 playoffs were highlighted by the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury and sixth-seeded Sky advancing all the way to the Finals for the first time under the playoff format established in 2016. After the third and fourth seeds were eliminated in single-elimination games, the question of whether or not this format was suited for the WNBA grew louder.
Thursday afternoon the WNBA announced its Board of Governors approved a new playoff format that will include three rounds of series play. Beginning with the league’s 26th season, the eight teams with the highest winning percentage regardless of conference will be seeded based on their record and compete in bracket-style play with no team receiving a bye to start the postseason.
The playoff rounds will decrease from four to three, eliminating the single-elimination games in rounds one and two.
New #WNBA Playoff Format
— WNBA (@WNBA) November 18, 2021
Instead, the first round will feature matchups between the No. 1 seed versus the No. 8 seed and the No. 4 seed versus the No. 5 seed in a best-of-three series. The opposite side of the bracket will feature the No. 3 seed versus the No. 6 seed and the No. 2 seed will meet the No. 7 seed. These first-round games will be played in a 2-1 format with the higher seed hosting the first two games and the lower hosting a third if necessary.
The winners of those four first-round series matchups will advance to the semifinals which will remain a best-of-five series. The WNBA Finals will also remain a best-of-five series. Neither the semifinals nor finals will see a change of format either (2-2-1) with the higher seed hosting Game 1, 2 and 5 and the lower seed hosting Game 3 and 4.
Commissioner Cathy Englebert said in a statement that despite the prior format creating a unique level of excitement, the new best-of-three series format caters to the creation of rivalries.
On their Championship run, the Sky were vocal about the challenges of making it through two single-elimination rounds. Two-time WNBA Champion, Candace Parker said on more than one occasion the playoffs don’t start until you get to a series.
Now, according to Parker’s standards, the playoffs will truly start in the first round.
“I think it’s good for the league,” Sky coach/general manager James Wade said. “I think professional basketball deserves series. This also assures fans that the best teams will always have the opportunity to recover from one game woes.”