On Thursday, the WNBA announced changes to the playoff format, effective in the 2022 season. The purpose of the change was to eliminate the current four round format has been scrapped in favor for a more traditional three round bracket where the top two teams in the regular season get byes to the semifinals while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds get byes to the second round.
In next year’s playoffs, the first round will be a best of three series for all eight teams where the No. 1 seed would face the No. 8 seed, the No. 2 seed would face the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed would face the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed would face the No. 5 seed. The winners of these seeds will go onto the semifinals which is a best of five series. The Finals will remain a best of five series as well. The playoff seedings will remain based on a team’s regular season record, without regard to what conference that team is in.
The changes come after the 2021 WNBA playoffs featured a Finals series between the No. 6 Chicago Sky, the eventual league champions and the No. 5 seed Phoenix Mercury. While the Sky and Mercury played in all four rounds of the playoffs and had to win two single elimination games in the first and second rounds to make the semifinals, they also defeated the No. 4 seed Seattle Storm and No. 3 Minnesota Lynx, who saw their seasons end in one postseason game, creating some criticism of the format. It should also be noted the the Sky and Mercury defeated the No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun and No. 2 seed Las Vegas Aces, respectively in the semifinals.
This is a good change for the WNBA. The single game elimination format is a bit rough for some of these higher seed that earn a bye but have one bad game and end up packing. That may be the way things are with the NCAA Tournament, but the WNBA Playoffs should give all teams an opportunity to play in a series, like it has for most of the league’s history.
The Washington Mystics have been in the playoffs four out of the six years (2016-21) under the previous format. Their playoff finishes are below:
- 2017 - No. 6 seed, advanced to the semifinals and were swept 3-0 by the Minnesota Lynx.
- 2018 - No. 3 seed, advanced to the Finals and were swept 3-0 by the Seattle Storm.
- 2019 - No. 1 seed, advanced to the Finals and were champions after a 3-2 series against the Connecticut Sun.
- 2020 - No. 8 seed, eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Mercury.
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