The WNBA is changing its playoff format to a more traditional bracket.
The league announced Thursday that the postseason will consist of three rounds – best-of-three games for the first round and best-of-five games for subsequent ones – beginning with the upcoming 2022 season. The top eight teams overall will make the playoffs.
“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 statement.
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The league adopted a playoff structure in 2016 that had single-elimination games in the opening two rounds and gave byes to the semifinals for the top two teams. While the league will lose a round of the playoffs under the new format, going from four to three, it will gain more games using a series structure.
“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,” Engelbert said.
In the new format, the No. 1 seed will play the eighth-seeded team in the opening round. The winner of that series will play either the fourth or fifth seed in the semifinals. On the other side of the bracket, the No. 3 seed will play the sixth-seeded team and the second seed will face No. 7. Those two winners will play in the semifinals.
“Really excited for our league to move to all series,” Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller said. “It’s ultimately where we want to be. There’s growth with even that down the line.”
The higher seed will host the first two games of the best-of-three series. The lower seed will host a third game if necessary. That potentially will save the league time and money on travel in the postseason instead of going with a more traditional format where the teams alternate home games.
The semifinals and finals series will remain unchanged from the previous format, with the higher seed hosts the first two games and a decisive fifth game if necessary.
Chicago won its first WNBA championship last month as a No. 6 seed, beating fifth-seeded Phoenix.