Fans, players, and coaches all asked for it. The WNBA made it happen. A new 3-5-5 playoff format will be instituted starting in the 2022 season.
The previous format, which consisted of single elimination games in the first two rounds, was heavily weighted towards the top two seeds. Seeds three through eight all had to win one or more single elimination games to make it to a conference finals series.
News broke Thursday that the board of governors has voted to approve a new playoff system, with the goal of fixing what many felt was an unfair format.
The WNBA released the following information about how the new playoff format will work:
In one bracket, first-round play will place the No. 1 seed facing the No. 8 seed and the No. 4 seed versus the No. 5 seed in a best-of-three series, with the winners advancing to a best-of-five semifinals series against one another. In the other bracket, the No. 3 seed will face the No. 6 seed and the No. 2 seed will meet the No. 7 seed, with the winners moving on to face one another in the other best-of-five semifinals series.
The winners of the semifinals series will then meet in the WNBA Finals, which also will be a best-of-five series, to determine the WNBA champion.
Additional elements regarding the playoff structure are as follows:
- The number of playoff rounds shifts from four to three and no teams will receive a bye to start the postseason. Teams will not be reseeded following the first round.
- The planned change for the first-round series games will include a 2-1 format in which the higher seed will host Games 1 and 2 and the lower seed will host Game 3 if necessary.
- The new format will add eight potential games to the playoff footprint.
- The semifinals and WNBA Finals will each remain unchanged as best-of-five series and follow the same 2-2-1 format whereby the higher seed hosts Games 1, 2 and 5, and the lower-seeded team will host Games 3 and 4 in their respective series.
“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,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “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.”
The prior playoff format, adopted in 2016 consisted of four rounds using a 1-1-5-5 format, with two single elimination rounds and the No. 1 and 2 seeds receiving double-byes into the semifinals. The new playoff format being announced today will provide the top eight teams with a consistent start to their playoff runs.