During the WNBA playoffs, Breanna Stewart put the debate on whether the league needs to adopt a new playoff format simply.
“It’s the format for college, but this isn’t college,” Stewart said ahead.
The 2021 playoffs were highlighted by a fifth- (the Mercury) and a sixth-seeded team (the Sky) reaching 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 this format was suited for the WNBA grew louder.
On Thursday, the WNBA announced its board of governors approved a new playoff format that will include three rounds of series play. Beginning next season, the top eight teams in winning percentage, regardless of conference, will be seeded by record and compete in bracket-style play. There will be no byes.
The first round will pit the No. 1 seed against No. 8 and No. 4 against No. 5 in best-of-three series. On the other side of the bracket, No. 3 will face No. 6, and No. 2 will face No. 7. The series 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 series will advance to the semifinals, which will remain a best-of-five series. The WNBA Finals will also remain a best-of-five series. Both series will continue with a 2-2-1 format, with the higher seed hosting Games 1, 2 and 5 and the lower seed hosting Games 3 and 4.
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 more than once that the playoffs don’t start until series play.
Now, according to Parker’s standards, the playoffs will 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.”