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NWSL will expand playoff field to eight teams in 2024

Alex Morgan and her San Diego Wave teammates enter the field ahead of their NWSL semifinal against the OL Reign at Snapdragon Stadium. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL playoffs will expand to eight teams starting with the 2024 season.

That means four quarterfinal games instead of two, eliminating the somewhat controversial first-round bye for the top two seeds. The postseason expanded from four to six teams in 2021, and since then, five of the six teams to reach the championship match have played in the quarterfinal round.

The expansion announcement coincided with the announcement of a new media rights package, with CBS Sports, ESPN and Prime Video all set to air portions of the playoffs over the next four seasons.

According to NWSL commissioner Jessica Bermann, however, the expansion of the playoff field is a result of the league’s expansion from 12 to 14 teams, not a result of broadcast considerations. While it does create more assets for those partners, it “wasn’t the driver” for expansion.

“We believe that our playoffs and our regular season are extremely compelling and there was an opportunity to provide more teams with an opportunity to compete,” Berman said Thursday. “If you look at decision day – which was the last day of our regular season on Oct. 15 – I believe there were something like 732 possible outcomes that could have happened on that day.

“Every game mattered, which tells you that there’s more room for competition and that probably some of the teams who got eliminated maybe could have continued to compete. And because of that and because there’s incredible parity and competitive balance across our league, there’s an opportunity to showcase more playoff games, which we know are premier content for our fans and opportunities to drive connectivity with their local communities.”

During the latest episode of “The RE-CAP Show,” Christen Press and Tobin Heath discussed the playoffs and how the format “needs to be changed,” and Press called the schedule “bizarre and lopsided.”

With the top seeds getting a bye – and, this year, with an international break in between rounds – the San Diego Wave and Portland Thorns faced a three-week break between their regular-season finales and their first playoff games. Both teams lost in the semifinals, while No. 4 seed OL Reign and No. 6 seed Gotham FC advanced to Saturday’s NWSL Championship.