WNBA’s new playoff format eliminates single-elimination games

Kahleah Copper attempts a layup over Brittney Griner during the 2021 WNBA Finals. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA has announced a new playoff format that will include three rounds of series play using a best-of 3-3-5 structure.

The changes, as approved by the WNBA’s Board of Governors, will go into effect during the 2022 season.

“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 release.

“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.”

Over a 36-game schedule, the eight teams with the highest winning percentages will qualify for the playoffs, regardless of conference. All eight of those teams will play in a bracket-style first round consisting of four best-of-three series. On one side of the bracket, the No. 1 seed will play the No. 8 seed and the No. 4 seed will play the No. 5 seed. The two teams that advance out of the best-of-three series will then play one another in a best-of-five semifinal. On the other side, the No. 3 seed will face the No. 6 seed and the No. 2 seed will meet the No. 7 seed, following the same format.

The first round will incorporate a 2-1 format, with the higher seed hosting Games 1 and 2 and the lower seed hosting Game 3 if necessary.

The winners of the best-of-five semifinal rounds will advance to a best-of-five WNBA Finals series. The hosting format for the semifinals and finals remains the same, with the higher seed hosting Games 1, 2 and 5 and the lower seeding hosting Games 3 and 4.

As a result of the changes, no teams will receive a bye to start the postseason and there will be no reseeding following the first round. Per the WNBA’s release, the intention with the changes is to provide all eight teams with a consistent start to their playoff runs.

The move comes after the debate over the playoff format heated up during the postseason. Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier was one who joined the calls for the WNBA to change the single-elimination format.