On Thursday the WNBA introduced a new playoff format and a more balanced regular-season schedule that will begin this spring with the league’s 20th season.
It is a rather radical adjustment that will add a playoff round; seed playoff teams according to record regardless of conference; reseed them after every round; give the top two teams a bye into the league semifinals; and introduce the drama of single elimination into the playoff’s first two rounds.
So what does that mean for the Lynx? Frankly, mixed feelings.
“We kind of liked the structure the way it was,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, whose team has won three titles in the past five seasons. “But we’re open to ideas that will help the league overall. Looking outside ourselves was very important.’’
The new system is expected to introduce more drama early in the playoffs while showcasing the top teams more at the end; the league semifinals and finals will both be best-of-five series.
Under the old system each team faced conference opponents four or five times and played the six teams from the other conference twice each during the regular season. The top four teams in each conference advanced to the playoffs, with conference semifinals and finals being best-of-three and the league finals being best-of-five.
Here is a deeper look at how the playoffs will change:
• The top eight teams in the league based on winning percentage will qualify for the playoffs and be seeded according to record. The top two teams receive a bye into the league semifinals. Teams seeded No. 3 and No. 4 get a bye into the second round.
• The first two rounds will be single elimination. In the first round, the No. 5 seed will host the No. 8 seed and the No. 6 seed will host No. 7. In the second round the third seed will host the lowest remaining seed and the fourth seed will host the other surviving team. The winners of Round 2 advance to the league semifinals.
• Every playoff game will be televised by the ESPN network.
“First and foremost, the new postseason format provides an enhanced opportunity to showcase the best teams in the WNBA Finals,” said Mark Tatum, the NBA deputy commissioner overseeing the WNBA on an interim basis. “Coupled with the new regular-season structure that creates more competitive balance and additional excitement during the stretch run toward the playoffs, the new postseason format will provide a heightened sense of urgency to the start of the postseason. Add to that the fact that ESPN networks will air every postseason game live and we are talking about increased exposure and increased excitement.”
Because of the new seeded playoff structure, a balanced regular season was needed. So each team will play three games against the other 11 league teams. To fill out the 34-game schedule, a fourth game will be played against a conference opponent.
The changes address some attendance issues in early rounds while making the league semifinals longer. For the Lynx, who enjoy strong attendance, the old structure worked well. But Reeve understands that the league’s health is paramount. And she likes the balanced regular-season schedule.
“I think all of this is healthy for the overall growth of our league,” she said. “It was time to look at new ways to go forward. ESPN got the intended result, which is the excitement in the first two rounds being single elimination. That creates that sense of urgency. And seeding one through eight makes sure you’re getting the top eight teams for the playoffs.”