New WNBA playoff format: confusing and gimmicky


The WNBA Board of Governors’ approval of “significant changes,” including a new playoff format for this upcoming season, might be the worst idea since Bud Selig’s idea for baseball’s All-Star game to determine who gets home field in the World Series.
Eight teams will now qualify for post-season play starting this season, but will be seeded by win-lost record, regardless of conference, the league announced Thursday.

Also an additional round will be added as the two top seeds get byes into the third round (semifinals). And the third and fourth seeds receive a bye to the second round: the fifth seed plays No. 8, and No. 6 plays No. 7; No. 3 and No. 4 plays the first-round winners. But the first two rounds now will be single-elimination.

The NBA has been thinking about tinkering with its current playoff setup, perhaps using a similar seeding process, as well. But you can better believe, if any changes are made, it won’t have a win or go home setup, which is OK for college, high school and lower level basketball. But this is the WNBA, not AAU or church league pickup ball. What’s next — make it, take it?

Before, the top four teams in each conference made the playoffs — two best of three conference semifinals, then a conference finals series, then a best-of-five championship series.

“The new postseason format provides an enhanced opportunity to showcase the best teams in the WNBA Finals,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner and “acting” WNBA president Mark Tatum.

We don’t know if this was Tatum’s idea, or this Marx Brothers-hare brained scheme was hatched by the league owners. In either case, the one-game knockout seems gimmicky at best: a last-ditch effort to attract new fans, more viewers to ESPN at a time when baseball is winding down, and as football is heating up. Were the coaches consulted? Or is this the idea of ESPN, the league’s master.

Instead, it gives new ammunition to the anti-women’s hoops folk, including the Joe Rockhead-type sports media, who sees the WNBA as nothing but a niche sport, an annoyance like those get-rich-quick infomercials.

The new format is a throwback to the W’s first season when only four teams qualified for two semifinals games, then a championship game. Ironically, this season is the league’s 20th.

The playoff format change overshadows the other changes worth noting: a “new, more balanced regular-season format. Four games (two home, two away) against one team and three games apiece against the four remaining teams; then games against the six teams in the other conference (three games against each team — two home, one away; and one home and two away versus the remaining three teams). This replaces the former schedule where teams played the other conference teams once at home and once away, and the remaining games against conference opponents.

“The new regular season structure creates more competitive balance and additional excitement during the stretch run toward the playoffs,” states Tatum.
Last season was one of the league’s most competitive, topped with one of the most exciting postseason in W history — a five-game championship series, won by Minnesota.

Instead of building on that, the league bigwigs became mad scientists and monkeyed with a playoff setup that on the outset is more confusing than impressive. Changing something that didn’t need to be changed. Tatum says “a heightened sense of urgency” will be provided by the new postseason format.

It’s awfully hard, however, to defend this nonsense.


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