On Thursday the WNBA announced some major changes to their regular season and playoff formats. As the league enters its 20th season this summer, they definitely created a buzz with the shake up. If you aren’t up to date with the announced changes let us get you up to speed. Before I start with the regular season changes let me first explain how the season was played in the past. During the regular season, teams faced cross-conference opponents (East vs. West) once at home and once on the road. The remainder of a team’s schedule consisted of five games apiece against two in-conference opponents and four games apiece versus the remaining three in-conference teams for a total of 34 games. With the new changes to the regular season teams will now play a more balanced schedule.
Games against their five in-conference opponents will be as follows:
- Four games against one team (two home and two away)
- Three games apiece against the four remaining teams (two home and one away versus two teams; one home and two away versus the other two teams)
- Each team’s opponent breakdown was selected at random and will be rotated annually to ensure a fair balance of the schedule.
Games against the six teams in the opposite conference will be as follows:
- Three games against each team (two home and one away versus three teams; one home and two away versus the remaining three teams)
- The opponents for the two formats have been selected at random and will be reversed annually.
These are probably the best changes out of all that were announced earlier this week for several reasons. Most importantly these changes will benefit the fans of the WNBA in that they will now have the chance to see some of their favorite players from the other conference more than once. If you are a fan on the East coast you will get to see the likes of Griner, Diggins, Moore, Parker, Taurasi and other West Coast stars more than once in a season and if you’re out West, Charles, McCoughtry, Catchings and others could be visiting your city several times this summer. This should also be beneficial to the team’s sales and exposure because often times when big stars come to their arenas more casual fans come to those games. This could be a major way to pick up new fans and season ticket holders for the league.
These changes also benefit the teams by balancing the schedule. Although traveling will be more grueling, teams will now have a more fair schedule. Say for example, using last season, the Washington Mystics had to play the New York Liberty, who had the best record in the WNBA, only four times. Where the Atlanta Dream who finished in fifth place in the Eastern Conference just behind Washington and one spot out of the playoffs had to face the Liberty 5 times. Atlanta having to play the top team in their conference one extra time could make the difference in securing a playoff spot or not. (This scenario was only used as an example and not as facts) Did that make sense? So with the new scheduling, although teams will still face one team four times and the rest just three there is more of a balance and you will have to go through every team to earn your spot in the playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs, there are some MAJOR changes to it’s format! This may be a little confusing at first glance but bear with us and read over the changes carefully. And then, read them again! First of all, the eight teams with the highest winning percentages regardless of conference will qualify for the playoffs and be seeded based on their record. In the past, the top four teams from each conference moved on to the playoffs with #1 playing #4 and #2 vs. #3.
Additional changes to the playoff structure are as follows:
- The number of playoff rounds increases from three to four. The top two seeds will receive a bye to the semifinals (third round), and the third and fourth seeds receive a bye to the second round.
- Teams will be re-seeded after each postseason round.
- The first and second rounds are single elimination. In the first round, the No. 5 seed hosts the No. 8 seed and the No. 6 seed hosts the No. 7 seed. In the second round, the No. 3 seed hosts the lowest-seeded first-round winner and the No. 4 seed hosts the other first-round winner.
- The semifinals feature a best-of-five format, with the No. 1 overall seed playing the lowest remaining seed and the No. 2 overall seed meeting the remaining team. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds will host Games 1, 2 and 5, and the lower-seeded teams will host Games 3 and 4 in their respective series. The WNBA Finals remain best-of-five and follow the same 2-2-1 format.
Whew! Now that was a lot to take in! Did you get all of that? So basically the eight teams with the best record will make the playoffs regardless of conference. If these rules were in play last season, the Atlanta Dream and the Connecticut Sun would have made the playoffs over the LA Sparks because they both had a record of 15-19 which was 5th and 6th in the East but LA’s record of 14-20 secured the fourth and final spot of the playoffs in the West. If the new rules had been in play last season the Lynx, Mercury, Shock, Liberty, Fever, Mystics, Dream and Connecticut would have been your playoff teams. Five from the East and three from the West. It makes sense to have the best teams make the playoffs and with the balanced schedules across the conferences we will truly be seeing the best of the best in the post season.
What may come as a surprise to many is the single elimination in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. This seems to be the biggest worry for most because the thought behind a series is that the best team will move on to the next round. With a single elimination format, anyone can win one game, and that winner may not necessarily be the best team. Although controversial, this will bring more excitement to the playoffs. The thought of your team being knocked out after one game should bring out more fans to cheer on their team and the players should play with more of a sense of urgency. If you’re worried about being knocked out in the first or second round, the best way to counter that is to finish as one of the top two seeds and you will then get a bye all the way to the semi-finals.
As the WNBA enters its historic 20th season there is a lot to look forward to this summer! The return of Diana Taurasi to Phoenix should shake up things in the West. The Tulsa Shock moved to Dallas and will have their star Skylar Diggins returning from ACL surgery. The Seattle Storm, who have the number 1 draft pick in the 2016 draft will bring in a ready made star in Breanna Stewart who was recently named a finalist for the Women’s Senior National Team. The New York Liberty will have a different look starting the season without Prince, who recently underwent knee surgery. The Fever, who lost in the finals to the Lynx will look to pick up where they left off and possibly send Catchings, who has said she will retire after this season, off with another championship. This will be a season to look forward too and if anyone plans on being the 2016 WNBA champions they will have to go through the Minnesota Lynx to get there. Here’s to an exciting summer and let’s not forget we will have basketball overload in August as we cheer on our Women’s National Team to another gold medal in Rio! Let us know what you think about the rule changes coming this season. Do you like them? Will they make a difference? Weigh in.