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WNBA Eliminates Single-Elimination Games, Byes in New Playoff Format

The WNBA announced the approval of a new playoff format on Thursday that is set to go into effect next season.

Among the key changes will be the elimination of single-elimination contests and the elimination of playoff byes.

Instead, the eight teams with the highest winning percentage over the league's 36-game regular season will be seeded, with the top seed playing the No. 8 in a first-round best-of-three series. The No. 2 seed will play the No. 7 seed, the No. 6 will play the No. 3 seed and the No. 5 seed will play the No. 4 seed, all in best-of-three series.

In the first round, the higher seed will host the first two games, and the lower seed will host Game 3, if necessary.

The winners of each series will move to play each other in a 2-2-best-of-five semifinal series, with those winners playing in a best-of-five WNBA Finals.

“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 statement.

“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.”

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The league enacted its prior system in 2016, with two single-elimination games taking place in the first round and two single-elimination games occurring in the second round. Those winners then faced the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in a best-of-five semifinals round, followed by a best-of-five Finals.

Throughout last year's postseason, the league's playoff format received some public pushback from a number of players and coaches.

"While this [system] benefits 1-2, you've seen some teams that have outstanding seasons — including us in 2017 and '18 — be a three- or four-seed, work their tails off for four or five months, and in one [disappointing game], you're out," Sun coach/general manager Curt Miller said.

"We're a pro league, and we believe we deserve series. Hopefully, we'll get there sooner than later. And just get rid of the byes."

Added Storm coach Noelle Quinn: "The single-elimination game for the first round maybe brings some excitement, but the third and fourth seed … I mean, you look at Minnesota and what they did at the end of the year, you look at how Phoenix started playing at the end, it just gives teams a chance to duke it out in the playoffs with a series and creates these rivalries."

Prior to 2016, the top four teams in each conference advanced to the playoffs, with the first round and conference semifinals being best-of-three series. The WNBA Finals began its current best-of-five format in 2005.

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