-- Top Eight Teams Regardless of Conference to Qualify for Postseason --
-- Balanced Regular-Season Schedule Features More Cross-Conference Play --
-- ESPN Networks to Televise all Postseason Games in 2016 --
NEW YORK, Jan. 28, 2016 - The WNBA Board of Governors approved changes to playoff seeding and qualification procedures as well as the postseason format, effective with the 2016 season, the WNBA announced today. The reconfigured postseason structure, featuring live telecasts by ESPN networks of every playoff and Finals game in 2016, dovetails with a new, more balanced format for the regular-season schedule.
Beginning with the WNBA’s historic 20th season, the eight teams with the highest winning percentages regardless of conference will qualify for the playoffs and be seeded based on their record.
Additional changes to the playoff structure are as follows:
- The number of playoff rounds increases from three to four. The top two seeds 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.
"First and foremost, the new postseason format provides an enhanced opportunity to showcase the best teams in the WNBA Finals," said Mark Tatum, NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer. "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."
Most recently, the top four teams in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference qualified for the playoffs and were seeded by conference standings. The East and West each held two best-of-three conference semifinals, followed by a best-of-three conference finals. The conference champions advanced to a best-of-five WNBA Finals.
Under the new, more balanced regular-season format, teams will face their five in-conference opponents in the following manner:
- 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.
Most recently during the regular season, teams faced cross-conference opponents once at home and once on the road (12 games). 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 (22 games).