WNBA changing playoff format to eliminate conferences. NBA next?

Associated Press

The WNBA has decided it wants the eight best teams in the playoffs. Who cares what conference they are in.

The NBA’s women’s league is changing its playoff format next season to go with the eight best teams, and changing how those teams are seeded and have to play their way through the bracket. Howard Megdal broke the news at Vice Sports and explains the changes well.

The previous WNBA playoff system should look familiar to NBA fans: the top four teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences made the playoffs, and were seeded 1-4, playing best-of-three conference semifinal series, then best-of-three conference finals series, then a best-of-five WNBA Finals between the East winner and the West winner.

The new setup will seed the top eight WNBA teams, regardless of conference. The top two seeds receive a double-bye to the third round, while the third and fourth seeds receive a bye to the second round. Round 1 is single elimination: 5 plays 8, 6 plays 7, loser goes home.

Round 2 is also single elimination: 3 plays lowest remaining seed, 4 plays next-lowest remaining seed. Then come the semifinals: these are a best-of-five, a significant change from the best-of-three semifinals of years past. The one-seed plays the lowest remaining seed, the two-seed plays the other remaining team. The WNBA Finals will remain a best-of-five series.

I like this plan.

Will the NBA follow suit? In the

In the past, the WNBA has been used as a laboratory for changes being considered for the NBA. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said it’s not time for a no-conferences playoffs, balanced schedule in the NBA, but is this the league starting to take a serious look at this?

Only part of the plan would work in the NBA — eliminating the conferences. There is zero chance the owners are going to vote to have first-round games be one-and-done — playoff gate receipts are huge revenue for the owners because the players have already been paid (salaries run during the season), so they keep the cash.

I like this idea; I want the NBA to eliminate conferences and seed the playoffs 1 through 16. Is it going to change much? No. But a couple of deserving teams on the outside of a deeper conference could get into the dance. If the NBA did it this season, as of right now (1/28) the only difference is that Charlotte would supplant Portland as the 16 seed (the team going to get steamrolled by Golden State). What this would do is potentially set up a better Finals — Golden State and San Antonio would be the top two seeds and may make a better Finals matchup than Cleveland. But the changes will not be significant (although there could be more travel, like San Francisco to Charlotte in the first round).

If there is a legitimate complaint about the NBA playoffs, it’s that the “chalk” wins too much — the betting favorites, the best teams always win. What do we love about March Madness? That on one given day Long Beach State could knock off Kentucky (GO BEACH!). The NFL playoffs are one-and-done. In the NHL, low seeds with hot goalies win the cup all the time. Even major league baseball’s seven games there is real randomness. Not so in the NBA. We go into the season with a pretty good idea what handful of teams could win a title, and by Christmas that list is fine tuned to somewhere between three and six, and even then it’s really only the top couple. Outside of OKC and the Doc Rivers household, is anyone betting on a team other than Golden State, San Antonio, or Cleveland to win hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this season?

If the NBA wants to make a move that shakes things up, make the first round best-of-five again. Or maybe even best-of-three. Add some random outcomes to the mix. Just like seeding without conferences it may not mean a huge change, but it would add some drama.