“On the Fringes” is a column that highlights sports that often do not receive as much coverage as the major sports. In these sports there are amazing moments and incredible athletes that this column looks to recognize.
When the Los Angeles Sparks lost their first game of the postseason to the Connecticut Sun, they were immediately eliminated from the playoffs. The Sparks, who went 15-7 in the regular season, were sent home after only one bad loss. This Sparks team even beat the Sun in both of their regular-season matchups, but come playoff time, those games didn’t matter.
But that is how the WNBA playoff format works. The first two rounds of the postseason are single-elimination games.
It is time for that format to change in order to create a playoff tournament that is best for the teams and for the league. The goal of the playoffs is to determine the best team, yet by having a one-game series, where any team can pull an upset, the WNBA defeats that purpose. Adding games to the first two rounds does not rule out the possibility of an upset, but it forces the lower-seeded team to prove that they can win more than once and that their first win was not just a fluke.
While I am advocating for the removal of the single-game elimination series in the WNBA, I do not believe that it should apply to all sports. Single-game elimination is successful in several other sports, perhaps the most notable being the NCAA Tournament. While March Madness often lives up to its nickname because of the upsets that are created by these single-elimination games, the reasons that the format makes sense for college basketball do not translate to the WNBA.
In the NCAA tournament, there are 64 teams from all over the country, most of which have not played in a head-to-head matchup, which leaves a high level of subjectivity in how the teams are seeded by the selection committee. In contrast, the WNBA has only an eight-team playoff, based on the standings of a league where every team has played each other multiple times.
The WNBA is also a star-driven league where most of the teams that earn the top seeds have players that the WNBA is looking to promote. To only give those teams one game in the playoffs not only punishes the best teams, but it also hurts the league’s branding, losing opportunities to promote the top stars.
If the NBA Playoffs were structured so that the first two rounds were single-elimination games, both the Bucks and the Lakers would have been eliminated in the first round. Imagine the outrage that would ensue because the fans want to see the best teams continue to play throughout the playoffs. The WNBA should have that same mindset of wanting to keep their best teams on the court as long as possible.
I am not suggesting that the WNBA needs to make every playoff series seven games. The WNBA could make the first two rounds of the playoffs three-game series. This would keep the realistic possibility of an upset but also give teams that have proved themselves all season a fighting chance to overcome one bad game.
On the Fringes" runs every other Thursday.