By Doug Feinberg ,AP
NEW YORK — The WNBA is switching up its playoffs.
The league announced Thursday it is taking the top eight teams based on record as opposed to conference allegiances, and increasing the post-season to four rounds.
In the past, the top four teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences would make the postseason since the WNBA expanded its playoffs to eight teams in 2000.
The top two seeds receive a bye to the semifinals, which will now be a best-of-five series. The opening two rounds are both single-elimination games.
It’s not the first time the league has had one-game playoffs. The inaugural season in 1997 both the semis and finals were one game each. In 1999, the conference semifinals were single games.
“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.
The teams will be re-seeded after each postseason round.
The WNBA had a tight postseason this past year with five of the seven series going the distance. Now with the opening-round games being elimination contests, it should create more excitement.
“There’s a sense of urgency that the players and fans and TV will have,” Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “It adds a little more spice to it.”
Even with the change in the postseason, the WNBA is keeping its conference designations. The league is also altering its schedule to make it more balanced. Teams will play each other three times with one matchup occurring four times.
“We have more competitive balance in the schedule, instead of having such a large concentration of games within your conference,” Indiana Fever president Kelly Krauskopf said. “What I like is it gives fans a chance to see more teams and more marquee players in your market.”
Each team’s opponent breakdown was randomly selected and will be rotated annually to ensure a fair balance of the schedule.
The WNBA will tip off its 20th season on May 14 with five games, including a rematch of the Western Conference finals between Phoenix and Minnesota.
Other schedule highlights include Tamika Catchings’ final regular-season game on Sept. 18 as Indiana hosts Dallas.
The potential first meeting between Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson will be on June 18 when the Wings visit the Mercury. The two teams also play three days later in Dallas. Johnson still has to serve her seven-game suspension for her domestic violence arrest last year. She sat out last season because she was pregnant with twins.
The league will take a month-long break for the Rio Olympics starting on July 23. The playoffs are set to begin Sept. 21.