Opinion: Is It Time to Say “Bye Bye” to Playoff Byes?

Because we want more WNBA, not less.

By Alexandra Cadet

After last week’s WNBA playoff games, there may be some viewers who will be asking themselves one question: is it time to say “bye bye” to playoff byes?

After a truly great regular season performance, the Lynx played a grand total of one game in the playoffs. As the No. 3-seeded team in the league, they were granted a bye to the second round. For the uninitiated, a playoff bye sort of functions like a Golden Buzzer in America’s Got Talent; in other words, if a team performs well, they don’t even have to bother competing to get to the final rounds. Typically, the first and second-placed teams in the league get an automatic bye to the semi-finals, the third and fourth-placed teams are skipped to the second round, and everyone else can only advance in the post-season by slugging it out in every stage. 

The Lynx may have had an easier road to the finals because of this system (and certainly deserved one on the back of their league performances), but it does seem to be a bit of an injustice that the third-best team in the league only had one game to show off their strengths (and weaknesses) on a stage as big as the playoffs.

Sylvia Fowles (center), shortly after fouling out, looks on in dismay with teammates Natalie Achonwa (left) and Layshia Clarendon (right).
(Photo and context courtesy of the Star Tribune)

Besides the chance to see the league leaders in action more often, getting rid of the bye system (and therefore increasing the likelihood of lower-ranked teams facing off against higher-seeded teams) would also allow for more entertaining upsets. Imagine a playoff system where the result of a Round 1 matchup between the Liberty and the Sun would be decided on a singular freethrow, or where the “semi-final underdog” labels were assigned to teams that are actually struggling instead of the third and fourth best squads in America. It would add a layer of excitement and tension to the WNBA that could attract casual viewers who tend to be entertained by David-and-Goliath stories; and let’s be real, getting more eyes on these incredible athletes should always be the goal. So what’s stopping the WNBA from giving all the teams a chance to battle through the playoffs?

While we’re at it, it may be time to expand the playoff stages to multiple games per round. How can a top-seeded team properly prove their mettle if they only get to play for four measly hours at most? On the other hand, is a lower-seeded team ever going to have a chance of improving during the playoffs if they only have one game per round to get used to the competition’s pacing and stakes? These questions become even more pressing when analyzing this chart provided by ESPNW, which shows a much more even playing field between the teams when byes are removed and games are added.

Ultimately, the WNBA will continue to grow one way or another, but making these changes to the playoff system could greatly accelerate this process. “I think every coach and GM in the league is advocating for series,” said Curt Miller (the coach and general manager of the Connecticut Sun) to ESPNW. “We’re a pro league, and we believe we deserve [a] series. Hopefully, we’ll get there sooner than later. And just get rid of the byes.”

You heard the man: get rid of the byes. The players will handle the rest.

A schedule for the upcoming playoff games (as well as final scores for past matches) can be found here.

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