Column: Let’s talk expansion – of the WNBA playoffs

Photo Credit -- AP/Jessica Hill

Usually, when we or another WNBA site brings up the topic of expansion, it typically pertains to an expansion of the league – an introduction of the W to another city, or a re-introduction of the W to a city that we would like to see fill its pro women’s hoops void (looking at you, Houston. You too, Miami).

By the way, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert did a Q&A interview with Sports Page Magazine and used interesting words on the Toronto talk.

You know the Toronto thing was a rumor, so we are in no talks with anyone in Toronto right now.

–WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert (per SportsPage Magazine)

Engelbert said at her All-Star Game press conference in Las Vegas that the W was …

always open to discussions around other cities.

The Toronto rumor stemmed from two Canadian investors forming a committee to bring a team to Toronto. Since then, questions have surfaced about one of its main backers.

So until then, we’ll just stick to 12 teams for now. But with the postseason right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss a different type of expansion that may be slightly less ballyhooed.

Expansion of the postseason.

As of today, we know more than half of the field for this year’s playoffs. The Washington Mystics, Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces, Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky have all clinched berths to the 2019 WNBA postseason.

That leaves three more spots left to be clinched. Barring something completely crazy occurring, the Seattle Storm, Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx will be the final three teams even though the Atlanta Dream stand as the only team mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

When Lisa Borders instituted today’s playoff format, the jury was still out. The results have led to two of the greatest Finals in W history as the Lynx and Sparks battled each other to classic five-game series.

The Sparks got the better of the Lynx in 2016, but Minnesota managed to return the favor on LA the following season.

While both times we saw unforgettable five-game contests, that could have also been the issue – those WNBA Finals only went five games.

Could one imagine how both seasons of Lynx vs. Sparks could have played out if those series were best-of-seven instead of best-of-five?

I understand that there is only so much that can be done with the playoffs, but it has always rubbed me somewhat the wrong way when we go virtually from the end of the regular season almost directly to the semifinals. And that the Finals are a best-of-five.

It doesn’t really do much to build anticipation to the semifinals and Finals if the semis literally follow the last game of the regular season.

In my opinion, an expansion of the playoffs could have the potential to bring more eyeballs to the sport (which is what we all want) and keep the conversation going. Who knows – with a CBA that is up in the air, it could even be an issue that Engelbert and the owners talk about (if they haven’t already) with Terri Jackson, Nneka Ogwumike and the WNBPA as they continue talks for a new CBA.

The idea of the first round being single-elimination is okay, because there should be an element of that there. But after that, the second round would be better off contested in a best-of-three with the team having home court hosting Games 1 and 3.

I know what some are thinking – the WNBA has enough travel and logistical shortcomings, it doesn’t need more. Well, perhaps that would be the impetus needed to fix said issues … maybe.

The semifinals can stay at a best-of-five, but the Finals have to (and we mean have to) be a best-of-seven. So, yeah. Call this the 1-3-5-7 plan for expansion of the WNBA playoffs.

And all things considered, it is really a modest expansion because there may be some that propose the first round also be a best-of-three. Baby steps, everyone. Baby steps.

Remember Nneka Ogwumike’s shot from Game 5 of the 2016 Finals that shouldn’t have counted, but decided that series? What if in an alternate universe that was only the game that put the Sparks up 3-2 and Minnesota was facing elimination in both of the ensuing contests? That would have been a storyline that would have kept fans talking and kept the WNBA in the conversation, even if only for a few days more.

This does two things – it differentiates the Finals from the semifinals by being seven games over five and it spreads the earlier rounds out more to build anticipation for those later rounds.

It may be a bit before we get to actual WNBA expansion, but we can do playoff expansion virtually tomorrow and it can go a great way into constructing a crescendo to an eventual WNBA champion.

Because right now the postseason is too short like the Bay.

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