The WNBA will play more games than ever before in 2022 as the league implements its longest-ever season and eliminates single-elimination playoff games under a reimagined format.
Each WNBA team will play 36 regular-season games in 2022, up from 32 in 2021.
WNBA expanding season after shortened campaigns
The league has generally played a 34-game season since 2003. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 bubble season to just 22 games. Last year, the WNBA restored most of its schedule, but still played a slightly condensed slate.
“The 36-game schedule will provide fans greater opportunities to see the best players in the world compete at the highest level,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.
The WNBA will also bring back its Commissioner’s Cup tournament. In the 2021 version, each team counted 10 of its regular-season games – two against each conference opponent – toward the cup standings. The top teams in each conference then faced off in a one-game final featuring a $500,000 prize pool, including $30,000 for each winning player.
The WNBA will host the second Commissioner’s Cup championship game on July 26. The WNBA All-Star Game will take place two weeks earlier, on July 10.
“Year two of the Commissioner’s Cup brings added incentive to the first half of the season for players and teams while offering fans conference rivalry competition through which to support their favorite teams,” Englebert said.
League eliminating single-elimination playoff games
The longer regular season will now lead into a playoff format that the WNBA announced last month. Starting in 2022, lower-seeded teams will no longer compete in single-elimination games in the early rounds. Instead, the top eight teams in the league, regardless of conference, will be seeded by record. In the first round, teams will play a best-of-three series. The league semifinals and finals will be best-of-five matchups.
“The new format was something players, coaches, business operations and even fans were hoping for as a series provides more opportunities for developing and showcasing rivalries,” Minnesota Lynx GM and coach Cheryl Reeve said, via ESPN. “It will also allow for greater development of storytelling of all eight teams in the playoffs, highlighting the depth of the league’s talent, on the league’s biggest stage.”
The new format reduces the advantage of earning a higher seed. Previously, the top two seeds in the WNBA playoffs enjoyed two byes and a direct spot into the semifinals, while the other six teams faced either one or two single-elimination games to reach that stage.
That could lead to a much more dynamic postseason, with dramatic and intriguing series from the first round on. DraftKings Sportsbook currently lists the Las Vegas Aces (+350) as the favorite to win the 2022 WNBA Championship, just ahead of the Chicago Sky (+400), Connecticut Sun (+400), Phoenix Mercury (+500), and Seattle Storm (+550).