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Lauletta: Playoff expansion hits the wrong notes

Eight of 14 teams will qualify for the 2024 NWSL playoffs, is that good for the league?

(Photo Credit Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

The National Women’s Soccer League announced its latest media rights deals on Thursday, complete with platitudes about the league’s existing and future partnerships. Of course, it was termed a ‘landmark’ deal. And by most accounts, the contracts the NWSL has signed with ESPN, CBS, Amazon, and Scripps appear to be slam dunks. With one significant exception.

Included in the new arrangement is an expanded playoff format that will see eight out of 14 teams qualify starting in 2024. A decade into its existence, NWSL has finally caved to the United States’ bizarre obsession with playoffs by rolling out a format that includes more than half the league. That means there is no longer an expectation that a team even has to have a winning record to reach the playoffs, and by extension win the NWSL Championship. Sure that is not guaranteed in this year’s six-of-12 format but with 57% of the field making it next year, it stands to reason a team that loses more than it wins will be visiting the Shield winners to kick off the playoffs.

By extending postseason bids beyond the midway point on the table, NWSL is essentially robbing its own regular season of drama. Sure, more teams will technically be alive and have the cliché “something to play for” but does anyone want to watch bad teams trying to get in a playoff field that includes teams who have been superior over the course of what will be 26 games? Furthermore, more playoff teams means the teams at the top will be clinching earlier, leaving them with little to play for late. Even seeding and home-field advantage—one of the most overhyped and overrated elements of American team sports playoffs—becomes less relevant since eight teams means everyone has to play three times to lift the trophy.

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