Single-Elimination Playoffs: A Valid Assessment?

By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan and

BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.- Imagine you are back in high school Italian class. The teacher tells you that you will have a quiz on your most recent set of vocabulary words 3 days from now.  In her class, for those days before the quiz, you practice with the terms in tons of different ways: cross-word puzzles, fill-in-the-blanks, Pictionary, Charades, extemporaneous conversations, oral questions and answers, and more.  You enter in class the day of the quiz and the teacher queues an audio track in which you’re going to have to decipher a conversation using “your terms” between native speakers and mark, on your answer document, true or false based on what you hear.  Blindsided, and after studying for hours on end, you fail the quiz miserably.

Is that quiz an example of a valid assessment or not?

Without having practiced the terms in that context, one doesn’t need anyone in the education field to say that, no, it is not a valid assessment.  Although one may think the skills translate, the measurement by which you are assessing proficiency does not correlate to the environment in which the information was presented or practiced.  A more valid assessment would have been one that measures student proficiency in-line with the teacher’s pedagogy.  Most likely, you, the student, would have performed much better if the terms were presented to you, on the quiz, as they had been in any (or all) of the in-class activities.


Why are one-game, single elimination playoff matchups being inflicted onto sports that play series to determine supremacy? This is an inaccurate measure and invalid (and unfair) assessment of a team’s capability.

For a team that is used to competing in series to compete in a single-elimination game, all strategy must be turned upside down.  Why should a baseball team have all its starting pitchers on deck (no pun intended) in the bullpen, ready to enter into a game on a moment’s notice? It (rarely, if ever) happens during a regular season game.  Any pitcher would tell you that a starting role is completely different than a relief role on many different levels. That is not how the regular season was played and it is not how it should be decided.

Furthermore, if the team that wins the single-elimination game used a plethora of its starting pitchers in relief roles, they are at a complete disadvantage in the future games. That team’s competition, preparing for a normal, regular 3 or 5 game series, was at home, comfortably resting while watching the single-elimination game.

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 11.05.20 PM
Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne lines up a three-pointer in pre-game warm-ups.

The first two rounds of the WNBA playoffs have recently been reconfigured to feature two rounds of single-elimination playoff games based off preliminary seeding.  After those two rounds have concluded, the remaining teams are reseeded before the semifinals and finals series (both of which are best-of-five).  Head-scratching: shouldn’t all rounds be uniform in order to validly determine the best team?

In the 2017 playoffs, the emerging New York Liberty (preliminarily seeded 3rd), after enjoying a well-earned first-round bye, were trounced at Madison Square Garden by the Washington Mystics (preliminarily 6th, the lowest playoff seed).  The Liberty had a 2-1 advantage over the Mystics in regular season competition.

Speaking to me after the game in a desolate Liberty locker room, center Kiah Stokes told me: “I wish it wasn’t single elimination. I definitely think if we had to go play them again, I think we’d definitely come ready to play especially how bad this hurts. We knew that we shouldn’t have lost this at home“. Stokes has experienced two first-round exits with the Liberty (ranked 3rd both times) in the past two years.  She explained: “It is tough, you know. We worked so hard to get the three seed and then one game, that’s it. I mean, I don’t think it’s right but it’s not my decision. Hopefully we can change that in the near future…. I just think… if you work so hard to get the third position out of twelve teams in the league, your season shouldn’t be decided by single-elimination“.

Proponents, who claim single-elimination makes the games more ‘exciting’, are not wrong. Sitting here, watching the single-elimination New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins American League Wild Card Game, which is tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the third is thoroughly entertaining.  Each team has dipped into its bullpen early in the game (Luis Severino had the shortest outing of any Yankee pitcher in the post-season tonight).  The winner of this game will be at a disadvantage in subsequent series. This is simply not a true reflection of the game of baseball.


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