Playoff format

Playoff format

There are several different playoff formats used in various levels of competition in sports and games. Some of the most common are the "single elimination", the "best-of-" series, the "total points series", and the "round-robin tournament".

ingle elimination

A single elimination ("knockout") playoff pits the participants in one-game matches, with the loser being dropped from the competition. Single elimination tournaments are much more common in individual sports like tennis. In most tennis tournaments, the players are seeded against each other, and the winner of each match continues to the next round, all the way to the final.

Of the big four American sports leagues, only the National Football League uses this system. Its regular seasons are much shorter (16 games) than those in the other sports (from 82 to 162 games), and the difference in quality between teams is believed to be more quickly discernible; the rigors of individual games, held only once per week, also preclude the possibility of longer playoff series. Six teams are seeded from each conference, with the top two getting a first-round "bye" (a free pass to the second round). The remaining teams pair off, with the higher-seeded team hosting. The winners play the teams that received byes, and the winners of those matches face each other to determine who will represent each conference in the Super Bowl. The winner of that game wins the championship.

In both the men's and women's NCAA college basketball tournaments, 64 teams are seeded into four brackets of 16 teams each. (On the men's side, the 64th place team and a 65th team play each other in a play-in game to determine the final participant.) The #1 team plays the #16 team in each bracket, the #2 plays the #15, and so on. Theoretically, if a higher ranked team always beats a lower ranked team, the second game will be arranged #1 vs. #8, #2 vs. #7, etc.; the third will be arranged #1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3; the fourth will be arranged #1 vs. #2. If for instance #9 beats #8 in the first game, the #9 will simply take the theoretical spot of #8 and play #1. Winners advance through each round, changing cities after every two rounds. The Final Four teams, one from each bracket, play each other in the last weekend, with the winner of the final two being awarded the championship.

Football (soccer) often uses single elimination to determine finalists and winners. Major League Soccer's second and final rounds of its playoffs use a single elimination format, though the first round is a total points format. The FIFA World Cup also uses knockout rounds after a group stage of 32 teams divided into 8 groups of 4 determines who advances to them.

Double elimination

A "double elimination" format is used in most NCAA and high school baseball and softball tournaments in the United States.

The format changes depending on the number of teams per bracket, but most major collegiate baseball conferences with the format send only the top eight teams, or a mix of top teams plus the winners of a single elimination qualifier tournament, to their conference tournament.

The NCAA baseball and softball tournaments have used the format since its inception for regional and College World Series play.

In the current NCAA tournament format for four teams, the #1 seed plays the #4 seed ("Game 1"), and the #2 seed plays the #3 seed ("Game 2") on the first day of regional tournaments, and the first and second days of the College World Series (where the second bracket games are known as "Game 3" and "Game 4", respectively).

On the second day or series (third and fourth days at the College World Series), the losers play in the morning to determine who is eliminated ("Game 3" in regional, "Games 5" and "Game 7" in College World Series play), and who advances to the third game of the day. The winners ("Game 4" in regional, "Game 6" and "Game 8" in College World Series) play to determine who advances to the final on the third day.

In NCAA regional games, the loser of this game plays the winner of the morning game that evening ("Game 5") to determine who plays in the final.

In College World Series play, because the bracket teams play on alternating days, these games ("Game 9" and "Game 10") are played on the fifth day.

In NCAA regional games, the third day will feature the regional championship ("Game 6"). If the winner of Game 4 defeats the winner of Game 5, the winner advances to the Super Regional. Until the 2005 tournament, if the winner of Game 5 defeats the winner of Game 4, the two teams would meet again in Game 7 thirty minutes later to determine which team advances to the Super Regional.

However, with a concern that some teams were playing four games in two days, the NCAA made a rule change in 2005 to equalise the disadvantage of the winner of Game 5 by stating should the winner of Game 5 win Game 6, Game 7 would be played on a fourth day.

In the College World Series, on the sixth day, the winner of Game 9 plays the winner of Game 7 ("Game 11"), and the winner of Game 10 plays the winner of Game 8 ("Game 12"). If the winner in Game 7 wins Game 11, and/or the winner of Game 8 wins Game 12, such winners advance to the best-of-three final. If the winner of Game 9 defeats the winner of Game 7, and/or the winner of Game 10 defeats the winner of Game 8 the two teams would play again on the seventh day in Games 13 and 14, respectively, if they are needed, to determine who advances to the final.

Best-of formats

Best-of-three playoff

A best-of-three playoff is a head-to-head competition between two teams in which one team must win two games to win the series. Two is chosen as it would constitute a majority of the games played; if one team wins both of the first two games, the third game is not played.

The first use of the best-of-three playoff was in Major League Baseball; the National League authorized such a playoff to be held if two teams ended the season in a tie for first place; the American League used a single game in this situation. Since 1969 both leagues have used only a one-game playoff for all playoff positions which are tied if only one team can advance to the playoffs. Since 1995, a tie-breaker based on season performance can be used only to seed teams. Recently, there has been talk of Major League Baseball possibly adding a second wild card playoff berth in each league, then having the two wild cards in each league play each other in a best-of-three series to start the postseason, with the six division winners drawing byes. Its prospects for passage by the sport's club owners, however, appear remote.

Both the NBA and NHL once used best-of-three playoffs (often referred to as "mini-series"), but today neither league does: Pro basketball first adopted the best-of-three playoff for first-round play starting with its inception as the Basketball Association of America in 1946 (changing its name to the NBA three years later) and retaining it through the 1959-1960 season; the league resumed its use of the best-of-three first-round series in 1974-1975, but abolished it again in 1983-1984 when the number of teams qualifying for its postseason tournament was increased to 16 (ten teams had qualified during the first two years of the aforementioned period, this number being expanded to twelve in 1976-1977; in both instances some of the highest-ranking teams did not participate in the best-of-three round, drawing byes and automatically advancing to the second round, which was best-of-seven, as were all subsequent rounds).

In ice hockey, the best-of-three format was one of two possible types of series that could be held to determine the winner of the Stanley Cup (the other being a two-legged playoff series), and it was used in lower rounds in the National Hockey League up until the Original Six era. The best-of-three series in the modern era was first used in the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning with the 1974-1975 season; at that time, the number of NHL playoff teams had been increased to twelve from the previous eight. The format which then took effect called for the first three finishers in each of the league's four divisions to enter the postseason, but the first-place teams drew byes and did not play any best-of-three series; the postseason then proceeded as the NBA's did, with the second and all later rounds being best-of-seven. This remained the case until the 1979-1980 season, when the NHL expanded its playoff field to 16 after absorbing four teams from the defunct World Hockey Association in a semi-merger, whereupon the byes were abolished and all 16 qualifying teams participated in the first round, which was lengthened to best-of-five. In both the NBA and NHL, the team with the higher finish during the regular season played the first and (if necessary) the third games of the series at home, with the lower-ranked team hosting the second game.

The only top-level professional league in the United States that now uses a best-of-three format for its playoffs is the WNBA. The women's game is the only pro league that forces the team with the higher record to travel to the lower seed's home court for game 1, then play the final game(s) at home. Perhaps because of this perceived inequity, in 2005, the league switched the WNBA Finals to a best-of-five playoff format.

NCAA baseball has two best-of-three series in their 64-team playoff format. In 1999, when the tournament expanded from 48 teams (eight regionals of six teams each) to 64 teams (sixteen regionals of four teams each), the regional winners would play a best-of-three series, at one team's home field or a neutral site, as determined by the NCAA. In 2003, the College World Series changed from a one-game final to a best-of-three series.

The Euroleague, the primary Europe-wide club competition in basketball, introduced a quarterfinal round for the 2004-05 season which employs a best-of-three format. This is the only point in the Euroleague where a playoff series is used; all earlier rounds are conducted in a league format, and the quarterfinal winners advance to the Final Four, where all games are one-off knockout matches.

In a modification of the best-of-3 format, the collegiate basketball leagues in the Philippines (notably the NCAA and the UAAP), the playoffs consist of two best-of-3 rounds. In the Semi-Finals, the two top seeds receive "twice to beat advantage", wherein they receive an automatic 1-0 advantage, the lower seeded team needs to beat its opponent twice, while the higher seeded team only needs a single victory. The survivors face of in a best-of 3 Finals. A full double-elimination tournament gives the lone undefeated team this so-called "twice to beat advantage."

In the FIBA Oceania Championship, the best-of-three series is used if only both Australia and New Zealand play in the tournament. If a team wins the first two games, the last game may still be played. If other teams participate, a regular round-robin or multi-stage tournament is used.

The best-of-3 playoff system was also used in the Brazilian Football League for the 1998 and 1999 seasons quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. However, since matches could end in a draw, this system had a few modifications. If no team could win two games, the team with most victories would qualify. If the two teams had one victory, the team with the best goal difference would qualify. If the goal difference was the same, the team with the best regular season campaign would qualify. A interesting fact is that during the 1998 season, all the rounds were decided in three games.

In tennis, the best-of-3 format is the format used in the Wimbledon except for matches of the Gentlemen's Singles and Gentlemen's Doubles competitions, which are played in the best-of-5 format. Also the 35 and over Gentlemen's Invitation Doubles and the 35 and over Ladies' Invitation Doubles of the Wimbledon are both round-robin tournaments.

Best-of-five playoff

A best-of-five playoff is a competition between two teams head-to-head which must win three games to win the series. Three is chosen as it would constitute a majority of games played; if one team has won three games before all five games have been played, the games that remain are omitted.

At present, only one American men's professional sports body - Major League Baseball - makes use of the best-of-five playoff, doing so in its first round, known as the Division Series. At one time, however, the League Championship Series was best-of-five, from its birth with both leagues' realignment into two divisions in 1969, and continuing until this round was lengthened to best-of-seven in 1985. When the wild card was first used in 1995 (it was created for the 1994 season, but that year's entire postseason was canceled due to a players' strike), the best-of-five format was authorized for the new Division Series, in which eight teams participate.

During the time that the League Championship Series was best-of-five, a "2-3" format was used, with one team hosting the first two games, the other the last three (these respective roles alternating between the Eastern and Western Division champions regardless of which one finished with the better regular-season record). This procedure was repeated at first when the best-of-five Division Series was added in 1995 (except that two of each league's now three division winners hosted three games and the wild card could never do so), but starting in 1998 the home-field advantage was awarded to the two division winners in each league that had the best records; also in 1998, the "2-2-1" format was instituted, the team with the home-field advantage being given the first, second and fifth games at home instead of the third, fourth and fifth.

The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League both formerly used best-of-five series, the NBA in its second round prior to the 1957-1958 season, and in the first round from 1960-1961 through 1966-1967, and again from 1983-1984 until lengthening it to best of seven starting in 2002-2003, and the NHL for its first-round series beginning with the 1979-1980 season and lasting until that league increased its first round to best-of-seven in 1986-1987. Unlike in baseball, in both NBA and NHL best-of-five series the higher regular-season finisher always hosted the first, second, and (if necessary) fifth games.

As of 2005, the Women's National Basketball Association now uses a best-of-five format for its championship series. However, the previous two WNBA playoff rounds are best of three.

Most European domestic basketball leagues use a best-of-five format in their championship series. The main exceptions are the Israeli and French leagues, which use one-off finals; the Adriatic League (former Yugoslavia), which uses a best-of-three final; and the Lithuanian, Polish and Turkish leagues, which use a best-of-seven format.

Best-of-seven playoff

A best-of-seven playoff, also known by the name seven-game series, pits two teams against each other for as many games (or sets) as needed for one team to win four games (or sets). It is not necessary for the four games to be consecutively won. Since each game must be won by one team or the other there can be at most seven games in a series. Before the advent of lighting in ballparks ballgames often ended tied because it was too dark to play anymore; in the modern era, a much less common way of ending a ballgame is going past the curfews. Therefore, the series can in practice last eight games, as in the 1912 World Series. This format is currently used in the National Basketball Association ("see Game seven (NBA)") and the National Hockey League for all their playoff series. Major League Baseball uses this format only for the League Championship Series and the World Series, using the "2-3-2" format, with two games at the home stadium of one team, the next three games (the fifth, if necessary) at the home stadium of the other team, and the final two games (if necessary) at the home stadium of the first. (The first round Division Series use a five-game series format.)

The National Hockey League uses this format for its league championships and Stanley Cup playoffs, but uses the "2-2-1-1-1" format, alternating the first two games at the home-ice team's home rink, the next two at the second team, and then alternating venues for the fifth, sixth and seventh games (if necessary). The National Basketball Association also uses the "2-2-1-1-1" format for every series through the conference finals, switching to the "2-3-2" format for the NBA Finals, which they have used since 1985.

As noted earlier, the Lithuanian, Polish and Turkish basketball leagues use a best-of-seven format in their championship series. The Turkish playoff has one unique feature. If one team in the championship series (or, for that matter, in "any" playoff series) defeated its final opponent in both of their regular-season games, the winning team is granted a 1-0 lead in the series, and the series starts with Game 2.

The Chinese Basketball Association also uses a best-of-seven format in their championships series.

Best-of-nine playoff

A best-of-nine playoff pits two teams head-to-head which must win five games to win the series. Five is chosen as it would constitute a majority of the games played. If one team has won five games before all nine games have been played, the games that remain are omitted.

In Major League Baseball, the World Series was conducted as a best-of-nine playoff in its first year of existence in 1903, then again for three years beginning in 1919, the year of the "Black Sox scandal."

The Western Hockey League used best-of-nine playoff series for the Western Division playoffs from the 1983-84 season through the 1990-91 season because of the unequal division alignment of the league at this time. The Eastern division had eight teams: six of which qualified for the playoffs. The Western division only had six teams: four of which made the playoffs. Because of this, Eastern division had 3 rounds of playoffs (two teams receive a first round bye), while the Western division only had two rounds of playoffs. The east played a best-of-five, best-of-seven, best-of-seven format for the three rounds while both rounds in the Western division playoffs were best-of-nine. This was used so that both divisions would finish their playoffs at approximately the same time. The WHL Championship Series was a best-of-seven. These best-of-nine series went the full nine games on two occasions, with Portland defeating New Westminster in 1984 and Spokane in 1986.

Total points series

A total points series pairs off participants in a number of games (often two), with the winner being determined by who scores the most points over the series of games. This is very common in football. For example, in Major League Soccer's opening round of the playoffs, the eight playoff teams are seeded into pairs, and each pair plays two games against each other. The team with the most goals advances to the next round (with a 30-minute overtime and then "golden goals" being used to determine a winner if there is a tie). After the first round, a standard single elimination format takes over.

In the early days of the National Hockey League, the early rounds of the playoffs were also two-game total goals series. The first playoffs in 1918 used a two-game series to determine the team that would face the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion in the best-of-five Stanley Cup finals. The NHL stuck with this for a decade, though the team that won later would face the winner of the PCHA-Western Canada Hockey League playoff. After the NHL took over all major hockey competition in 1926, the second and third place teams in each half of the league would play a two-game series, then the winners would play the first place teams, and the winners would play a best-of-five Stanley Cup series. In 1929, it got somewhat more confusing, as the first place American and Canadian teams would play each other in a best-of-five, while the second place teams would play each other in a two-game total points series, and the third place teams would as well, and "then" the winner of the last two would play each other in a best-of-three to see who would play the first place winner in a best-of-three Stanley Cup final. In 1932, the winner of the second place-third place showdown played a two-game total points series instead. Finally, in 1937, all vestiges of the total points series were dropped in favor of best-of-N series.

In 2004, NASCAR adopted a total points playoff of a different stripe, creating a "Chase for the Cup" that allowed a golf-style cut of the high ten or 400 points of the leader, whichever is greater, to compete for the championship in the last ten races. Effective with the 2007 season, the Chase was expanded to include the top 12 drivers after 26 races. The points of the drivers in the cut are elevated far beyond those of the pack (from 2007 onward, each Chase driver receives 5,000 points, with a 10-point bonus for each race won prior to the Chase), and the driver in that group with the most points after the final ten races wins the Sprint Cup.

In November 2005, the PGA Tour announced that a similar total points playoff would be used to lead up to the PGA Championship, starting in 2007. The player with the most points at the end of the year would take home the FedEx Cup.

Prior to the 1986 Playoffs, the Canadian Hockey League (especially the Ontario Hockey League) used the point series, to determine, which team would advance. In those situation, where the higher seeded host in odd number of game (game #1, 3, 5, 7), while the other team host the even number (game #2, 4, 6, 8). There would be no overtime, except for the deciding game, because a tie in the last game, of the series would not declare a series winner, so should that happens, there would be a sudden-death overtime, with the winner getting 2 points, and the losing team get nothing.

The game show "Jeopardy!" uses a two-game series in the final round of its tournaments. Each game is played separately (i.e., money from day one cannot be wagered on day two), and the money is added together to determine the winner. The only exception to this was in the "Jeopardy!" Ultimate Tournament of Champions, when the two semifinal matches were both two-game series, and the final was a three-game series.

Round robin

In a round-robin tournament, all playoff contenders play each other an equal number of times, usually once or twice (often called a "double round-robin"). This is a common format for football. In the FIFA World Cup, teams are organized into eight pools of four teams, playing each other once and ranked by points earned through wins (3 points) and draws (1 point). The top two teams advance out of each pool to the knockout phase where the top team from each pool face second-placed team from a different pool.

Recently, continental club football tournaments have included round robin formats, such as the UEFA Champions League from the 1992/93 season, UEFA Cup from 2004/05, and the Asian and African Champions Leagues. Teams are seeded such that strongest teams should not meet until the end. In the UEFA Champions League, 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four. The group winners and runners-up advance to a two-game, total goals round, the eight third-placed teams move into the UEFA Cup third round, and the eight fourth-placed teams are eliminated.

In basketball, the Olympics also uses a round robin of the same nature, going to single elimination after the first round. The Euroleague has two double round-robin phases. The first is a "Regular Season" in which the 24 teams are divided into three groups of eight. The five top teams in each group, plus the highest-ranked sixth-place team, advance to a "Top 16" phase in which the teams are divided into four groups of four each. The top two teams from each Top 16 group are then paired in four best-of-three quarterfinal series, with the winners advancing to the single-elimination Final Four.

Round-robin tournaments are also used in rugby union, curling, and many amateur or lower-division basketball, football, and hockey tournaments.

In 1992, Little League baseball went to a round-robin tournament in the first round instead of single-elimination. In 2001, the tournament expanded to 16 teams and stayed with a round-robin for the first round, but cross-bracketed single elimination for the second round before the two winners of those games advanced to the region final.

In baseball, the term "round robin" was used with regard to the possibility of a 3-way tie for the National League pennant in 1964. The Philadelphia Phillies had had a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left in their regular schedule, but then lost 10 games in a row, so that the season went into its last day with 3 teams still having a chance for the NL pennant. As it turns out, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Mets on that day to take the NL pennant with no playoff; the reverse of that outcome would have left the Cardinals, the Phillies, and the Cincinnati Reds in a 3-way tie.

ee also

*McIntyre System
*McIntyre Final Eight System
*Top five play-offs
*Top six play-offs
*Page playoff system
*Season (sport)

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