There are a number of formats used in various levels of competition in sports and games to determine an overall champion. Some of the most common are the single elimination, the best-of- series, the total points series more commonly known as on aggregate, and the round-robin tournament.
Main article: Single-elimination tournament
See also: Shaughnessy playoff system
A single-elimination ("knockout") playoff pits the participants in one-game matches, with the loser being dropped from the competition. Single-elimination tournaments are often used 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.
When a playoff of this type involves the top four teams, it is sometimes known as the Shaughnessy playoff system, after Frank Shaughnessy, who first developed it for the International League of minor league baseball. Variations of the Shaughnessy system also exist, such as in the promotion playoffs held by League 1 of the British rugby league. The League 1 playoff does not involve the top four teams; the team that tops the table after the Super 8s phase,[clarification needed] which follows a single round-robin phase involving all league teams, is crowned champion and receives automatic promotion to the second-tier Championship, while the next four teams contest a knockout playoff for the second promotion place. A nearly identical format, with the only difference being that the knockout stage followed a full home-and-away league season, was used by the second level of France's rugby union system, Pro D2, through the 2016–17 season. Since then, Pro D2 uses a six-team playoff with the winner earning automatic promotion to the Top 14 and the runner-up entering a playoff with the 13th-place team in Top 14 for the final place in the next season's Top 14.
Some knockout tournaments include a third place playoff, a single match to decide which competitor or team will be credited with finishing in third and fourth place. The teams that compete in such third place games are usually the two losing semifinalists in a particular tournament. Although these semifinalists are still in effect "eliminated" from contending for the championship, they may be competing for a bronze medal, like some tournaments in the Olympic Games.
Of the big four American sports leagues, only the National Football League (NFL) uses a single-elimination system for all rounds of its postseason.[a] Since the 2020 season, seven teams are seeded from each conference (AFC and NFC), with only the top team from each conference getting a first-round "bye". The remaining six teams in each conference play against each other in the Wild Card round. The lowest-seeded winner plays the lone "bye" team, and the other two winners play against each other in the Divisional round; the winners of those games facing each other in the Conference Championships. In all cases, the higher-seeded team plays at home. The winners of the Conference Championships then face each other in the Super Bowl for the league championship.
Like the NFL, the Canadian Football League (CFL) also uses one-game single-elimination playoffs, and has used them almost exclusively since the 1973 season. In the CFL, six teams qualify for the playoffs, divided into two divisional brackets of three teams each.[b] The second-place teams in each division host the Division Semi-Final, while the division winners each receive a bye to the Division Final. The Division Final winners play in the Grey Cup. The only exception to a strict single-elimination format since the early 1970s was in 1986 (for that season only), when the league amended its playoff format to allow a fourth-place team in one division to qualify in place of a third-place team with a worse record. That year, when only two East Division teams qualified — compared to four Western teams—the rules mandated the two Eastern teams play a two-game total-points series over two weekends (the two-game total point series was used as the CFL's playoff format prior to 1973), while the four Western teams played a single-elimination playoff over the same timeframe. The CFL eventually amended this format into the present "crossover rule" in 1997 so as to allow a qualifying fourth-place team to compete as the third-place team in the other divisional bracket, thereby preserving the first-place byes.
Major League Baseball expanded its playoffs in 2022, going from 10 teams to 12 by adding a third wild-card team in each league (AL and NL). The division winner with the worst record & three wild-card teams now play a best-of-three Wild Card Series at the higher seed (third game if needed) to determine which clubs advance to the best-of-five division series to meet the two teams with the best overall records in their respective league.
In both the men's and women's NCAA college basketball tournaments, 68 teams are seeded into four brackets of 17 teams each. There's a play-in game before the first round involving No. 16 hosting No. 17. In the first round, the No. 1 team plays the Nos. 16-17 winner in each bracket, the No. 2 plays the No. 15, and so on. Theoretically, if a higher-ranked team always beats a lower-ranked team, the second game will be arranged No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc.; the third will be arranged No. 1 vs. No. 4, No. 2 vs. No. 3; the fourth will be arranged No. 1 vs. No. 2. The brackets are fixed, meaning teams are not re-seeded between rounds.
In association football, the World Cup uses single-elimination knockout rounds after a round-robin group stage. The Champions League and Europa League do the same, except each single-elimination round consists of a two-legged tie, with the winner determined by aggregate score. Most European domestic cups (e.g. the FA Cup in England or the DFB-Pokal in Germany) use hybrid systems with various round-robin and single-elimination stages. Major League Soccer (MLS) uses a single-elimination format for their playoffs; since 2023, all rounds are conducted as single games, except the conference quarterfinals, which is best-of-three series. Liga MX in Mexico, which splits its season into two phases, uses playoffs known as the Liguilla to determine the champions of each phase. Unlike the MLS system, all Liguilla matches are two-legged ties. Australia's A-League introduced a six-team knockout playoff, known locally as a "finals series", in the 2012–13 season. Unlike the MLS playoffs or Liga MX Liguilla, the A-League finals series uses one-off matches throughout, culminating in the A-League Grand Final. This format is a departure from norms in football codes in Australia; previously, the A-League used a hybrid elimination system that allowed top teams in the regular season to lose one finals match but still win the tournament. The Philippines Football League's inaugural 2017 season also featured a playoff finals known as the final series.
The Pro Kabaddi League and Indian Super League also uses a type of single elimination where the top two teams get byes into the semifinals while the other four teams play in two eliminators like this:
Although the Indian Super League follows the UEFA champions league style of two legs in their semi finals.
The WNBA, since 2022, does their playoffs this way: the top eight clubs, no matter the conference, qualify. The quarterfinals are best-of-three and in a 2–1 format; thereafter, all rounds are best-of-five in a 2–2–1 format.
The 2007 AFC Asian Cup knockout stage:
|July 21 - Bangkok|
|July 25 - Kuala Lumpur|
|Iraq (pen.)||0 (4)|
|July 22 - Kuala Lumpur|
|South Korea||0 (3)|
|July 29 - Jakarta|
|South Korea (pen)||0 (4)|
|July 21 - Hanoi|
|Japan (pen.)||1 (4)|
|July 25 - Hanoi|
|July 22 - Jakarta|
|Saudi Arabia||3||Third place|
|July 28 - Palembang|
|South Korea (pen.)||0 (6)|
The "stepladder", named because the bracket resembles a step ladder, is a variation of the single-elimination tournament; instead of, in a 16-team tournament, the No. 1 seed facing the No. 16 seed in the first round, the bracket is constructed to give the higher seeded teams byes, where the No. 1 seed has bye up to the third round, playing the winner of game between the No. 8 seed and the No. 9-versus-No. 16 winner. This setup is seldom used in a best-of-x series, as it may yield long waits for the teams winning the bye, while the teams that played in the earlier rounds would be spent when they reach the later rounds.
The Big East men's basketball tournament used this format in a 16-team, five-round format. The PBA Tour uses a four-player, three-round format (sometimes a five-player, four-round format). College leagues in the Philippines use this format (four teams, three rounds) only if there is an undefeated team, and if there are seven teams or more participating. Otherwise for tournaments of seven or more teams where no team won all games, it uses a single-elimination two-round, four teams format.
While Nippon Professional Baseball's Climax Series has been called a "stepladder" playoff with only three participating teams (in two rounds), it functions mostly as a single-elimination tournament with three teams, and is structurally the same as a six-team, three-round playoff. The KBO League's Korean Series, on the other hand, is considered a stepladder system: the teams that finish fourth and fifth place play a best-of-three series (the fourth-place team automatically given a 1–0 series lead), meaning that the fourth-place team need to win only one game to advance while the fifth place have to win two. The winner of that round faces the team that finished in third place. The winner then plays the second-place team in a best-of-five series, whose winner in turn plays the first-place team in a best-of-seven series for the title.
The WNBA, from 2019 to 2021, used to have their playoffs done this way: the No. 5 seed plays No. 8, and No. 6 plays No. 7 in the first round. The top two seeds got double byes, and the next two seeds first-round byes. The first two rounds are single-elimination; all others are best-of-five.
The video game League of Legends has a competition that often uses the stepladder system. The League of Legends Pro League uses a double stepladder for its playoffs, giving the first seeds of each conference (Western and Eastern) a bye to the semifinals, the second seeds of each conference a bye to the quarterfinals, and the third seeds a one-game advantage against the fourth seeds in the first round. The League of Legends Pro League, League of Legends Championship Series, and League of Legends Master Series also use a stepladder bracket (in this case referred to as "The Gauntlet") to determine each league's third representative at the League of Legends World Championship.
The 2012 Big East men's basketball tournament:
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Friday, March 9, 2012
|1||No. 2 Syracuse||58|
|1||No. 2 Syracuse||68|
|5||No. 13 Georgetown||64|
|5||No. 13 Georgetown||70|
Main article: Double-elimination tournament
A double-elimination format is one in which a participant ceases to be eligible to win the tournament's championship upon having lost two matches. The exact schedule shape will change depending on the number of teams per bracket.
In the United States, a double-elimination format is used in most NCAA and high school baseball and softball tournaments. Starting in 2010, the Little League World Series in baseball also adopted this format. Teams are eliminated from contention after incurring two losses in each round of play. Most major collegiate baseball conferences with a double-elimination 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.[c]
The Little League World Series adopted a new format in 2010 that involves four double-elimination brackets. In 2010, the U.S. division and the International division were split into two four-team pools, with each pool conducting a double-elimination tournament to determine its winner. After the end of double-elimination play, the U.S. pool winners play one another in single games, as do the International pool winners, with the losers playing a third-place game and the winners playing a final. This was altered in 2011 so that all eight U.S. teams and all eight international teams played in one large bracket each, with each bracket's winner playing each other for the championship, and each bracket's runner-up playing each other for third-place. All teams are guaranteed at least three games; the first team eliminated from each pool plays a "crossover game" that matches an eliminated U.S. team with an eliminated International team.
Many esports, such as Counter-Strike and StarCraft, use a double-elimination bracket in competitions to determine the top two teams in a four-team group. In this usage, the format is referred to as "GSL", after the Global StarCraft II League. Dota 2 competitions often use a GSL or round-robin group stage to seed teams into a double-elimination bracket. Super Smash Bros. tournaments, as well as other fighting game competitions, typically use an open double-elimination bracket with no preceding group stage or qualifiers.
For an example of the Little League variation, see 2010 Little League World Series.
The Mideast regional of the 1975 NCAA Division I baseball tournament:
|Lower round 1||Lower final|
|Penn St.||5||Penn St.||7|
Further information: McIntyre system
Some playoff systems combine the features of single- and double-elimination tournaments. In these systems, one or more higher-ranked teams have an opportunity to skip a round of the playoffs by winning their first match. Even if they lose that match, they can still advance to the championship final. Lower-ranked teams receive no such break.
These are variations of systems developed by Australian lawyer Ken McIntyre for the Victorian Football League (VFL), the historic predecessor to today's Australian Football League (AFL), starting in 1931.
Main article: Page playoff system
This system, also bearing the name of its promoter Percy Page, is a four-team playoff first developed for Australian rules football. It has been used in many competitions in that sport and in rugby league, but is most prominent in softball and curling (which use the name "Page playoff system"). The Indian Premier League, Pakistan Super League in Twenty20 cricket, and NBA play-in tournament use this format as well.
In this system, the first round (sometimes called the "quarterfinals") matches No. 1 against No. 2 and No. 3 against No. 4. The winner of the 1–2 match advances directly to the final. The next round, known as the semifinal, pits the loser of the 1–2 match against the winner of the 3–4 match.
The 2006 Tim Hortons Brier, Canada's national men's curling championship:
Main article: Top five play-offs
McIntyre's first modification was an expansion to five teams. In this format, the first round matches No. 2 v No. 3 and No. 4 v No. 5, with the No. 1 seed receiving a bye into the second round. The 4–5 match is played to eliminate one team, while the 2–3 match is played to determine which match they will play in the second round.
In the second round, the loser of the 2–3 match plays the winner of the 4–5 match, while the winner of the 2–3 match plays the No. 1 seed. From this point forward, the tournament is identical to the Page playoff system.
The SANFL is the only league to this system today, it has been used in the past by the VFL and several rugby league competitions, most notably the short-lived Super League of Australia and the present-day Super League. Many lower-level leagues in both Australian rules and rugby league still use the system.
There is also other variation of 5 team playoff system. However, the No. 4 & No. 5 will play each other where the winner goes to the next round as 4th while the loser is out. Then, 4 Way playoffs will start ( 1 vs 2 and 3 vs winner 4–5 match.)
This system is only used In Big Bash League
The System Started From Big Bash League 2019-20 Season
As used in the 2006 Bartercard Cup, the championship of New Zealand rugby league:
|Qualifying and elimination finals||Semi-finals||Preliminary final||Grand final|
|1||Auckland Lions||27||Auckland Lions||25|
|Canterbury Bulls||14||Canterbury Bulls||18|
|2||Canterbury Bulls||26||Canterbury Bulls||30|
|3||Waitakere Rangers||20||Tamaki Leopards||6|
|5||Counties Manukau Jetz||12|
Main article: Top six play-offs
McIntyre next developed two slightly different systems for six-team playoffs. In each system, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds played to determine the specific semifinal match in which they would compete, while the other four teams played knockout matches in the first week to eliminate two teams and determine the other two semifinal participants. The semifinal in which the winner of the 1–2 match competes directly determines one place in the championship final (often called a "Grand Final", especially in Australia). The other semifinal is an elimination match, with the winner advancing into a "Preliminary Final" to determine the other Grand Final place.
This system was further refined into the top-six system used by the Championship and League 1 of European rugby league until being abandoned from the 2015 season forward. A slightly modified version of this system was used in the A-League of Australian soccer starting in 2010 before a pure knockout format was adopted beginning in 2013.
In the modern top-six system, the first round consists of knockout matches involving No. 3 vs No. 6 and No. 4 vs No. 5, with the No. 1 and No. 2 teams receiving a bye into the next round. After those matches, the format is identical to the Page playoff system.
The A-League's former system had the top two teams participating in a two-legged match instead of the single-elimination matches that the other four teams faced. It did not affect the teams' eventual playoff paths.
As used in the 2010–11 A-League:
|Elimination finals||Semifinals||Preliminary final||Grand final|
|D – 26 February||G – 13 March|
|1||Brisbane Roar (agg.)||2||Brisbane Roar (pen.)||2 (4)|
|2||Central Coast Mariners||2||F – 5 March||Central Coast Mariners||2 (2)|
|A – 19 February|
|Central Coast Mariners||1|
|3||Central Coast Mariners||0|
|E – 27 February||Gold Coast United||0|
|Gold Coast United||3|
McIntyre's final development expanded the concept to an eight-team playoff. This expansion meant that no team received a "second chance" after the first week of the playoffs.
The original McIntyre final eight system is notable in that it uses the regular-season league table to eliminate two teams in the first week of the playoffs. The procedure is:
The fates of the teams in this round depend on whether they won or lost their Qualifying Final, and on their regular-season position. The four winners and the two losers that finished highest on the regular-season table advance to later rounds, with the two other losers eliminated.
The two losing teams are eliminated, and the two winning teams progress to week 3.
The two losing teams are eliminated, and the two winning teams progress to the grand final.
Due to perceived weaknesses of this system, the AFL adopted a modified top-eight playoff in 2000. The National Rugby League (NRL), Australia's top rugby league competition (also with a team in New Zealand), used this system from 1999 through 2011, after which it changed to the AFL system.
The current AFL finals system breaks up the eight participants into four groups of two teams, ranked by their league position after regular-season play. Each group receives an advantage over the teams directly below it on the league table. These advantages are the so-called "double-chance", where a loss in the first week will not eliminate a team from the finals, and home ground finals. Note, however, that "home" designations are often irrelevant if a finals match involves two teams from the same state. The finals format operates as follows:
The top four teams play the two qualifying finals. The winners get a bye through to week 3 of the tournament to play home preliminary finals, while the losers play home semi-finals in week 2. The bottom four teams play the two elimination finals, where the winners advance to week 2 away games and the losers' seasons are over.
The specific advantages gained by finishing in higher positions on the league table are as follows:
First and second — These teams receive the double-chance, and play their first two finals matches at home—their Qualifying Final, and then either a Semi-final (should they lose the QF) or Preliminary Final (should they win the QF). They must win two finals matches to reach the grand final.
Third and fourth — Like the top two teams, they receive the double-chance, and must win two finals matches to reach the grand final. However, they only get to play one finals match at home—a Semi-final if they lose their QF, or Preliminary Final if they win the QF.
Fifth and sixth — These teams do not receive a double-chance. They must win three matches to reach the grand final—an elimination final, semi-final, and preliminary final. They do get to host their EF.
Seventh and eighth — These teams receive neither a double-chance nor a home finals match, and must also win three finals matches to reach the grand final.
The National Rugby League and Victorian Football League operate the same finals system.
From 2009 through to 2014, the Super League used a top-eight playoff system. The expansion to an eight-team bracket coincided with the league's expansion from 12 to 14 teams. Like the AFL system, the Super League system eliminated two teams in each week leading up to the grand final. However, it had a number of differences from the AFL system, most notably the feature known as "Club Call" (explained below).
As in the AFL, the participants were ranked by league position in the regular season. Unlike in the AFL, the team receiving home advantage in each match leading up to the grand final was guaranteed the right to host the match at a ground of its choosing, either its regular home stadium or (rarely) a larger nearby alternative.
The winners of these matches advanced directly to week 3, in which they received home advantage. The higher-seeded winner received Club Call immediately after week 2. The losers had another chance in week 2, when they were at home to the winners of the week 1 elimination play-offs.
The winners of these matches advanced to week 2, with the losers being eliminated.
The winners of these matches advanced to week 3 and Club Call, with the losers being eliminated.
Club Call, a unique feature of the Super League system, took place on the second weekend of the playoffs, shortly after the winners of the two PSFs were known. The highest-seeded winning club from week 1 was required to choose which of the two PSF winners they would play in week 3.
The winners advanced to the grand final the following week.
Super League XX in 2015 introduced a radical change to the league system, under which the 24 clubs in Super League and the second-tier Championship are split into three groups of eight after each club has played 22 matches. The top eight clubs in Super League at that point will enter a new play-off structure, beginning with a single round-robin mini-league followed by a Shaughnessy play-off involving the top four teams. Another six team playoffs goes like this:
The "best-of" formats refer to a head-to-head competition where the two competitors compete to first win the majority of the games allotted to win the "series". If a competitor wins a majority of the games, the remaining games are not played (unless the maximum number of games in the series are played). This is a modification of the single-elimination tournament to allow more matches to be held. Moreover, if it can be said that if one competitor has a higher probability of winning a single game (and game results are i.i.d.), the likelihood that this competitor wins the series increases when more games are played. For example, if team A has a 70% chance of defeating team B in a single game, its probability of winning a best-of-three series against B is 78.4%, and its probability of winning a best-of-seven series is about 87.4%.
"Best of three" redirects here. For the Coney Hatch compilation album, see Best of Three.
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 constituted a majority of the games played; if one team sweeps both of the first two games, game 3 is ignored.
When a best-of series is tied (each team having won the same number of games), the bracket is sometimes said to be a "best-of-(number of games left)." This is because for all practical purposes, the teams are starting over. For instance, if a best-of-seven series is deadlocked at 2–2, the series can be referred to as a "best-of-three", since the first team to win the next two games advances. Game 7 would only be played if two teams split Games 5 and 6.
In tennis, matches are usually decided with a best-of-three-sets format. Some major tournaments are played in a best-of-five-sets format, most notably the Grand Slam men's singles and doubles. Also, the 35-and-over Gentlemen's Invitation Doubles and the 35-and-over Ladies' Invitation Doubles at Wimbledon are both round-robin tournaments.
The first use of the best-of-three playoff was in Major League Baseball. The National League authorized 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. From 1969 to 2021, both leagues have used only a one-game playoff as a tie-breaker if only one team can advance; since 2022, a criterion based on regular-season performance is used. Since 1995, a tie-breaker based on regular-season performance can be used only to seed teams.
Since 2022, the Wild Card Series sees the 3rd seed hosts the 6th seed & the fourth playing the 5th, and the two higher seeds play at home for all three games, the third if needed.
Both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) once used best-of-three playoffs (often referred to as a "mini-series"), but today neither league does. Professional basketball first adopted the best-of-three playoff for first-round play starting with its inception as the Basketball Association of America in 1946, before changing its name to the NBA three years later. Basketball retained the format through the 1959–60 season; the league resumed its use of the best-of-three first-round series in 1974–75, but abolished it again in 1983–84 when the number of teams qualifying for its postseason tournament was increased to 16 (10 teams had qualified during the first two years of the aforementioned period, this number being expanded to 12 in 1976–77; 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). It was used in lower rounds in the NHL 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 1974–75 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 four division winners earn first-round byes and advanced to the best-of-seven quarterfinals, and so didn't play any best-of-three series. The postseason then proceeded as the NBA's did, with the second round onwards being best-of-seven. This remained the case until the 1979–80 season, when the NHL expanded its playoff field to sixteen 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 ranked higher in the standings 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 World Cup of Hockey, organized by the NHL, used a best-of-three format in the final round in 1996 and 2016, as did the Canada Cup.
Until 2009, the WNBA forced the team with the higher record to travel to the lower seed's home court for game 1, then played the final game(s) at home. Because of this perceived inequity, in 2010, the league switched to a more traditional odd-even format, where the higher seed will play the first and (if needed) third games at home. Come 2022, this will be used in the league quarterfinals. In 2005, the league changed the WNBA finals to a best-of-five format. By 2016, the league semifinals matched this format. NCAA Division I baseball uses the best-of-three format in the second round and the final round of its 64-team championship tournament. Starting 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 NCAA introduced the "super regional", in which the 16 regional winners play in eight best-of-three series, with the eight series winners advancing to the College World Series. If a regional winner is also a national seed (one of the top eight seeds of the 64 first-round teams), it is guaranteed to host the super regional. If no national seed makes a particular super regional, the NCAA puts hosting rights up for bidding between the competing schools. In 2003, the College World Series changed from a one-game final to a best-of-three series.
From approximately the founding of the Western Interprovincial Football Union in 1936 until the early 1970s, multi-game playoffs series were a regular fixture of professional Canadian football playoffs. Over the years, both the WIFU (later the Western Football Conference) and the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (later the Eastern Football Conference) used a combination of best-of-three series, three-game total points series, and two-game total points series to determine both conference final participants and conference champions. The Grey Cup championship itself has always consisted of a single game.
The last best-of-three playoff series (in what by then had evolved into the present-day Canadian Football League in 1958) consisting of two autonomous conferences was the 1971 Western Conference Final. Since 1972, the West has used one-game playoffs. The Eastern Conference (which by that time had abolished the best-of-three format in favor of two-game total points series) adopted one-game playoffs for the 1973 season.
The Euroleague, the primary Europe-wide club competition in basketball, introduced a quarterfinal round for the 2004–05 season which originally employed a best-of-three format. Starting with the 2008–09 season, the quarterfinal round became best-of-five. 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 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. In 2009, a two-legged tie was used, but it was reverted to a best-of-three series in 2011.
The best-of-three playoff system was also used in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A for the 1998 and 1999 quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. The Brazilian model was unique in that extra time was not used (meaning matches could end in a draw). If neither team won two games, the team with the most victories would qualify (for instance, if one team won the first match before drawing the next two). If the both 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.
The Philippine Premier Volleyball League, uniquely, uses a best-of-three series to determine the third-place team at the end of its conferences' playoffs rather than one game, as did its predecessor Shakey's V-League.
In a modification of the best-of-three format, leagues in the Philippines award a twice-to-beat advantage to the top seeds, a misnomer that is supposed to be called "once-to-beat" (the lower seed) advantage; in this case, the team with this advantage needs to be beaten twice by its lower seed opponent (said to be in a twice-to-win disadvantage) in a unilateral double elimination. In essence, one team is given a de facto 1–0 lead in a best-of-three series. First applied in the finals of the scholastic UAAP basketball and volleyball championships in 1979, then currently applied in the semifinals since 1994, it was later adopted by their NCAA counterparts and other associations in their mandatory scholastic competitions. The professional Philippine Basketball Association, its semi-professional D-League, volleyball's Premier Volleyball League and the inactive Philippine Super Liga have adopted the format only in the quarterfinal rounds of their conference playoffs.
An amendment to the UAAP rules in 2008 gave the undefeated team (the team that won all group stage games) a bye up to the finals, possessing an automatic 1–0 lead in a best-of-five series, or the three-times-to-beat advantage, also a misnomer that is the literal twice-to-beat (the opponent) advantage. This was adopted by the Philippine NCAA in 2009, but was abolished by both leagues in 2016, when the undefeated team has a finals berth, but the finals is played in a regular best-of-three format.
A similar situation also existed in later versions of the Argus finals system used commonly in Australian rules football competitions in the early part of the 20th century: later versions of the system had a right of challenge for the minor premier (the team on top of the ladder) if they lost the Semi-Final or the Final, meaning that the minor premier had to be beaten twice for another team to win the premiership. In the event that the same team played the minor premier in the Semi-Final or the Final and in the Grand Final, the right of challenge became equivalent to the minor premier holding a 1–0 lead in a best-of-three series.
In Nippon Professional Baseball, the Climax Series second stage, where the top team in the regular season faces the winner of the playoff between the second and third place teams, uses a similar format for a six-game playoff. In this case, the top seed needs only to win three games, while the lower seed must win four games to advance to the Japan Series. It is a "four times to beat advantage" with the top team needing only to win three games.
In the KBO League in South Korean baseball, the No. 4 team in the Wild Card game, or the first round of its postseason, has 1–0 lead in the best-of-three series, and can advance with a single win or tie, while the No. 5 team has to decisively win in order to advance.
Described as a "best-of-two" series in the resumption the 2019–20 NBA season, if the ninth-ranked team is within four games behind of the eighth-ranked team after the seeding games are done, play-in games will be held between the two teams. Here, the eighth-ranked team has to win just once while the ninth-ranked team has to beat the eighth-ranked team twice in a row to qualify to the playoffs proper. The Memphis Grizzlies finishing ninth, half-a-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers, necessitated the play-in game. The Blazers eliminated the Grizzlies in game one to advance to the playoffs.
A best-of-five playoff is a head-to-head competition between two teams, wherein one must win three games to win the series. Three is chosen as it constituted a majority of games played. If one team wins the series before reaching game 5, all others are ignored.
At present, only one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada — Major League Baseball — uses the best-of-five playoff, doing so in its second round, known as the Division Series. At one time, however, the League Championship Series (semifinals) was best-of-five, from its birth with both leagues' realignment into two divisions in 1969, continuing until the round was lengthened to best-of-seven in 1985. (This change would have immediate ramifications: In the American League, in each of the first two years where the LCS used the best-of-seven format, the Kansas City Royals in 1985 and the Boston Red Sox in 1986 fell behind 3–1, which previously would have eliminated them, before coming back to win the series.) When the wild card was first used in 1995 (it was created for the 1994 season, but that year's entire postseason was cancelled due to a players' strike), the best-of-five format was authorized for the new Division Series, in which eight teams participated.
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, hence "2", the other the last three, hence "3" (the 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 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 never do so). However, starting in 1998, the home-field advantage was awarded to the two division winners in each league that had the best regular-season records, and the "2–2–1" format was instituted: the team with the home-field advantage was given Games 1, 2, and 5 at home, not Games 3–5 (team with home-field advantage hosting the first two games, then the other team the next two, then the team with the home-field advantage hosting 1 last game). Also, that format gives both teams the home-field advantage in a sense. While one team gets to host three games (including the critical first and last game), the other team does get two chances out of three (games 3 and 4) of winning the series at home. For the 2012 postseason only, the Division Series reverted to "2–3". (This decision was made after the 2012 schedule had been released; due to the addition of a second Wild Card team and the subsequent extra Wild Card Game, that format was used to minimize the disruption of the schedule by giving the Division Series one off-day instead of two). Starting in 2013, the "2–2–1" format was restored with the Wild Card playoff round now established and schedules adjusted accordingly.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) both formerly used best-of-five series. The NBA did so in its second-round playoff prior to the 1957–58 season, and in the first round from 1960–61 through 1966–67, and again from 1983–84 until 2002–03, when it was lengthened to a best-of-seven series. The NHL did so for its first-round series beginning with the 1979–80 season and lasting until increasing its first round to best-of-seven in 1986–87. The best-of-5 format was reinstated for the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifying round between seeds 5–12. Unlike in baseball, in both NBA and NHL, in a best-of-five series the higher regular-season finisher always hosts the first, second, and (if necessary) fifth games. The AHL has used the best-of-five series in the first round since the 2012 postseason.
As of 2005, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) now uses a best-of-five format for its championship series. The league semifinals matched this format starting in 2016.
Historically, most European domestic basketball leagues have used a best-of-five format in their championship series. The main long-standing exceptions are the Israeli and French leagues, which have historically used one-off finals, the Adriatic League (former Yugoslavia), which has changed from a one-off final to a best-of-three final back to a one-off final in recent years, and the Lithuanian, Polish and Turkish leagues, which use a best-of-seven format. Italy has gone to a best-of-seven final effective with its 2008–09 season. The Euroleague quarterfinal round expanded to best-of-five from best-of-three starting in the 2008–09 season. France changed its final from a one-off match to a best-of-five series in 2012–13.
The Ashes, a cricket series played between Australia and England is a five-match series. If the series is tied, the team holding the trophy keeps until the next series. Most test cricket matches are played under this format, but others extend up to seven matches. Test cricket is typically hosted by one team throughout the entire series. While series such as this have five matches, it is not exactly "best-of-five", as draws and other results, are possible.
A best-of-seven playoff is a head-to-head competition between two teams, wherein one must win four games to win the series. Four is chosen as it constitutes winning a majority of the seven games played. If one team wins the series before reaching game 7, all others are ignored. It is not necessary for the four games to be won consecutively. Draws are not permitted, even in sports where they usually would be; play continues until there is a winner.[d] This ensures that a series will never require more than seven games.[e]
The schedule is arranged so that the team with home advantage – the team that had the better regular-season record plays the first game and the decisive seventh game (if necessary) at home. Most best-of-seven series follow a "2–3–2" format or a "2–2–1–1–1" format; that is, in a 2–3–2 series, the first two games are played at the home venue of a team with the home-field advantage (the first "2"), the next three games (the "3", including Game 5, if necessary) are played at the home of the team without it, and the final two games (the last "2", if necessary) are played at the home of the team with the advantage. In a "2–2–1–1–1" format, the first two games are played at the team with the better record venue (the first "2"), the next two at the team with the worse record (the next "2"), and then alternating venues for the fifth, sixth and seventh games (the next three "1"s), if necessary. An "odd-even" format is used in the postseason tournaments of the Liiga in Finland and the Swedish Hockey League.
Major League Baseball (MLB) has used a best-of-seven format for the League Championship Series since 1985, and for the World Series between 1905 and 1918, and since 1922.[f] MLB uses the "2–3–2" format.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) also uses a "2–2–1–1–1" format for all playoff rounds including the finals. From the finals' inception in 1947, the championship round used a "2–2–1–1–1" format (except in 1971, 1975, 1978, and 1979). It was changed to a "2–3–2" format between 1985–2013 to reduce travel expenses, as the league's "East-West" divisional alignment means the two teams are usually separated by great distances. For instance, the cities represented in the finals' most frequent matchup, Los Angeles and Boston, are almost 3,000 miles (4,800 km) apart. The "2–2–1–1–1" format was restored in 2014.
The National Hockey League uses a best-of-seven series for all rounds of its league-championship Stanley Cup playoffs, but uses the "2–2–1–1–1" format. The AHL and the ECHL do not use a set playoff format for their league championship playoff tournaments due to scheduling conflicts. For example, in the 2016 Calder Cup playoffs, due to scheduling conflicts in both arenas, the Pacific Division finals between the Ontario Reign and the San Diego Gulls used the "odd-even" playoff format, with Ontario hosting the odd games.
The Chinese, Italian, 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 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 Philippine Basketball Association uses a best-of-seven series for its finals, as well as for most its semifinals of the PBA Philippine Cup since 2005.
Occasionally, WWE uses this format in some of their matches, such as for the feud between Chris Benoit and Booker T in 2005 for the WWE United States Championship, and for Antonio Cesaro's rivalry against Sheamus at August pay-per-view Summerslam 2016.
Nippon Professional Baseball's final championship round, the Japan Series, uses a best-of-seven playoff with a 2–3–2 format. However, since games can end in ties in that league, due to innings limits. In the event even no team has won four games after seven are completed, additional games are to be played with no innings limits. Through 2022, only one such game has ever been required.
A best-of-nine playoff is a head-to-head competition between two teams in which one team must win five games to win the series. Five is chosen as it constituted a majority of the games played; if one team wins the series before reaching game 9, all others are ignored.
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 the 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 the 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, the Eastern division had three rounds of playoffs (two teams received 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 the Portland Winterhawks defeating the New Westminster Bruins in 1984 and the Spokane Chiefs in 1986, respectively.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League used the best-of-nine playoff series for the 1986 playoffs.
In snooker, a player must win a certain number of frames to win a match, often nine (best-of-17) or more. Again, if one player wins nine frames before all 17 are played, all others are ignored. The world championship final is currently decided in a best-of-35 match.
In 9-ball, a player must win a certain number of racks to win a match. In the WPA World Nine-ball Championship, nine racks are needed to win in the early stages, ten to eleven in the latter stages, and seventeen in the final. As with snooker, if one player wins nine frames before all seventeen are played, all others are ignored.
Further information: Two-legged tie
Various playoff formats, including two-legged ties and total points series pair off participants in a number of games (often two), with the winner being determined by aggregate score: the winner being the one who scores the most points/goals etc. over the series of games. Two-legged ties are common in association football, and were used in NHL playoff series until 1937. It was used in North America in the MLS Cup Playoffs until the 2019 season.
In 2004, NASCAR adopted a total points playoff, creating a "Chase for the Cup" that allowed the top 10 drivers in points to qualify for the playoffs after 26 races into the 36 race season. These 10 drivers had their points 'reset' to an arbitrarily larger value, insuring any driver from 11th on the back is eliminated from championship contention and the top 10 are equal in points. The Chase format has changed several times since its creation including expanding the number of drivers from 10 to 12 and currently 16, and awarding bonus points for regular season wins when reseeding for the Playoffs.[g]
In November 2005, the PGA Tour announced that a 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. The higher-seeded team would host the odd numbered games (games 1, 3, 5, and 7), while the lower-seeded team hosts the even numbered games (games 2, 4, 6, and 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. If the last game were to finish in a tie, there would be a sudden-death overtime, with the winner getting two points and the losing team getting none.
The game shows Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, and The Challengers have used two-game series in their final rounds. Each game is played separately (i.e., money from day one cannot be wagered on day two), and the money from both games is added together to determine the winner. The only exception to this was in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions held in 2005, when the two semifinal matches were both two-game series, and the final was a three-game series. If any ties remain, sudden death was played to determine the champion.
The 2020–21 UEFA Champions League knockout phase:
Porto 4–4 Juventus on aggregate. Porto won on away goals (POR 2-1 JUV).
Main article: Round-robin tournament
In a round-robin tournament, all playoff contenders play each other an equal number of times, usually once or twice (the latter is often called a "double round-robin").
This is a common tournament format in association football. In the FIFA World Cup, teams are organized into eight pools of four teams, with each team playing the other three once. Standings are determined 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 first-place team from each pool faces a second-place team from a different pool.
Continental club football tournaments have included round robin formats, such as the 1966 Copa Libertadores, UEFA Champions League from the 1992–93 season, UEFA Cup from 2004 to 2005, and the Asian and African Champions Leagues. Teams are seeded so the strongest teams do not meet until the later rounds of the tournament. In the UEFA Champions League, 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four. The group winners and runners-up advance to play a two-legged tie. The third-place teams move into the UEFA Cup (Europa League) third round, and the fourth-place teams are eliminated.
In basketball, the Olympics uses a round-robin of the same nature, switching 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 four groups of six (as of the 2008–09 season). The top four teams in each group advance to a "Top 16" phase in which the teams are divided into four groups of four each. The top two teams from each group are then paired in four best-of-five 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, the Little League World Series 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 regional final. Little League used this format through 2009.
In Major League Baseball, the term "round-robin" was used with regard to the possibility of a three-way tie for the 1964 National League (NL) pennant. The Philadelphia Phillies had had a 6+1⁄2 game lead with 12 games left in their regular season. They then lost 10 games in a row, and on the final day of the season, three teams were still competing for the National League pennant. The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Mets to take the NL pennant with no playoff; the opposite outcome would have left the Cardinals, Phillies, and Cincinnati Reds in a three-way tie.
The "Super Six" round of the 1999 Cricket World Cup:
Teams in shaded in blue advance to the knockout stage.
A Swiss-system tournament is a variant used for competitions in which there are too many entrants for a full round-robin to be feasible, and eliminating any competitors before the end of the tournament is undesirable.
Match pairings for each round are done after the previous round has ended. Competitors are paired using a set of rules designed to ensure that each competitor plays opponents with a similar running score, but does not play the same opponent more than once. The winner is the competitor with the highest aggregate points earned in over a fixed number of rounds.
The system was first employed at a chess tournament in Zurich in 1895 by Julius Müller, hence the name "Swiss system", and is also used for other table games including go, bridge and Scrabble.
In tournaments where participants are seeded, the participants may be "reseeded" at each round in order to ensure that the strongest remaining team faces the weakest team. This type of tournament bracket is not fixed; potential match-ups cannot be anticipated up to the final. For example, in an eight-team bracket, the teams that will meet in the second round will be the winning team with the highest beginning seed against the first round winner with the lowest original seed. The second highest winning seed faces the winning team with the second lowest original seed.
The only notable tournaments that employ this rule are the NFL playoffs and WNBA playoffs. The Stanley Cup playoffs used the rule between 1975 and 1981, between 1994 and 2013, and 2020. Note that between 1994–2013 and 2020, reseeding does not come into play if there are only two rounds of competition. The NBA playoffs, the NCAA basketball tournaments (men and women), and most tennis tournaments, elect not to reseed, despite the possibility of reseeding resulting in different matchups. Prior to 2022, the MLB postseason did not have a format in which reseeding could change the matchups; the expanded postseason starting in 2022, in which the number of teams in each league making the playoffs will increase from 5 to 6, will not reseed teams.
The 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs (scores in the bracket shown indicate the number of games won in each seven-game series):
|Conference quarterfinals||Conference semifinals||Conference finals||Stanley Cup Finals|
In team sports, the "home-field advantage" refers to the phenomenon where a team (usually the higher-seeded team) is given more home games than away games. This is seen in a best-of series by more games being played in one team's arena/stadium than the other, and in single-elimination tournaments by the single game being held in one team's stadium. In a best-of series, a team can "lose" their home advantage if the visiting team wins the first game.
A team can clinch the home-field advantage in a variety of ways:
In a best-of series, the order of arenas/stadiums in which the games are played at also affects the home-field advantage. In the NBA and the NHL, all rounds are played in a "2–2–1–1–1" format. That is, the team with home-field advantage plays games 1, 2, 5, and 7 (if necessary) at home. This ensures that, if the home team wins every game, the team with home-field advantage never trails in the series. From 1985 to 2013, the NBA finals used the "2–3–2" format (the team with the home-court advantage plays games 1, 2, 6, and 7 on their home court). This can theoretically allow the team with the home-court advantage to trail in the series (although that will require the team with the home court advantage to lose the middle three games).
In Major League Baseball the best-of-7 rounds are played in a "2–3–2" format. This is to allow all games to be played in, in effect, location-consistent “sub-series” of 2 or 3 games. A "2–2–1–1–1" format could only be played in 2 and 3-game sub-series if the teams did not get days off for travel; however, the league gives teams an off day when traveling from Pacific Time to Eastern Time. Because teams from those time zones can possibly meet in any of the best-of-7 rounds, Major League Baseball always gives schedules to best-of-7 rounds that accommodate this travel feature.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, the NBA finals, and the World Series, the team with the better regular-season record receives the home-field advantage. The Super Bowl is held at a predetermined site regardless of which teams reach the game, which usually means there is no home advantage; it is possible for the host city's team to participate. Historically, World Series home-field advantage alternated between leagues on an annual basis; from 2003 to 2016 the league that won that season's All-Star Game earned home-field advantage, and since 2017 the team with the best regular-season record earns home-field advantage.
In two-legged ties such as the UEFA Champions League, the two teams each play one game in their respective home stadium. However, there is debate over whether either team has an advantage. While playing the clinching match at home could be seen as an advantage, the away goals tiebreaker arguably favors the away side.
In games played in neutral venues, a team may still be afforded the privileges of the "home team," such as selecting which side of the field to defend first (or last). In most instances, this privilege is determined either by a drawing of lots (UEFA Champions League) or by rotation among the groupings of the different teams (NFL).
In the Nippon Professional Baseball league's postseason games (excluding Japan Series) since 2004, the team with the higher regular-season standing will host all the games. In addition, since 2008, the league champion will have a one-win advantage in the second stage of the Climax Series (technically a best-of-seven series, though in practice only six games are played, because the regular-season champion starts with a 1–0 advantage).