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The playoffs, postseason, or finals of a sports league are a series of games played after the regular season by the top competitors, to determine the league champion or a similar accolade. The term and concept are most widespread in North America.

In the U.S. and Canada, the vast distances and consequent burdens on cross-country travel have led to regional groupings of teams, usually called divisions. Generally, during the regular season, teams play more games against opponents that are within their own grouping than those outside it. Since every team has not necessarily had a chance to prove itself against every other team, a playoff is necessary every season. Any team that wins its grouping is eligible to participate in the playoffs. As playoffs became more popular, they were expanded to allow teams that finished second or even lower in the grouping to participate. If a team has to be the best of all the lower-ranked teams, these teams are known as wild card teams, such as in the Major League Baseball system.

Playoffs in the National Basketball Association

The present organization known as the National Basketball Association, then called the BAA (Basketball Association of America), had its inaugural season in 1946–1947.

In the current system, eight clubs from each of the league's two conferences qualify for the playoffs, with separate playoff brackets for each conference. In the 2002–03 season, the first-round series were expanded from best-of-5 to best-of-7; all other series have always been best-of-7. In all series, home games alternate between the two teams in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, except for the NBA Finals, in which the format is 2-3-2.

The 2-3-2 finals format was adopted for the 1985 finals, copying the format that was then in effect in the National Hockey League. Prior to 1985, almost all finals were played in the 2-2-1-1-1 format (although the 1971 finals between Milwaukee and Baltimore were on an alternate-home basis, some 1950s finals used the 2-3-2 format, and the 1975 Golden State-Washington and 1978 and 1979 Seattle-Washington finals were on a 1-2-2-1-1 basis). Also, prior to the 1980s, East and West playoffs were on an alternate-home basis except for those series when distance made the 2-2-1-1-1 format more practical.

Teams are seeded according to their regular-season record. The three division champions and best division runner-up receive the top four seeds, with their ranking based on regular-season record. The remaining teams are seeded strictly by regular-season record.

However, the NBA system differs from other sports playoffs in the fact that division champions are not guaranteed home-court advantage at any time in the playoffs, as home-court advantage is decided strictly on regular-season record, without regard to seeding.

The NBA playoffs are often criticized for having too many teams, as it is common to see losing teams in the playoffs.

See NBA Playoffs and 2009 NBA Playoffs for more information and the current NBA postseason.

Playoffs in the National Football League

Evidence of playoffs in professional football dates to at least 1919, when the "New York Pro Championship" was held in Western New York (it's possible one was held in 1917, but that's not known for sure). The Buffalomarker and Rochestermarker metropolitan areas each played a championship game, the winners of which would advance to the "New York Pro Championship" on Thanksgiving weekend. The top New York teams were eventually absorbed into the NFL upon its founding in 1920, but the league (mostly driven by an Ohio League that did not have true championship games, though they frequently scheduled de facto championship matchups) did not adopt the New York league's playoff format, opting for a championship based on regular season record for its first twelve seasons; as a result, four of the first six "championships" were disputed. Technically, a vote of league owners was all that was required to win a title, but the owners had a gentlemen's agreement to pledge votes based on a score (wins divided by the sum of wins and losses, with a few tiebreakers). When two teams tied at the top of the standings in 1932, an impromptu playoff game was scheduled to settle the tie.

The National Football League divided its teams into divisions in 1933 and began holding a single playoff championship game between division winners. In 1950 the NFL absorbed three teams from the rival All-America Football Conference, and the former "Divisions" were now called "Conferences", echoing the college use of that term. In 1967, the NFL expanded and created four divisions under the two conferences, which led to the institution of a larger playoff tournament. After the AFL-NFL merger brought the American Football League into the NFL, the NFL began to use a single wild card team in each conference in its playoffs, in order to produce eight contenders out of six divisions; this was later expanded so that more wild card teams could participate.

In 2002 the NFL added its 32nd team, the Houston Texans, and significantly reshuffled its divisional alignment. The league went from 6 division winners and 6 wild card spots to 8 division winners and only 4 wild card qualifiers. The winners of each division automatically earn a playoff spot and a home game in their first rounds, and the two top non-division winners from each conference will also make the playoffs as wild-card teams. The top two teams with the best records in the regular season get a first round bye, and each of the bottom two division winners plays one of the two wild-card teams. Each winner of a wild-card game then plays one of the two bye teams. The winners of these two games go to the conference championships, and the winners of those conference championship games then face each other in the Super Bowl.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup

NASCAR implemented a "playoff" system beginning in 2004, that they coined the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup." Currently, only NASCAR's top series uses the system. In the original version of the Chase (2004-2006), following the 26th race of the season, all drivers in the top 10 and any others within 400 points of the leader got a spot in the 10-race playoff. Like the current system, drivers in the Chase had their point totals adjusted. However, it was based on the number of points at the conclusion of the 26th race. The first-place driver in the standings led with 5,050 points; the second-place driver started with 5,045. Incremental five-point drops continued through 10th place with 5,005 points). In addition, drivers received 180 points for winning a race, 5 bonus points for leading the most laps, and 5 bonus for leading a single lap.

The current version of the Chase was announced by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France on January 22, 2007. After 26 races, the top 12 drivers advance to contend for the points championship and points are reset to 5000. Each driver within the top 12 gets an additional 10 points for each win during the "regular season," or first 26 races, thus creating a seeding based on wins. The Chase consists of 10 races and the driver with the most points at the conclusion of the 10 races is the NEXTEL Cup Series Champion. Drivers can earn 5 bonus points for leading the most laps, and 5 bonus points for leading a single lap.Brian France explained why NASCAR made the changes to the chase:
"The adjustments taken [Monday] put a greater emphasis on winning races.
Winning is what this sport is all about.
Nobody likes to see drivers content to finish in the top 10.
We want our sport -- especially during the Chase -- to be more about winning."

Beginning with the 2008 season, the playoff will become known as the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" due to the NEXTEL/Sprint merger.

Playoffs in Major League Baseball

Playoffs in the National Hockey League

The National Hockey League has always used a playoff tournament to determine its champion, generally opening up its playoff games to a much larger number of teams, including those with a losing regular season record in some years. Because of the grueling nature of the sport, the Stanley Cup playoffs is considered to be one of the hardest championships in all of professional sports to win.

From the NHL's inception to 1920, when ownership of the Stanley Cup was shared between the NHL and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association the regular season was divided into two halves, with the top team from each half moving on to the league finals, which was a two-game total goals series in 1918 and a best-of-seven series in 1919. In 1920, the Ottawa Senators were automatically declared the league champion when the team had won both halves of the regular season. The two halves format was abandoned the next year, and the top two teams faced off for the NHL championship in a two-game total goals series.

At the time, the NHL champion would later face the winners of the PCHA and, from 1921, the Western Canada Hockey League in further rounds in order to determine the Stanley Cup champion. During this time, as the rules of the NHL and those of the western leagues differ (the main difference being that NHL rules allowed five skaters while the western leagues allowed six), the rules for each game in the Stanley Cup Finals alternated between those of the NHL and the western leagues. Before the WCHL competed for the Stanley Cup, the Stanley Cup Finals was a best-of-five series. Following the involvement of the WCHL, one league champion was given a bye straight to the finals (a best-of-three affair starting in 1922), while the other two competed in a best-of-three semifinal. As travel expenses were high during these times, it was often the case that the NHL champions were sent west to compete. In a dispute between the leagues in 1923 about whether to send one or both western league champions east, the winner of the PCHA/WCHL series would proceed to the Stanley Cup Finals while the loser of the series would face the NHL champions, both series being best-of-three.

In 1924 the NHL playoffs expanded from two to three teams (with the top team getting a bye to the two-game total goal NHL finals), but because the first-place Hamilton Tigers refused to play under this format, the second and third place teams played for the NHL championship in a two-game total goals affair. The Stanley Cup Finals was returned to the best-of-five format the same year.

With the merger of the PCHA and WCHL in 1925 and its collapse in 1926, the NHL took sole control of the Stanley Cup, and from this point the NHL playoffs and the Stanley Cup playoffs are considered synonymous. The NHL was subsequently divided into the Canadian and American divisions until the 1937-38 season. For 1927, six teams qualified for the playoffs, three from each division, with the division semifinals and finals being a two-game total goals affair and the Stanley Cup Finals a best-of-five affair. In 1928, the playoff format was changed so that the two teams with identical division ranking would face each other (ie. the first place teams played each other, the second place teams play each other, and likewise for the third place teams). The first place series was a best-of-five affair, with the winner proceeding to the best-of-three Stanley Cup Finals, while the others was a two-game total goals series. The winner of the second and third place series played each other in a best-of-three series, with the winner earning the other berth to the Stanley Cup Finals. This format had a slight modification the following year, where the semifinal series became a two-game total goals affair and the Stanley Cup Finals became a best-of-five series. The two-game total goals format was abolished in 1937, with those series being changed to best-of-three affairs.

The 1938-39 season saw the reduction of teams from 10 to 7, and with it an end to the Canadian and American divisions. The Stanley Cup playoffs saw the first and second place teams play against each other in a best-of-seven series for one berth in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the third to sixth place teams battled in a series of best-of-three matches for the other berth (with the third place team battling the fourth place team, and the fifth place team against the sixth place team). The playoff format introduced in the 1938-39 season had a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals, which still stands today.

The 1942-43 season saw the removal of the New York Americans, and thus the six remaining teams formed the Original Six. During this era, the playoff format went unchanged, with the first and third place teams battling in one best-of-seven semifinal, while the second and fourth place teams battled in the other best-of-seven semifinal. During this time, Detroit Red Wings fans often threw an octopus onto the ice as a good luck charm, as eight wins were required to win the Stanley Cup.

The Modern Era expansion saw the number of teams double from six to twelve in the 1967-68 season, and with it the creation of the Western and Eastern Conferences. The playoff format remained largely the same, with all series remaining best-of-seven, and the Western and Eastern Conference champions battling for the Stanley Cup. The 1970-71 season, because of fan demand, brought forth the first interconference playoff matchup outside of the Stanley Cup Finals since the pre-war expansion, which had the winner of the 2 vs 4 matchup in one conference take on the winner of the 1 vs 3 matchup in the other conference for a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. The following year had one minor change to its playoff format: a stronger team would face a weaker opponent. Thus, instead of a 1 vs 3 and 2 vs 4 matchup in the first round, the first round had a 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 matchup. This practice of having stronger teams facing weaker opposition would continue to the present day.

The 1974-75 seasons saw another change to its playoff system to accommodate the league of now 18 teams, 12 of which qualified for postseason berth. The top team from each conference would earn byes to the Stanley Cup quarterfinals, while the second and third place teams from each division started their playoff run from a preliminary round. In each round of the playoffs, the teams remaining were seeded regardless of divisional or conference alignment, with the preliminary-round series being a best-of-three affair while the remainder of the series remained best-of-seven. The 1977-78 season had one minor change in its playoff format: although the second place finishers from each division would qualify for the preliminary round, the four playoff spots reserved for the third-place teams were replaced by four wild-card spots - spots for the four teams with the highest regular-season point total but which did not finish first or second in their divisions.

With the absorption of four teams from the World Hockey Association in the 1979-1980 season, a new playoff system was introduced where 16 of the league's 21 teams would qualify for postseason play. The four division winners would qualify for the playoffs while twelve wildcard positions rounded out the sixteen teams. At the beginning of each round the teams were seeded based on their regular season point totals, with the preliminary round being a best-of-five series while all other playoff series were best-of-seven.

The 1981-1982 season brought forth the return of divisional matchups, with the top four teams from each division qualifying for the postseason play. Division champions would be determined, followed by the Conference champions, who would meet in the Stanley Cup Finals. The division semifinals was a best-of-five affair until the 1986-87 season, when it became a best-of-seven series, while all other series remained best-of seven.

The 1993-94 season brought forth the change in the playoff format that would result in the format being used today. The division winners would occupy top three seeds while five wildcard berths completed the conference playoff draws, with all series being best-of-seven. One quirk that was abolished with division realignment in the 1998-99 season was that the higher-ranked teams in Western Conference interdivisional matchups had the option of having home ice rotate on a 2-2-1-1-1 basis or a 2-3-2 basis, and if the latter was chosen having the bulk of their games at home or on the road. The 1998-99 season also brought forth a re-seeding of conference playoff matchups after the first round, as well as a third division in each conference.

Association football

As a rule, international association football (soccer) has only had championship playoffs when a league is divided into several equal divisions/conferences/groups (MLS, Primera División de México) and/or when the season is split into two periods (as in many leagues in Latin America). In leagues with a single table done only once a year, as in most of Europe, playoff systems are used.

A test match is a match played at the end of a season between a team that has done badly in a higher league and one that has done well in a lower league of the same football league system. The winner of the test match plays in the higher league the following year, and the loser in the lower league.


When the Football League was first expanded to two divisions in 1892, test matches were employed to decide relegation and promotion between them, but the practice was scrapped in favour of automatic relegation and promotion in 1898.

The use of play-offs to decide promotion issues returned to the League in 1986 with the desire to reduce the number of mid-table clubs with nothing to play for at the end of the season. The Football Conference introduced play-offs in 2002 after the Football League agreed to a two-club exchange with the Conference.

The top two teams in the Football League Championship and in Football League One are automatically promoted to the division above and thus do not compete in the play-offs. The top three teams in Football League Two and the champion of Conference National are also automatically promoted. In each of these divisions the four clubs finishing below the automatic promotion places compete in two-legged semi-finals with the higher-placed club enjoying home advantage in the second leg. The away goals rule does not apply for the semi-finals, which has led to some games swinging the way of a team that otherwise would have been beaten by the rule. The Football League play-off finals were originally played in two legs, at both teams' home grounds, but were later changed to one-off affairs, which are played at Wembley Stadiummarker in Londonmarker. The Conference play-off final is also played at Wembley.

In 2003, Gillingham proposed replacing the current play-off system with one involving six clubs from each division and replacing the two-legged ties with one-off matches. If adopted, the two higher-placed clubs in the play-offs would have enjoyed first-round byes and home advantage in the semi-finals. It was a controversial proposal — some people did not believe a club finishing eighth in the League could compete in the Premiership while others found the system too Americanmarker for their liking. Although League chairmen initially voted in favour of the proposal, it was blocked by The FA and soon abandoned.

The championship of every division in English football is determined solely by the standings in the league. However, a championship play-off would be held if the top two teams were tied for points, goal difference and goals scored; to date, this has never happened.


In 2004-05, Italy's professional league introduced a promotion playoff to its second tier of football, Serie B. It operates almost identically to the system currently used in England. The top two clubs in Serie B earn automatic promotion to Serie A with the next four clubs entering a playoff to determine who wins the third promotion place, as long as fewer than 10 points separate the third and fourth-placed teams (which often occurs).

Like the English playoffs, the Italian playoffs employ two-legged semi-finals, with the higher finisher in the league table earning home advantage in the second leg. If the teams are level on aggregate after full time of the second leg, away goals are not used, but extra time is used. Unlike England, the Italian playoff final is two-legged, again with the higher finisher earning home advantage in the second leg. In both rounds, if the tie is level on aggregate after extra time in the second leg, the team that finished higher in the league standings wins.

In 2004, Italy's football (soccer) league used a two-legged test match to determine one spot in the top level of its system, Serie A. Some leagues in continental Europe combine automatic promotion/relegation with test matches. For example, in the Netherlandsmarker, only one club is automatically relegated from its top level, the Eredivisie, each season, with the winner of the second-flight being promoted. The next two lower-placed teams enter a promotion/relegation mini-league with high-placed teams from the Dutch First Division


In the Belgianmarker Jupiler League, the 17th team (out of 18) in the final standings has to join a playoff pool with three teams from the Belgian Second Division after each season, to determine which of these teams gets to play in the Jupiler League the oncoming season. Originally, these playoffs were introduced in 1974 and were part of the Belgian Second Division, to determine which team was promoted to the highest level together with the division champions. From the 2005-06 season on, only one team was relegated directly from the Jupiler League, with the 17th team taking part in the playoff. As a result, this playoff is still called the Belgian Second Division Final Round, although one team from the Jupiler League now takes part each year.


J.League in Japanmarker uses a test match between the third-from-bottom team in J1 and third-place team in J2 (see J. League Promotion/Relegation Series).


Mexico's top flight league, the Primera División de México, divides its 18 teams into three groups of six. In each of two annual tournaments, every team plays every other team in the league once (17 games), after which the top two teams in each group advance to the Liguilla and the next four best teams overall advance to the Repechaje. The four Repechaje teams play a single home-and-away round, with the best team (by points) facing the worst team and the second-best facing the second-worst. The winners of these two series advance to the Liguilla.

In the Liguilla, all rounds are home-and-away. Teams are drawn so the best team plays the worst, the second-best plays the second-worst, and so on. After one round, the teams are redrawn so the best remaining team again plays the worst remaining one and the second-best faces the second-worst in the semi-finals. The two winners of this round play each other for the championship.

There is no playoff between the Apertura and Clausura winner. As a result, the league crowns two champions each year. After each Clausura, the team with the lowest points-per-game total for the previous six tournaments (three years, counting only Primera División games) is relegated to Primera División A to be replaced by that league's champion (if eligible).


In The Netherlandsmarker, a playoff was introduced in season 2005-2006. It is used to determine which teams from the Eredivisie qualify for European football. The playoff system has been criticized by clubs, players and fans as the number of matches will increase. Under the original playoff format, it was possible, though thoroughly unlikely, that the runner-up would not qualify for Europe; the following year, the format was changed so that the second-place team was assured of no worse than a UEFA Cup berth. Starting in 2008–09, the format was changed yet again. The champion goes directly to the Champions League; the runner-up enters the second qualification round of the CL; the number three enters the fourth (and last) qualification round of the UEFA Europa League (EL; the new name of the UEFA Cup from 2009–10 onward) and the number four goes to the third qualification round of the EL. The only play-off will be for the clubs placed 5th through 8th. The winner of that play-off receives a ticket for the second qualification round of the EL.

Playoffs are also part of the promotion and relegation structure between the Eredivisie and the Eerste Divisie, the two highest football leagues in the Netherlands.


The Scottish Premier League experimented briefly with playoffs in the mid-1990s, with only one team - Dundee United - achieving promotion through it (Partick Thistle were relegated at their expense). Currently, the bottom team is relegated to the First Division of the Scottish Football League, and the top team from there is promoted. In the First/Second and Second/Third Division, while the champions are automatically promoted and the bottom team relegated, there are playoffs of the second-bottom teams against the second, third and fourth placed teams from the league below. Home and away ties decide semi-finals and a final, and the overall winner plays in the higher league the following season, with the loser in the lower league.


Starting in 2008–09, Super League Greece instituted a playoff system to determine all of its places in European competition for the following season, except for that of the league champion. Currently, the league is entitled to two Champions League places and three in the Europa League. The playoff currently takes the form of a home-and-away mini-league involving the second- through fifth-place teams, under the following conditions:
  • The fifth-place team starts the playoffs at 0 points.
  • The remaining teams start with a number of "bonus points" determined as follows:
    • The number of points earned by the fifth-place team during the main league season is subtracted from the totals of each other club involved in the playoffs.
    • The resulting number is then divided by 5 and rounded to the nearest whole number.
  • At the end of the playoffs, the winner receives the country's second Champions League place, and the remaining teams receive Europa League berths, entering the competition at different points according to their playoff finishes.

United States and Canada

In Major League Soccer in the U.S.marker and Canadamarker, at the end of the regular season, the top four teams in each Conference advance to the Conference Semifinals, the first round of the postseason knockout tournament. The winner of each conference will play for the MLS Cup, the league championship.

Conference Semifinal series are conducted under a home-and-away, aggregate-goal format, with single-game Conference Championships determining the MLS Cup Finalists. For each Conference, the 1st seed plays the 4th seed, and the 2nd seed faces the 3rd seed in the Conference Semifinal series, with the lower seeded team hosting the first game.

The team that scores the most goals in the home-and-away series advances to the single elimination Conference Championship. If the teams are tied after 180 minutes in the Conference Semifinal series, a 30-minute extra time period (divided into two 15-minute periods) would be played followed by a penalty-kick shootout, if necessary. The team with the higher seed between the two Conference finalists will host the Conference Championship game.

In the case of ties after regulation in the Eastern and Western Conference Championship games and MLS Cup, 30 minutes of extra time (divided into two 15-minute periods) would be played followed by a penalty-kick shootout, if necessary, to determine the winners.

MLS does not use the away goals rule in any playoff series.

Women's Professional Soccer, which currently operates only in the U.S., conducts a four-team stepladder tournament consisting of one-off knockout matches. The third seed hosts the fourth seed in the first round. The winner of that game advances to the "Super Semifinal", hosted by the second seed. The Super Semifinal winner travels to the first seed for the championship game.

International playoffs

In international football, playoffs were a feature of the 1954 and 1958 FIFA World Cup final tournaments. They are still a feature of the qualification tournaments for the FIFA World Cup and the European Football Championship.

In the qualification playoffs for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, for example:

Knockout competitions

In addition to their league competitions, most European footballing nations also have knockout cup competitions - English football, for example, has the FA Cup and the League Cup. These competitions are open to many teams—92 clubs compete for the League Cup, and hundreds compete for the FA Cup. These competitions run concurrently with the "regular season" league competitions and are not regarded as playoffs.

Australian rules football

Playoffs are used in the Australian Football League (AFL), where they are known as finals - although unlike North American leagues, participating teams only come from within a single division, and also consist of single matches rather than series.

The top eight teams at the end of the regular season qualify for the finals. Two teams are eliminated in each round until only two teams remain (the participants in the Grand Final), the system is structured so that higher-ranked teams are given a more advantageous draw.

The system used by the AFL works as follows:

Week One
  • First-ranked team vs fourth-ranked team (1st Qualifying Final)
  • Second-ranked team vs third-ranked team (2nd Qualifying Final)
  • Fifth-ranked team vs eighth-ranked team (1st Elimination Final)
  • Sixth-ranked team vs seventh-ranked team (2nd Elimination Final)
The winners of the qualifying finals advance directly to week three, while the losers of the elimination finals are eliminated. The remaining four teams continue on to week two.

Week Two
  • Loser of 2nd qualifying final vs winner of 2nd elimination final (1st Semi-Final)
  • Loser of 1st qualifying final vs winner of 1st elimination final (2nd Semi-Final)
The two winners advance to week three while the losers are eliminated.

Week Three
  • Winner of 1st qualifying final vs winner of 1st semi-final (1st Preliminary Final)
  • Winner of 2nd qualifying final vs winner of 2nd semi-final (2nd Preliminary Final)
The two winners advance to the Grand Final, held in week four at the Melbourne Cricket Groundmarker.

Rugby league

Play-offs in National Rugby League

Play-offs are used to decide the premiers of the National Rugby League (NRL) in Australasia, where they are known as finals (also as semi finals or semis) - although unlike North American leagues, participating teams only come from within a single division, and also consist of single matches rather than series. The term play-off was used in the NSWRL competition to describe sudden death matches used as tie breakers for finals qualification.

The top eight teams at the end of the regular season qualify for the finals. Two teams are eliminated in each round until only two teams remain (the participants in the Grand Final), the system is structured so that higher-ranked teams are given a more advantageous draw.The McIntyre Final Eight System, used by the NRL but previously used by the AFL, works as follows:

Week One
  • First-ranked team vs eighth-ranked team (4th Qualifying Final)
  • Second-ranked team vs seventh-ranked team (3rd Qualifying Final)
  • Third-ranked team vs sixth-ranked team (2nd Qualifying Final)
  • Fourth-ranked team vs fifth-ranked team (1st Qualifying Final)
After this round, the four winners are ranked in order of their positions at the end of the regular season, as are the four losers. The two highest ranked winners advance directly to week three, while the two lowest ranked losers are eliminated. The remaining four teams continue on to week two.

Week Two
  • Third highest-ranked winner vs highest-ranked loser (1st Semi Final)
  • Fourth highest-ranked winner vs second highest-ranked loser (2nd Semi Final)
The two winners advance to week three while the losers are eliminated.

Week Three
  • Highest-ranked winner from Week One vs winner of 1st semi-final (1st Preliminary Final)
  • Second highest-ranked winner from Week One vs winner of 2nd semi-final (2nd Preliminary Final)
The two winners advance to the Grand Final, held in week four at ANZ Stadiummarker in Sydneymarker.

Play-offs in Super League

The European Super League rugby league competition has used a play-off system to decide its champion since 1998. The original play-off format featured the top five highest-ranked teams after the regular season rounds. Starting in 2002, the play-offs added an extra spot to allow the top six to qualify. With the addition of two new teams for the 2009 season, the play-offs expanded to eight teams. The current format works like this:

Week One
  • Qualifying Play Off 1: 1st vs 4th (winner receives a bye to week three)
  • Qualifying Play Off 2: 2nd vs 3rd (winner receives a bye to week three)

  • Elimination Play Off 1: 5th vs 8th (loser goes out)
  • Elimination Play Off 2: 6th vs 7th (loser goes out)

Week Two
  • Preliminary Semi Final 1: QPO 1 Loser vs EPO 1 Winner
  • Preliminary Semi Final 2: QPO 2 Loser vs EPO 2 Winner

Week Three
  • Qualifying Semi Final 1: QPO 1 Winner vs PSF 1 or PSF 2 Winner *
  • Qualifying Semi Final 2: QPO 2 Winner vs PSF 1 or PSF 2 Winner *

Week Four
  • Grand Final: Winners of Qualifying Semi-Finals meet at Old Traffordmarker

* Opponents decided by the QPO winner (in Week 1) that finished higher in the regular season

Other leagues

The two tiers directly below Super League, the Championship and Championship 1—formerly the National Leagues until the 2009 addition of a French club to the previously all-British competition—still use the old top six system to determine which teams are promoted between its levels. Before the 2008 season, when Super League established a franchising system and ended automatic promotion and relegation in Super League, the National Leagues also used this system to determine the team that earned promotion to Super League. The top six system involves the following:

Week One
  • Elimination Semi-final A: 3rd vs 6th
  • Elimination Semi-final B: 4th vs 5th

Week Two
  • Elimination Final: Winners of Elimination Semi-final A vs Winners of Elimination Semi-final B
  • Qualification Match: 1st vs 2nd

Week Three
  • Final Qualifier: Winners of Elimination Final vs Losers of Qualification Match

Week Four
  • Grand Final: Winners of Qualification Match vs Winners of Final Qualifier (in Super League, at Old Trafford)

Rugby union


In the Guinness Premiership the top four qualify for the playoffs, where they are not referred to by that name. The tournament is a Shaughnessy playoff: the team who finished first after the league stage plays the team who finished fourth, while the team who finished second plays the team who finished third in the Semi-Finals with the higher-ranked team having homefield advantage. The winners of these semi-finals qualify for the Premiership Final at Twickenhammarker, where the winner will be champions of the league.


The highest level of French rugby union, the Top 14, will expand its playoffs starting with the current 2009–10 season from a four-team format to six teams. In the new system, the top two teams after the double round-robin season will receive a first-round bye. The first-round matches will involve the third- through sixth-place teams, bracketed so that 3 hosts 6 and 4 hosts 5. The winners then advance to face the top two teams in the semifinals, which will continue to be held at neutral sites. The winners of these semifinals qualify for the final at Stade de Francemarker, where the winner will be champions of the league and receive the Bouclier de Brennus. Before 2009–10, the playoffs format was identical to that of the Guinness Premiership with the exception of neutral sites for the semifinals.

The second level, Rugby Pro D2, uses the standard four-team playoff, but involving the second- through fifth-place teams, to determine the second of two teams promoted to the next season's Top 14 (the champions earn automatic promotion). The promotion semifinals are held at the home fields of the second- and third-place teams, and the promotion final is held at a neutral site.

Magners League

The Magners League in the Celtic nations of Irelandmarker, Scotlandmarker, and Walesmarker will adopt a four-team playoff, identical in format to that of the Guinness Premiership, starting with its upcoming 2009–10 season.

New Zealand

Both domestic competitions in New Zealand rugby — the fully professional Air New Zealand Cup and the nominally amateur Heartland Championship — use a playoff system to determine their champions, although the term "playoff" is also not used in New Zealand.

Air New Zealand Cup

In the 2006 Air New Zealand Cup, the first season of the revamped domestic structure in that country, the top six teams after Round One of the competition automatically qualified for the playoffs, officially known as Round Three. Their relative seeding was determined by their standings at the end of the Top Six phase of Round Two. The teams that finished below the top six entered repechage pools in Round Two, with the winner of each pool taking up one of the final two playoff slots. The seventh seed was the repechage winner with the better record, and the eighth seed was the other repechage winner.

From 2007 onward, the former Rounds One and Two were collapsed into a single pool phase of play in which all teams participate. In 2007 and 2008, the top eight teams advanced to the playoffs; in the final season of the Air New Zealand Cup format in 2009, the top four advanced to the playoffs.

The playoffs in each season format have consisted of a single-elimination tournament. The teams are bracketed in the normal fashion, with the higher seed receiving home-field advantage. In 2007 and 2008, the playoff was rebracketed after the quarterfinals, with the highest surviving seed hosting the lowest surviving seed and the second-highest surviving seed hosting the third surviving seed. The winners of these semifinals qualify for the Air New Zealand Cup Final, held at the home ground of the higher surviving seed.

Heartland Championship

In the Heartland Championship, teams play for two distinct trophies — the more prestigious Meads Cup and the Lochore Cup. The 12 Heartland Championship teams are divided into two pools for round-robin play in Round One, with the top three in each pool advancing to the Meads Cup and the bottom three dropping to the Lochore Cup.

Round Two in both the Meads and Lochore Cups is an abbreviated round-robin tournament, with each team playing only the teams it did not play in Round One. The top four teams in the Meads Cup pool at the end of Round Two advance to the Meads Cup semifinals; the same applies for the Lochore Cup contestants.

The semifinals of both cups are seeded 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3, with the higher seeds earning home field advantage. The semifinal winners advance to their respective cup final, hosted by the higher surviving seed.

Super Rugby

In May 2009, SANZAR, which operates the Super 14 competition, announced that it would adopt a playoff when it expands to Super 15 for the 2011 season. The playoff will involve six teams—the winners of each of three conferences, plus the three non-winners with the most competition points without regard to conference affiliation.

The top two conference winners will receive a first-round bye; each will face the winner of an elimination match involving two of the four other playoff teams.

Playoffs in the Canadian Football League

The playoffs begin in November. After the regular season, the top team from each division has an automatic home game berth in the Division Final, and a bye week during the Division Semifinal. The second-place team from each division hosts the third-place team in the Division Semifinal, unless the fourth-place team from the opposite division finishes with a better record. This "crossover rule" does not come into play if the teams have identical records—there are no tiebreakers. While the format means that it is possible for two teams in the same division to play for the Grey Cup, so far only one crossover team has won the divisional semifinal game. The winners of each Division's Semifinal game then travel to play the first place teams in the Division Finals. Since 2005, the Division Semifinals and Division Finals have been sponsored by Scotiabank and are branded as the "Scotiabank East Championship" and "Scotiabank West Championship". The two division champions then face each other in the Grey Cup game, which is held on the third or fourth Sunday of November.

The Edmonton Eskimos are notable for qualifying for the CFL playoffs every year from 1972 to 2005, a record in North American pro sports. The Eskimos are also notable for being the first crossover team to ever win the divisional semifinal game.

Playoffs in Japan's Baseball Leagues

Before 1950 the original Japanese Baseball League had been a single-table league of franchises. After it was reorganized into the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) system, a series of playoffs ensued between the champions of the Central League and Pacific League.

Before the playoff system is placed in both professional leagues, the Pacific League had applied a playoff system for twice. The first is between 1973-1982, which they applied a split-season and have an 5-game playoff between the winning teams of both halves of season (unless a team won both of the half so that they need not to play such games). And the second time was between 2004-2006, which the top three team will play a two-staged stepladder knockout (3 games in first stage and 5 games in second stage) the decide the League Champion (and the team playing in Japan Series). After applied with such system, the Seibu Lions (now Saitama Seibu Lions), Chiba Lotte Marines and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, which claimed the Pacific League Champion under such system, were all able to clinch the following Japan Series in that season. The success of such playoff system made Central League, which never used playoff system to decide League Champion, show interest in a playoff system. In 2007, a new playoff system, named "Climax Series", is introduced to both professional leagues in NPB to decide the team playing in Japan Series. The Climax Series basically applied the rule of the playoff system in Pacific League. But unlike the previous playoff system, Climax Series does not affact teams' standing nor individual records in regular season which the previous playoff system in Pacific League did, this means the winner of Japan Series may not be the winner of the League. The Chunichi Dragons takes the advantage of such system in the first Climax Series-implemented season, finishing second in regular season, but swept Hanshin Tigers and League Champion Yomiuri Giants in Central League Climax Series, and beat the Champion of Pacific League Climax Series Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to claim their first Japan Series in 52 years.

In 2008, the format of Climax Series will have a slight change, in which the second stage will be played for 6-games, and in which the League Champion will have an extra 1-game advantage.

See also

Notes and references

  1. For a detailed history of the evolution and development of the finals system used by the Victorian Football League (VFL) and, later, by the Australian Football League (AFL) see Early VFL Final systems and McIntyre System.
  2. For a detailed history of the evolution and development of the finals system used by the Victorian Football League (VFL) and, later, by the Australian Football League (AFL) see Early VFL Final systems and McIntyre System.

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