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The Shaughnessy playoff system is a method of determining the champion of a sports league that is not in a divisional alignment. Invented in 1933 by Frank Shaughnessy, general manager of the Montréal Royals minor league baseball team of the International League, a Shaughnessy playoff involves the participation of the top four teams in the league standings in a single elimination tournament. While the first round of the playoffs involve the pairing of the first- and fourth-place teams in one contest (whether it be a single game or a series of games) and the second- and third-place teams in the other, a variant of the Shaughnessy playoffs would pair the first- and third-place teams in one semifinal round and the second- and fourth-place teams in the other. In either variant, the winners of the first two games would then compete for the league championship.

After the successful implementation by the International League, the popularity of the new postseason format spread to other leagues in other sports, including the All-America Football Conference (which used the Shaughnessy playoff system in the league's last season of existence) and the minor American football league American Association, which used the format in five of its championship seasons. The format has also been widely used in minor league baseball on all levels.

In the Original Six era of the National Hockey League (1942-1967), the circuit adopted a Shaughnessy playoff system (first place vs. fourth place and second place vs. third place) in which the paired teams played in a best-four-of-seven-games series with the winners advancing to the Stanley Cup championship round.

More recently, the Shaughnessy playoff system has been adopted in non-American countries. In Englandmarker, the format has been used to determine the winner of the Guinness Premiership for rugby union; the Magners League in Irelandmarker, Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker will adopt an identical system starting with the current 2009–10 season.

In French rugby union, the Shaughnessy playoff is currently used to determine the second of two promotion spots in the second-tier Rugby Pro D2, though in that case the teams involved are the second- through fifth-placed teams, as the first-place team earns automatic promotion. Previously, the pure Shaughnessy system had been used to determine the champion of Top 14, but that league's playoffs will expand to six teams from 2009–10.

The Shaughnessy system is also used to determine the winners of the Meads and Lochore Cups, the two trophies contested in New Zealandmarker's amateur Heartland Championship. The professional Air New Zealand Cup used an eight-team playoff bracket in 2007 and 2008, but is using the Shaughnessy system in 2009. With the pending reorganisation of New Zealand domestic rugby into a three-division system, similar to what existed in the National Provincial Championship era, the playoff system is subject to change in the future.

References

  1. Nothing Minor About It: The American Association/AFL of 1936-1950 - Bob Gill, Pro Football Researchers Association (1990)
  2. International League Governors' Cup Championship - from official AAA baseball website
  3. “It’s a Minor Thing” – Steven Brainerd, Professional Football Researchers Association (1988)
  4. All-America Football Conference - Stan Grosshandler, Professional Football Researchers Association (1980)
  5. Nothing Minor About It: The American Association/AFL of 1936-1950 - Bob Gill, Pro Football Researchers Association (1990)
  6. The Rise of the Midwest League and the Decline of the Three-I League - Tim Rask, Society for American Baseball Research (2007)
  7. Guinness Premiership official site



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