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Any group-winning team is eligible to participate, and as playoffs became more popular they were expanded to include second- or even lower-placed teams — the term " wild card " refers to these teams.
In England and Scotland, playoffs are used in association football to decide promotion for lower-finishing teams, rather than to decide a champion in the way they are used in North America.
In the EFL Championship the second tier of English football , teams finishing 3rd to 6th after the regular season compete to decide the final promotion spot to the Premier League.
Evidence of playoffs in professional football dates to at least , when the " New York Pro Championship " was held in Western New York it is possible one was held in , but that is not known for sure.
The Buffalo and Rochester 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 , 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 , an impromptu playoff game was scheduled to settle the tie. The National Football League divided its teams into divisions in and began holding a single playoff championship game between division winners.
In 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 , the NFL expanded and created four divisions under the two conferences, which led to the institution of a larger playoff tournament.
In 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; by , the number of wild card qualifiers returned to six.
The winners of each division automatically earn a playoff spot and a home game in their first rounds, the three top non-division winners from each conference will also make the playoffs as wild-card teams.
The division winner with the best record in the regular season gets a first round bye, and each of the other division winners plays one of the three wild-card teams.
In the divisional round, the lowest-seeded winner of a wild-card game then plays the lone bye team; the two wild-card winners also advance to play each other.
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.
Unlike the BCS championship, the participating teams in the College Football Playoff National Championship are determined by two semi-final bowls—hosted by two of the consortium's six member bowls yearly—and the top two teams as determined by the selection committee do not automatically advance to the game in lieu of other bowls.
When announcing it was soliciting bids for the and title games, playoff organizers said that the bids must propose host stadiums with a capacity of at least 65, spectators,  and cities cannot host both a semi-final game and the title game in the same year.
The winner of the game is awarded a new championship trophy instead of the "crystal football" , which has been given by the American Football Coaches Association AFCA since ; officials wanted a new trophy that was unconnected with the previous BCS championship system.
It was first held in Prior to , four regional bowl games were played in order to provide postseason action for what was then called the "NCAA College Division" and a poll determined the final champion.
The National Championship game was held at Sacramento, California from to It was in Wichita Falls, Texas in and The game was played in Longview, Texas in For and , Albuquerque, New Mexico hosted the game.
McAllen, Texas hosted the championship games from to The Division III playoffs begin with 32 teams selected to participate in the playoffs.
In leagues with a single table done only once a year, as in most of Europe, playoff systems are not used to determine champions, although in some countries such systems are used to determine teams to be promoted to higher leagues e.
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 format of a test match series varies; for instance it can be a head-to-head between one of the worse finishers of the higher league and one of the better finishers of the lower league, or it can be a mini league where all participants play each other or teams only play those from the other league.
The winner of the test match series play in the higher league the following season, and the loser in the lower league.
In Argentine football, playoffs in the style of the English leagues occur in the Primera B Metropolitana , part of the third tier, and leagues below it Primera C Metropolitana and Primera D Metropolitana.
All Primera Metropolitana tourneys cover the area in and around Buenos Aires , the capital city. The Torneo Reducidos reduced tournaments , however, involve 8 teams below the top two, as opposed to 4.
As a result, the league crowned two champions each year. The Australian A-League , which also features a team in New Zealand , has determined its champions via a playoff system, officially known as the "Finals Series" reflecting standard Australian English usage , since its inception in the —06 season.
From the league's inception through the —09 season , the top four teams advanced to the finals series, employed using a modified Page playoff system.
The top two teams at the end of league play were matched in one semifinal, with the winner advancing directly to the Grand Final and the loser going into the Preliminary Final.
The next two teams played a semifinal for a place in the Preliminary Final, whose winner took the other place in the Grand Final.
Both semifinals were two-legged, while the Preliminary Final and Grand Final were one-off matches. When the league expanded to 10 teams beginning in —10 , the finals expanded to six teams.
The format of the six-team playoff established at that time was:. Starting with the —13 season , the finals format has been changed to a pure knockout tournament consisting entirely of one-off matches:.
The Belgian First Division A previously known as the "First Division" and "Pro League" has a fairly complex playoff system, currently consisting of two levels and at one time three.
Since the —10 season, playoffs have been held to determine the champion and tickets for the Champions League and Europa League. The six highest ranked teams play home-and-away matches against each other; a total of 10 matches each.
The 6 participating teams start with the points accumulated during the regular competition divided by two.
The first 3 teams after the play-offs get a European ticket. The fourth ranked team or fifth, when the cup holder is already qualified for European football plays a knock-out match against the winner of play-off 2.
From —10 through —16, teams ranked 7—14 played in two groups; from —17 forward, this playoff will continue to be contested in two groups, but with a total of 12 teams details below.
All points gained from the regular competition are lost. The two group winners play a final match to determine the winner of play-off 2.
The winning team plays a final match against the fourth-ranked team or fifth for the last European ticket. The play-off system has been criticized because more points per match can be earned in the play-off stage than in the regular competition.
This way the team who wins the most matches isn't automatically the national champion. The biggest upside in favor of the play-off system is the higher number of matches 40 instead of 34 compared to the previous season and more top matches.
The extra matches also generate higher revenues for the teams. Nonetheless, the higher number of matches takes an extra toll on teams and players. This posed some problems because a few matches had to be cancelled due to snowy pitches.
Some structural changes were instituted in —16 :. Originally, these playoffs were introduced in and were part of the Second Division, to determine which team was promoted to the highest level together with the division champions.
From the —06 season on, only one team was relegated directly from the First Division, with the 17th team taking part in the playoff.
As a result, this playoff was still called the Belgian Second Division Final Round , although one team from the Pro League took part each year.
Further changes will be introduced to the Europa League playoffs from —17 forward. The First Division A qualifiers will be those finishing between 7th and 15th on the regular-season table.
The First Division B qualifiers will be the top three teams from that league's regular-season table, excluding the division champion, which instead earns promotion to First Division A.
As in the previous format, the teams will be divided into two groups, each playing home-and-away within the group, and the two group winners will play a one-off final, with the winner of that match advancing to a one-off match against the fourth- or fifth-place team from the championship playoff depending on available European slots for the final Europa League place.
In Brazil, the Copa do Brasil , the second most prestigious country-wide competition, is contested in pure "knockout" format since its inception in Bulgaria instituted an elaborate playoff system in its top flight, the First League , in the —17 season.
After the league's 14 teams play a full home-and-away season, the league splits into two playoffs—a 6-team "championship playoff" and an 8-team "qualifying playoff", with the latter split into two 4-team groups.
Each playoff begins with teams carrying over all goals and statistics from the home-and-away season. Each team in the championship playoff plays the others home and away one additional time.
At the end of this stage:. Each group within the qualifying playoff also plays home and away within its group; after this stage, teams enter another level of playoffs depending on their positions in the group.
The top two teams in each group enter a knockout playoff consisting entirely of two-legged matches unless one of these teams is the winner of that season's Bulgarian Cup, in which case it will not enter the playoff and the team that it would have played receives a bye into the playoff final.
The winner of this playoff then contests a one-off match against the third-place or fourth-place team from the championship playoff, with the winner claiming the final Europa League place.
The bottom two teams from each group begin a series of relegation playoffs. The series starts with a knockout playoff that also consists entirely of two-legged matches.
The winner of the playoff remains in the First League for the following season. When the Football League was first expanded to two divisions in , test matches were employed to decide relegation and promotion between them, but the practice was scrapped in favour of automatic relegation and promotion in The use of play-offs to decide promotion issues returned to the League in 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, now known as the National League , introduced play-offs in after the Football League agreed to a two-club exchange with the Conference.
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. 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 Stadium in London.
Teams are also promoted using a play-off tournament from levels six to eight of the football pyramid. At level six, the play-off semi finals are two leg ties with the final being a single match played at the home ground of the highest placed of the two teams.
At levels seven and eight, all of the ties are single matches played at the home ground of the team with the highest league position. In , 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.
It was a controversial proposal — some people did not believe a club finishing only in eighth position in the League could or should compete in the Premiership while others found the system too American for their liking.
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, goals scored in both their overall league record, and identical head-to-head record including head-to-head away goals scored ; to date, this has never happened.
A play-off would also be scheduled if two teams are tied as above for a position affecting promotion, relegation, or European qualification.
Starting in the —08 season , Superleague Greece instituted a playoff system to determine all of its places in European competition for the following season, except for those of the league champion and the cup winner.
Currently, the league is entitled to two Champions League places and three in the Europa League, with one of the Europa League places reserved for the cup winner.
The playoff currently takes the form of a home-and-away mini-league involving the second- through fifth-place teams, under the following conditions:.
In , 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 —04, Italy's football league used a two-legged test match to determine one spot in the top level of its system, Serie A.
For example, in the Netherlands, only one club is automatically relegated from its top level, the Eredivisie , each season, with the winner of the second-flight being promoted.
League in Japan used a test match series between the third-from-bottom team in J1 and third-place team in J2 see J. League club criteria.
In turn, J2 will implement a playoff on the style of England for the 3rd to 6th clubs. Mexico's top flight league, Liga MX , is contested annually by 18 teams.
In each of two annual tournaments , every team plays every other team in the league once 17 games , after which the top eight teams 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 Liga MX games is relegated to Ascenso MX to be replaced by that league's champion if eligible.
In the Netherlands, a playoff was introduced in season — 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 —09, the format was changed yet again. 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 top four clubs of the regular season qualified for the playoffs which was dubbed as the "Finals Series". The Scottish Football League SFL experimented briefly with test matches in —96 and —97, contested between the second-bottom team of the Premier Division and the second-placed team of the First Division.
The bottom team from the first-tier Premiership is automatically relegated and is replaced by the winners of the second-tier Championship, provided that club meets Premiership entry criteria.
The second-, third- and fourth-placed teams from the Championship qualify for a play-off consisting of two-legged ties, with the second-placed team receiving a bye to play the winner of the teams that finished third and fourth.
The winner of this play-off then faces the second-bottom Premiership team, also over two legs, with the winner of that tie taking up the final Premiership place again, assuming that the Championship club meets Premiership criteria.
Home and away ties decide semi-finals and a final, and the overall winner plays in the higher division the following season, with the loser playing in the lower division.
Beginning with the —15 season, promotion and relegation between the SPFL and the Scottish regional leagues were introduced. Following the end of the league season, the winners of the fifth-level Highland and Lowland Leagues compete in a two-legged playoff.
The winner then enters a two-legged playoff against the bottom team from Scottish League Two, with the winner of that tie either remaining in or promoted to League Two.
Long before the SPL era, two situations arose in which the top two teams in the table had to share the title as neither goal average nor goal difference had been instituted to break ties.
The first was the inaugural season , in which Dumbarton and Rangers both earned 29 points and had to play off for the title. The match ended in a draw and both teams shared the title.
The second happened 19 years later, in the Second Division , when Leith Athletic and Raith Rovers both earned 33 points. This time, the clubs chose not to play off.
In goal average was finally instituted. However, due to reserve teams being allowed to compete in the same football league system, subsequent places may be allowed to play off depending on reserve teams finishing within the 3rd to 6th places.
This system had been introduced in the s but ended in In Major League Soccer in the United States and Canada, from the season to the season , at the end of the regular season , the top five teams in each of its two conferences qualify for the playoffs.
Under this system, the conferences have separate playoff brackets. From to , six teams per conference qualify; 12 teams in total. In , seven teams per conference qualify, 14 teams in all, and all rounds are single-elimination.
In the Conference Quarterfinals, the sixth hosts the third, and the fifth hosts the fourth. The top six seeds in the Eastern Conference get first-round byes, while Western teams have no byes.
The top-seeded Eastern team hosts the eighth-ninth seeded winner, and the runner-up the seventh-tenth seeded winner. Western teams have just the top seed hosting the eighth seed, the second hosting the seventh, besides the two other pairings.
In the conference semifinals, the top-eighth seed hosts the fourth-fifth seed winner, and the second-seventh seed plays the third-sixth.
The winners from this round advance to play in the conference finals. The winner of each conference will play for the MLS Cup , the league championship.
Since , the MLS Cup is hosted by the conference champion with the most table points during the regular season. In the case of ties after regulation in any round, 30 minutes of extra time divided into two minute periods would be played followed by a penalty-kick shootout, if necessary, to determine the winners.
The third seed hosted the fourth seed in the first round. The winner of that game advanced to the "Super Semifinal", hosted by the second seed.
The Super Semifinal winner traveled to the top seed for the championship game. Chicago is ahead of Washington and San Francisco based on conference record Bears' to the Football Teams' and the 49ers' Detroit is ahead of Washington and San Francisco based on conference record Lions' to the Football Teams' and the 49ers' San Francisco is ahead of Washington based on common games record to the Football Teams' Notes During the regular season, the seeds reflect how the playoffs would stand if the season ended up to that point.
The NFL playoffs are not based on a pure bracket system. In the divisional playoffs, the No. There are no restrictions on intra-division games and the higher seed of any matchup will have home-field advantage.
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