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The term play-off ( English ; in North America generally without a hyphen: playoff , also postseason ; German playoff ) denotes an elimination match in a sports competition , through which a championship is usually decided (not to be confused with a placement round ). The play-off follows a main round, whose final table (or final tables of different groups) determines the participating teams. The game is played in one or more play-off rounds, usually according to the knockout system ; in the last round (the final ) only two teams face each other. The winner of a play-off round can be determined by a single game or a best-of series.

Most American professional leagues ( NBA , NHL , MLB , NFL etc.) are played in play-off mode. Play-off mode is also used outside of North America, for example in the German and Swiss ice hockey leagues , the German Football League , the Basketball Bundesliga and the Unihockey Bundesliga . In addition, a promoted player in the play-off is determined in English football.

Basketball Bundesliga (BBL)

In the BBL , the eight best teams in the table play the German champions at the end of the season . The first against the eighth (the 2nd against the 7th, the 3rd against the 6th, etc.) in the quarter-final series, the respective winners then in the semi-final and final series. The individual series are played in the best-of-five mode, with the venues changing. The team better placed in the main round table has the home advantage .

Women's Basketball Bundesliga (DBBL)

In the 1st DBBL , the eight best teams in the table play the German champions after the main round . The first against the eighth (the 2nd against the 7th, the 3rd against the 6th etc.) in the quarter-finals, the winners then in the semifinals and finals. The quarter and semi-finals are played in the 1st DBBL in best-of-three mode, with the venues changing. The final will be played in best-of-five mode. The team better placed in the main round table has the home advantage .

In the groups (north and south) of the 2nd DBBL , the first four of the table play the champions of the respective group. The first round (quarter-finals) is played back and forth. Both results are added up and decide whether to progress. The semi-finals and finals take place in best-of-three mode. The masters north and south rise to the 1st DBBL. Before the start of the next season, the “Champions Cup”, introduced in 2015, will be played between the second division champions of the northern and southern groups.


At the 2005 World Curling Championships, the so-called page playoff system was introduced to determine the finalists. The first in the ranking will play against the second in the first semi-final and the third in the second semi-final against the fourth. The winner of the first semi-final is directly qualified for the final, the loser plays against the winner of the second semi-final for the remaining place in the final.

German Ice Hockey League (DEL)

Since 1981 is championship of the DEL in the play-offs decided.

With the exception of the DEL seasons 1994/95 and 1995/96 , in which the play-offs began with the round of 16, eight teams took part in the play-offs in all other seasons of the ice hockey Bundesliga since 1982/83 .

The matches of the play-offs in the quarter-finals and in the semi-finals are based on the placements in the preliminary round. The matches in the quarter-finals are always 1st place - 8th place, 2nd place - 7th place, 3rd place - 6th place and 4th place - 5th place in the preliminary round final table; In the semifinals, the best placed of the other teams meets the worst placed. The better placed team in the preliminary round has home rights first in each round. Up until the 2008/09 season , the quarter-finals were played in best-of-seven mode. H. a team had to achieve four wins to advance one round. For the 2009/10 season , the mode for the quarterfinals was changed to Best of Five . Then the game was played in the best-of-seven mode again. The semi-finals and finals were played in best-of-five mode, i.e. H. a team had to win three times to win. Since the 2013/14 season, all rounds - apart from the pre-playoffs (here it remains in the best-of-three mode ) - have been played in the best-of-seven mode based on the NHL model .

From the 2006/07 season , the mode of play-offs was changed with the elimination of play-downs . The teams in places 7-10 in the main round have been playing against each other in the so-called pre-play-offs for two play-off places in a best-of-three mode: 7th place against 10th place and 8th place against 9th place the respective winners move into the play-off quarter-finals with the first 6 of the main round.

Floorball Bundesliga (1st FBL)

In the Floorball Bundesliga , at the end of the season, the four best teams in the placement round play off the German floorball champions . The first against the fourth and the second against the third in a semi-final. The winners determine the German champions in a final and the losers play third place in a small final. The individual series are played in best-of-three mode, with the venues changing. The worse placed team has a home advantage in the first game. The team better placed in the main round table has the home advantage of the second and, if applicable, third game.

German Football League (GFL)

In the GFL , the top four in each group (GFL-Nord and GFL-Süd) play the quarter-finals, i.e. H. the first of one group plays against the fourth of the other group, the second of one against the third of the other group. After that, the winners of the quarter-finals play in such a way that the first in a group cannot meet the second in the same group in the semi-finals. A single game is played in a knockout system . The team placed higher in the table has home rights. The German Bowl final will be played at a predetermined location.

National Football League (NFL)

The National Football League (NFL) initially plays its play-offs separately in the two conferences American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC). All rounds are played through one game; H. decided in the knockout system.

Six teams qualify for each conference, made up of the four division winners and two wildcard teams. These are the winning teams of the regular season that did not become division winners. These are not necessarily two second-placed teams, as it can happen that the third-placed team in one division has won more games than the runners-up in the other divisions.

The first round of the play-offs are the so-called wildcard playoffs , in which the two wildcard teams play against the two worse division winners. In the second round, the best division winner is paired with the worst-placed remaining team and the other two teams. The conference finals are contested by the winners of these divisional playoffs . The better placed team in the regular season has home rights.

The winners of the AFC and NFC play the champions in the Super Bowl . The venue is decided years before the game. The home law changes annually between the conferences regardless of the venue.

National Basketball Association (NBA) & National Hockey League (NHL)

Like the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) initially play their play-offs separately according to conferences . The game is played in best-of-seven mode . The compilation of the matches is based on the final tables of the regular season . The three division winners of each conference as well as the other five best teams qualify for the play-offs.

In the NHL, the division winners are automatically placed in places 1 to 3, the remaining five best teams take the places behind, even if one of these teams is better than one of the division winners.

In the NBA, in contrast, the eight best teams in the conference are seeded according to an S-seeding (in the case of two-person constellations always place 1 - place 8, place 2 - place 7, place 3 - place 6, place 4 - place 5) . The team that has scored more victories in the regular season has home rights. The division victory is no longer rewarded. Between 2006 and 2015, the three division winners and the best runner-up were placed on seed 1 to 4, as in the NHL, according to their season balance.

In the NHL, the other encounters are based on the performance in the regular season. The team that achieved the best placement of the remaining teams plays against the team that has the worst record in the final table, etc.

In the NBA, the other games are instead determined by a setting plan. If the better placed teams win, the teams seeded No. 1 and No. 2 will meet in the Conference Finals at the earliest. If, for example, the team in 8th place wins against the team in 1st place in the first round, this team has the supposedly simplest remaining program and does not have to hand it over to the team in 2nd place. There is no re-seeding.

Once the winners of the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference have been determined, they play out the champions in the finals . The winner receives the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in the NBA and the Stanley Cup in the NHL .

Major League Baseball (MLB)

With the end of the regular season after the first Sunday in October (or the last Sunday in September), a total of ten Major League Baseball teams reach the postseason. Three teams as winners of the three divisions of both leagues, the National League and the American League , as well as the two best-scoring teams in each league that are not division winners. You play the “wild card” among each other in a play-off game. Seed 4 has home rights, meaning the wild card contender with better points.

The winners of the two wild card games then take part with the three division winners of their league in the "Division Series" - the American League Division Series (ALDS) and the National League Division Series (NLDS). The Wild Card winner plays against Seed 1, the division winner with the highest points in his league. In a best-of-five series , the participants of both “Championship Series” - the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and the National League Championship Series (NLCS) - are determined, in which the respective title ( Pennant ) of the National or American League a best-of-seven series is played. The two winners reach the World Series - the MLB finals. The champion with better points has a possible additional home game in the World Series. The rules of the home team's league will be played. Due to the different rules, the leagues have not yet been renamed into conferences as in the other North American sports.

Major League Soccer (MLS)

In October, the seven best teams from each MLS Conference play the play-offs in individual games, the team with the better points has home rights, while the tournament tree does not change in the further course of the tournament. The team with the highest points in a conference has a bye round, the teams seeded on four and five play their opponent for the conference semifinals, the teams seeded on 2 and 7 and the teams seeded on 3 and 6 play the winner's opponent in the conference final out. The conference champions play for the MLS Cup at the beginning of November .

The winner plays together with the team with the highest points in the regular season , the winner of the MLS Supporters' Shields , and the team with the highest points in the other conference in the CONCACAF Champions League , provided that they are American teams. Otherwise, US teams that are worse placed are used, while the Canadian teams with representatives from other Canadian leagues play the Canadian championship for a Champions League place anyway . A fourth US starting place is made possible by winning the US Lamar Hunt US Open Cup . So there are between three and five MLS teams playing in the Champion's League.

English football

In the second, third, fourth and fifth English football league , two to four teams each move up to the next higher league. A play-off is played for the last of these places (third place in the case of 3 promoted players). The four teams that are in the next four places always take part (if there are 3 promoted teams, the teams in places 3 to 6). In the semi-finals, the team that was best placed in the league meets the worst placed club and the second best meets the second worst. This round is played back and forth, with the higher-placed club enjoying home rights in the second leg. The finals are decided in a match, which is usually played at Wembley Stadium in London . The winner of this final may also advance to the next higher division together with the directly qualified promoters.

Other football play-offs

In some leagues, the championship is divided into two or three parts after the preliminary round, so-called championship and relegation playoffs. These play-offs are also played in championship mode, but sometimes only in first legs.

In the following European countries, the first league divided into several parts in the 2009/10 season after the round trip: Scotland (twelve clubs, then two groups of six), Israel (16 clubs, then two groups of six and one group of four), Cyprus (14 clubs (two direct relegated groups), then three groups of four), Azerbaijan (twelve clubs, then two groups of six), Andorra (eight clubs, then two groups of four) and Malta (ten clubs, then one group of six and one group of four). In San Marino , another form of play-off is used to determine the national champion, the so-called double knockout system . Six clubs reach the final play-offs in San Marino, which are not played in the league system but in the cup system. Only after the second defeat are the clubs eliminated.

In Austria, the following system was in place in 1985/86 - 1992/93 : the first two leagues were 12-man leagues, after 22 rounds there was a master playoff for the teams in the top division ranked 1-8, the other teams in the 1. League played the free places for the following season with the four best-placed teams in the 2nd division. The last eight teams in the 2nd division played against relegation. This meant that each team had to play 36 games per season.

From the 2018/19 season, there will be playoffs again in the Austrian Bundesliga . The first 6 teams in the 12th league will play for the championship title, the last 6 against relegation. The points from the regular season will be halved before the playoff. There is also a relegation game for the last European Cup place between the 1st of the relegation playoff and the 3rd, 4th. or 5th of the master playoff planned (depending on the number of European Cup places and the outcome of the ÖFB Cup ).

All other countries manage without play-offs in their football competitions, apart from any championship and relegation play-offs, such as in Germany between the 16th of the Bundesliga and the third of the 2nd Bundesliga , the so-called relegation .

The play-offs for qualifying for the European and World Championships are also officially called play-offs. Depending on the region, the media mostly use the term relegation or barrage for these games.

Table tennis

System 1984

In the table tennis Bundesliga a play-off round was introduced in the 1984/85 season to determine the German champions and the relegated teams. This happened at the instigation of the clubs; there should be more team fights, and the tension in the fight for the championship and against relegation should be increased.

First, the clubs play in the main round "Everyone against Everyone" a return match. The teams in places 1 to 6 qualify for the play-off championship round, the last four fight to stay in a play-off relegation round.

Two master groups with three teams each are formed. In one of the champions' groups, the teams in places 1, 4 and 5 compete against each other in a “everyone against everyone” mode, in the other champions group the teams in places 2, 3 and 6 begin places 1 and 2 with 2: 0 points, places 3 and 4 with 1: 1 points and places 5 and 6 with 0: 2 points. The winners of the master groups play for the title of "German Master", the second placed for the ranks 3 and 4, the third placed for the ranks 5 and 6.

In the relegation round, the last four "everyone against everyone" play a home and an away game. According to the placement in the main round, they start with the point specifications 3: 1, 2: 2, 1: 3 and 0: 4.

The point specifications are intended to increase the clubs' motivation to achieve the best possible placement in the main round. In the play-off round, each team has to play three home and three away games in addition to the main round.

System 1986

From the 1986/87 season onwards, after the main round, the first 8 teams will play for the German championship according to the following knockout system (round trip):

  • Quarter finals
    • (A) 1 - 8
    • (B) 2-7
    • (C) 3 - 6
    • (D) 4 - 5
    • In the event of a total tie, the placement in the main round is decisive.
  • Semifinals
    • Winner (A) - Winner (D)
    • Winner (B) - Winner (C)
    • In the event of a total tie, the placement in the main round is decisive.
  • final
    • The winners of the two semi-finals play a single final (no return game). In the event of a tie, the better set ratio first decides, then the ball ratio if necessary.

German volleyball Bundesliga

In the men's Bundesliga volleyball as well as in the women's Bundesliga in volleyball , the eight best-placed teams continue to play in the play-offs after a championship round (each against each other). In the quarter-finals the following encounters take place:
1 - 8 • 2 - 7 • 3 - 6 • 4 - 5
In the semi-finals, the best placed of the four teams in the table meets the worst and the second best meets the second worst. The two winners contest the final. The quarter-finals will be played according to the best-of-three mode. H. whoever manages two victories first gets ahead. The semi-finals (if possible, otherwise best-of-three) and the final will be played according to the best-of-five mode (three wins). The winner of the final series is German champion.

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)

The eight Women's National Basketball Association teams with the best seasonal record will advance to the postseason regardless of the conference . All teams are subject to a ranking list according to their performance in the regular season. The four teams with the worst season record play in the first round in a simple elimination game, in which the team with the better points has home rights, to reach the second round. The two winners play in the same mode against Seed 3 and 4 (the third and fourth of that ranking list). The respective winners now play in best-of-five mode against the two teams with the highest points in the regular season , Seed 1 and Seed 2, the remaining two rounds of the semi-finals and the finals, with the team with the better points having a possible additional home game. Re-seeding takes place after each round. The participant with the best points in a round always plays against the participant with the worst points in a round.

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Voeth: Season 2025/2016. (No longer available online.) In: Archived from the original on July 1, 2015 ; accessed on July 31, 2015 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Magazine DTS , 1984/11 S. 22-23.
  3. DTS magazine , 1986/8 p. 43.