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Best-of-seven playoff

From Academic Kids

A best-of-seven playoff, also known by the name seven-game series is a method of determining a victor between two contenders. It is best known for use in sports events. The two teams play against each other for as many games (or sets) as necessary for one team to win four games (or sets). It is not necessary for the four games to be consecutively won. Since each game must be won by one team or the other, by the Pigeonhole Principle there can be at most seven games in a series. (Note that before the advent of lighting in ballparks ballgames often ended tied because it was too dark to play anymore; in the modern era, a much less common way of ending a ballgame is going past the curfews. Therefore, the series can in practice last eight games, as in the 1912 World Series.) This format is currently used in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League for all their playoff series. Major League Baseball uses this format only for the League Championship Series and the World Series, the first round (Division Series) using a five-game series format.

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National Hockey League

The NHL uses a 2-2-1-1-1 format; that is to say, one team hosts the first two games at its home stadium, and the next two shift to the opposing team's stadium. Then, the remaining games (if necessary) are played alternatively at the sites. The team hosting four out of the seven games is said to have home ice advantage. In the NHL, the higher-seeded team has the advantage; in each conference the three division champions are automatically awarded the top three seeds even if one or more of the other five qualifying teams finished with a better regular-season record.

National Basketball Association

The NBA uses basically the same format as the NHL in the first three rounds. The only difference is that a team with a lower seeding can have home-court advantage if they are playing a division champion and the division champion had a lower win rate than them. This is because unlike the NHL, winning a division in the NBA does not guarantee home court advantage. (It is possible for a better seeded team to have a worse record than a lower-seeded team because as in the NHL, the best team in each conference is automatically seeded first, the second-best division winner is automatically seeded second, and the lowest division champion is automatically seeded third, regardless of the regular season record.) Teams finishing 4th through 8th in their conference are seeded solely on win percentage. In the championship series, however, the team with the better record hosts the first, second, sixth and seventh games instead of the first, second, fifth and seventh, a format also known as 2-3-2.

Major League Baseball

In the MLB, the 2-3-2 format is maintained for the ALCS, NLCS, and World Series. Home advantage in the LCS is determined by higher seeding (as in the NHL, as opposed to the NBA format), while in the World Series whichever contender comes from the league that won the All-Star Game automatically receives home advantage. The All-Star Game decision was made in 2003 on a two-year test. In 2005, the format may change, depending on the league's recommendation, also subject to input from the players' union.

Prior to 2003, the advantage alternated between the champions of the two leagues; there is considerable sentiment in favor of awarding the advantage to the league champion with the best regular-season record (as in the NBA and NHL) starting in 2005 (this argument made more persuasive by the fact that, due to the existence of interleague play, most pairs of teams not in the same league play at least one-third of their regular-season games against common opponents), with some advocates also seeking to add a stipulation that in no case can a wild card team obtain the advantage (which occurred in 1997 when the wild-card Florida Marlins had the advantage over the division champion Cleveland Indians and won that series in seven games, and again in the 2004 World Series, with the wild-card Boston Red Sox having the advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals and sweeping that series in four games) unless both wild cards make it to the World Series (this happened in 2002), in which event the one with the better record would host four of the seven potential games.

Phenomena

Some observers maintain that the advantage accruing to the higher-ranked team is greater under the 2-2-1-1-1 format than under the 2-3-2 format, since in the former case the higher-finishing team will have never played fewer home games than its opponent at any point in the series, while in the latter the lower team has three of the first five games at home, and can win the series in its stadium if the teams had split the first two games. However, this may not be as helpful to the lower-finishing team as it appears. In the NBA Finals, which use the 2-3-2 format, only once (in the 2004 NBA Finals) has the home team swept the three middle games of the series. Even the road team has swept these three games (for instance, 1990, 1991, 2001).

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