Bye (sports)

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In sport, a bye is the preferential status of a player or team that is automatically advanced to the next round of a tournament, without having to play an opponent in an early round. [1]


In knockout (elimination) tournaments they can be granted either to reward the highest ranked participant(s) or assigned randomly, to make a working bracket if the number of participants is not a power of two (e.g. 16 or 32).

In round-robin tournaments, usually one competitor gets a bye in each round when there are an odd number of competitors, as it is impossible for all competitors to play in the same round. However, over the whole tournament, each plays the same number of games as well as sitting out for the same number of rounds. The "Berger Tables" used by FIDE for chess tournaments, provide pairings for even numbered pools and simply state that "Where there is an odd number of players, the highest number counts as a bye." [2]

Similar to the round-robin context, in league sports with weekly regular-season play such as gridiron football or rugby, a team not scheduled to play on a given week or fixture (competition period) can be said to be on its "bye week". [3] Byes are necessary if there is an odd number of teams, but may be used even with an even number of teams, such as to provide rest breaks as has been done in the National Football League (NFL).

Elimination tournaments

In a standard single-elimination tournament, each round has half the number of teams as the preceding round. Thus the finals will have two, the semi-finals will have four, the quarter finals will have eight, etc. Thus tournaments with competitors numbering a power of two can have a standard bracket in which all teams are paired up with the loser of each match eliminated and the winner moving on to the next round until only one champion remains.

However, if the number of teams is not a power of two, a simple elimination tournament would eventually produce a round with an odd number of teams (if the number is not odd to start with). For example, a tournament of nine teams could only have four matches in the first round, while a simple tournament of ten teams would produce a second round with five teams, meaning only two matches could occur. Thus, if the number of participants is not a power of two (e.g. 16 or 32), to make a working bracket byes are provided to automatically move certain participants into a later round without requiring them to compete in an earlier one.

When participants are ranked, participants with the highest ranking going into the tournament are given a bye to the second round, as it is generally seen as an advantage to be assured entry into a later round. In the NFL playoffs, for example, as of 2020, the division-leader with the best record in each conference is given a bye to the second round. [4] The Canadian Football League (CFL) also grants a bye to its two division winners, directly to the division finals as four other teams compete in a semi-final week. In other tournaments where teams are unranked, random draw may be used to determine the byes.

The number of teams offered a bye is generally designed to ensure that the next round consists of a power-of-two number of teams so the tournament can proceed as a simple single-elimination tournament from that round onward.

If the byes are all single first-round byes into the second round of a tournament, the number of byes required is the difference between the number of teams and the next-highest power of two. For example, a 12-team tournament will require four byes (16−12) to ensure that instead of six teams in the second round, eight advance (as the four byes avoid two of the four teams being eliminated).

Examples from Gaelic football

In the Provincial Championships of Gaelic football, some teams receive a bye due to the irregular number of teams competing in each province. The different numbers resulted in different byes alignments in each Provincial Championship.

For example, below is an assessment of the 2012 Provincial Championships, and their use of the "bye".

Seven teams contested the 2012 Connacht Senior Football Championship, so a quarter-final was not played by Mayo. Mayo therefore advanced directly to the semi-final to await the winner of the game between Leitrim and London.

Eleven teams contested the 2012 Leinster Senior Football Championship, so five teams were given first round byes. Three teams (Carlow, Dublin and Wexford) played winners of the three preliminary matches, while the other two played each other in the quarter-finals without playing a game in the preliminary round.

Six teams contested the 2012 Munster Senior Football Championship, so two teams (Clare and Cork) were permitted to advance to the semi-finals without playing a game in the quarter-finals.

Nine teams contested the 2012 Ulster Senior Football Championship, so only Cavan and Donegal played in the preliminary round, while the other seven advanced via bye to the quarter-finals without playing a game in the preliminary round.

"Double byes"

While less common, byes can be offered for multiple rounds (e.g. a "double bye" directly into the third round), or starting in a later round (e.g. the top-ranked team in the first round is given a bye straight to the third round). A bye granted in a later round of the tournament eliminates the need for two byes in the previous round.

In the English FA Cup, the football clubs in the top two league divisions receive two-round byes and enter in the third round "proper" (of eight); the two next-highest divisions' teams will have entered in the first round. Another example is the UEFA Europa League, where teams from the highest-ranked nations enter the group stage directly without having to go through qualification.

The WNBA, from 2016 to 2021, had granted double byes to the league's top two seeds, while the next two seeds got first-round byes for their playoffs.

In NCAA Division I basketball, the 2009 Big East men's basketball tournament introduced "double byes", as the conference invited all 16 members to participate for the first time (previously only the top twelve were invited). To limit the number of games each round to four, the four highest seeded teams were advanced to the third round of competition, the 5th-8th seeded teams given byes to the second round, and the bottom eight competed the first day.

Due to the realignment of major conferences, "double byes" were no longer needed by the Big East after 2013, but were added by the Southeastern Conference in 2013, the Atlantic Coast and Atlantic 10 conferences in 2014, and the Big Ten in 2015 as each expanded beyond 12 teams. Various other conferences such as the WCC and the MAC offer a double bye to the semifinals for their top two teams.

Hidden byes (play-in games)

In certain tournaments, the byes are somewhat disguised. When more teams are given first-round byes than actually compete in the first round, these first games may be referred to as "play-in" games and might not be a formally labelled as a tournament round.

From 2012–2019 and 2021, the Major League Baseball playoffs has included ten teams consisting of six division winners and four wild card teams (the top-ranked non-division-winners). The first round of the playoffs consists two wild-card games: single-game matches in which the four wild-card teams are reduced to two. The winners move on to the Divisional series with the six division winners for an eight-team, three-round tournament. Although this is billed as adding two extra "one-game showdowns" to the post-season, it could also be viewed as adding a fourth round to the ten-team tournament with six byes for the division winners.

The FA Cup also has certain teams compete in up to 6 preliminary rounds to qualify for the first round "proper".

Another example is the NCAA basketball tournament, which since 2011 has had 68 teams, effectively granting 60 byes, while eight teams compete in the "First Four" games for remaining four spots in the round of 64. From 2011 to 2015, the "First Four" was considered the first round, the round of 64 played on Thursday and Friday, was called the "second round"; the round of 32 was then called the "third round", consisting of games played on Saturday and Sunday. In 2016, the naming reverted to the round of 64 being the "first round" once again, and the round of 32 being the "second round", [5] though the play-in round and all eight of those teams are officially part of the tournament.

Bye weeks in football leagues

Certain professional rugby and gridiron football leagues use the term "bye week" for any week during the regular season in which a team does not play a game. (School teams may also have non-competing weeks, but these are scheduled by individual schools and more commonly termed "open dates".)

United States

Each NFL team has one "bye week" during a normal season; this is placed on the team's schedule, usually falling between Week 4 and Week 12 inclusive (except that if Thanksgiving falls during Week 12, the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions may not have a bye during Week 12). [6]

During 1960 and 1966, the league had an odd number of teams due to expansion. Each week during those seasons, one team had a bye, including one team each in the first and last week of the season: thus, because they had to play all their games with no break in the middle, those two teams effectively had no byes. The American Football League (which at the time was a completely separate league, but later became the American Football Conference) also had an odd number of teams in 1966 and 1967 following the addition of the Miami Dolphins, leaving each team with two bye weeks. Again, from 1999 and 2001, the NFL had an odd number of teams (31) as a result of the Cleveland Browns re-entering the league. Each week during these three seasons featured at least one team with its bye week, but the 2001 season also added an additional impromptu league-wide bye the weekend after the September 11 attacks. The league returned to having an even number of teams (32) in the 2002 season with the addition of the Houston Texans, and implemented the current bye week system.

The NFL returned to the use of the bye week in 1990 [7] so as to extend the 16-game regular season schedule to span 17 weeks to increase the number of viewable games for television contracts. The 1993 season spanned 18 weeks with each team having 2 bye weeks. It went back to 17 weeks with a bye week the next season through 2020. Since 2021, it's 18 weeks long with a bye week.

In the rare case of a game postponement that cannot be made up within the same week, [8] the NFL may revise bye weeks assignments in order to reschedule the delayed game, making the postponement week those teams' new "bye week":

The media may also sarcastically refer to a team having a "bye week" or a "second bye" if that team is playing an especially poor team, and is all but assured of a win.


Traditionally, the CFL has had nine teams and required bye weeks. Beginning 2018, each team has three bye weeks and 18 games over a 21-week regular season. [13]

In most seasons, (from 2014 to 2017 and prior to 2007), each team has two bye weeks during the 20 week 18-game regular season. When the league had only 8 teams, the league usually had no bye weeks. However between 2007 and 2013, the league had one bye per team over in two weeks in August (4 teams would have a bye during week 6 and the other 4 teams would have a bye on week 7). Preseason have 3 weeks


In Australia's National Rugby League (NRL), each team has one bye each season. During the representative period of the season (such as the State of Origin), byes are generally scheduled to the clubs that are expected to have the most players involved in the representative match, in the round preceding the representative fixture, to allow those clubs to sufficiently rest those players and prevent them from fielding a weakened side. On the competition ladder, teams are awarded two points (equivalent to a win) during their bye week except for the Melbourne Storm in 2010, who were barred from receiving premiership points for the remainder of the season as a punishment for gross long-term breaches of the salary cap. [14]

The Australian Football League, which comprises an even number of clubs, gives each club a bye week in mid-season, as well as a bye the week before the finals. In 1915, 1919 to 1924, 1942 and 1943, 1991 to 1994 and 2011, when there were an odd number of clubs competing, each club was given two byes.

In both leagues, and under many other professional and amateur sports leagues in Australia, higher placed teams don't earn byes during finals, but instead the opportunity not to be eliminated by losing their first-round match (also called a double chance). This practice is common in Australia, but it is not used in most other countries, to earn an easier passage to the Grand Final as reward for finishing higher on the ladder. This is different from a double elimination format, in which a team has to lose both in the tournament and the repechage to be eliminated.


In a variation of the round-robin case, at certain high-level competitions in artistic gymnastics, teams cycle through the apparatuses in an "Olympic Order" with scheduled byes in between. [15]

As an example, the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships has 36 teams with six teams apiece at six regional sites, with 12 advancing to two semifinal rounds of six that decide participants for the final "Super Six". [16] In each of these nine sextets, each team competes during four of six "rotations" with the other two as byes scheduled before the uneven bars and the floor exercise. For example, Semifinal II of the 2018 championships operated as follows [17]


Swiss system tournaments

In a Swiss-system tournament with an odd number of players, one player gets a bye in each round, but not all players will get a bye (as there are fewer rounds than there are players). FIDE specifies that "pairing-allocated" byes in their sanctioned chess tournaments may not be awarded multiple times to the same participant. Contrasting use in some single-elimination brackets, the byes are to be allocated to the lowest-rated eligible player in the pool. [18]

Related Research Articles

The playoffs, play-offs, postseason or finals of a sports league are a competition played after the regular season by the top competitors to determine the league champion or a similar accolade. Depending on the league, the playoffs may be either a single game, a series of games, or a tournament, and may use a single-elimination system or one of several other different playoff formats. Playoff, in regard to international fixtures, is to qualify or progress to the next round of a competition or tournament.

A tournament is a competition involving at least three competitors, all participating in a sport or game. More specifically, the term may be used in either of two overlapping senses:

  1. One or more competitions held at a single venue and concentrated into a relatively short time interval.
  2. A competition involving a number of matches, each involving a subset of the competitors, with the overall tournament winner determined based on the combined results of these individual matches. These are common in those sports and games where each match must involve a small number of competitors: often precisely two, as in most team sports, racket sports and combat sports, many card games and board games, and many forms of competitive debating. Such tournaments allow large numbers to compete against each other in spite of the restriction on numbers in a single match.

Throughout its history, the National Football League (NFL) and other rival American football leagues have used several different formats to determine their league champions, including a period of inter-league matchups to determine a true national champion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bracket (tournament)</span> Diagram of a tournament

A bracket or tournament bracket is a tree diagram that represents the series of games played during a knockout tournament. Different knockout tournament formats have different brackets; the simplest and most common is that of the single-elimination tournament. The name "bracket" is American English, derived from the resemblance of the links in the tree diagram to the bracket punctuation symbol ] or [. The closest British term is draw, although this implies an element of chance, whereas some brackets are determined entirely by seeding.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Single-elimination tournament</span> Style of tournament

A single-elimination, knockout, or sudden death tournament is a type of elimination tournament where the loser of each match-up is immediately eliminated from the tournament. Each winner will play another in the next round, until the final match-up, whose winner becomes the tournament champion. Each match-up may be a single match or several, for example two-legged ties in European sports or best-of series in American pro sports. Defeated competitors may play no further part after losing, or may participate in "consolation" or "classification" matches against other losers to determine the lower final rankings; for example, a third place playoff between losing semi-finalists. In a shootout poker tournament, there are more than two players competing at each table, and sometimes more than one progressing to the next round. Some competitions are held with a pure single-elimination tournament system. Others have many phases, with the last being a single-elimination final stage, often called playoffs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Double-elimination tournament</span> Type of elimination competition

A double-elimination tournament is a type of elimination tournament competition in which a participant ceases to be eligible to win the tournament's championship upon having lost two games or matches. It stands in contrast to a single-elimination tournament, in which only one defeat results in elimination.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Round-robin tournament</span> Type of sports tournament

A round-robin tournament is a competition in which each contestant meets every other participant, usually in turn. A round-robin contrasts with an elimination tournament, in which participants/teams are eliminated after a certain number of losses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">NFL playoffs</span> Single-elimination postseason tournament

The National Football League (NFL) playoffs are a single-elimination tournament held after the regular season to determine the NFL champion. Currently, seven teams from each of the league's two conferences qualify for the playoffs. A tie-breaking procedure exists if required. The tournament culminates in the Super Bowl: the league's championship game in which two teams, one from each conference, play each other to become champion of the NFL.

The American Football Conference – Northern Division or AFC North is one of the four divisions of the American Football Conference (AFC) in the National Football League (NFL). The division was adopted after the restructuring of the 2002 NFL season, when the league realigned divisions after expanding to 32 teams. This is the only division in the NFL in which no member team has hosted a Super Bowl in their stadiums.

The 2002 NFL season was the 83rd regular season of the National Football League.

The 2001 NFL season was the 82nd regular season of the National Football League (NFL), and the first season of the 21st century. The league permanently moved the first week of the regular season to the weekend following Labor Day. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the NFL's week 2 games were postponed and rescheduled to the weekend of January 6 and 7, 2002. To retain the full playoff format, all playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXVI, were rescheduled one week later. The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, defeating the St. Louis Rams 20–17 at the Louisiana Superdome.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1999 NFL season</span> 1999 National Football League season

The 1999 NFL season was the 80th regular season of the National Football League. The Cleveland Browns returned to the field for the first time since the 1995 season, while the Tennessee Oilers changed their name to "Tennessee Titans," with the league retiring the name "Oilers."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1966 NFL season</span> 1966 National Football League season

The 1966 NFL season was the 47th regular season of the National Football League, and the first season in which the Super Bowl was played, though it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The league expanded to 15 teams with the addition of the Atlanta Falcons, making a bye necessary each week for one team.

There are a number of formats used in various levels of competition in sports and games to determine an overall champion. Some of the most common are the single elimination, the best-of- series, the total points series more commonly known as on aggregate, and the round-robin tournament.

The season structure of the National Hockey League (NHL) is divided into the pre-season, regular season, and the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the pre-season, which is generally held during the last two weeks of September, each team plays several not-for-the-record exhibition games. In the regular season, which generally runs from early October through early April, teams play 82 games which determine their standings. The three highest-placed teams in each division and two wild card teams per conference enter the playoff elimination tournament to determine the Stanley Cup champion.

A one-game playoff, sometimes known as a pennant playoff, tiebreaker game or knockout game, is a tiebreaker in certain sports—usually but not always professional—to determine which of two teams, tied in the final standings, will qualify for a post-season tournament. Such a playoff is either a single game or a short series of games.

The National Football League preseason is the period each year during which NFL teams play several not-for-the-record exhibition games before the actual "regular" season starts. Beginning with the featured Pro Football Hall of Fame game in early August, three weekends of exhibition games are played in the NFL to date. The start of the preseason is intrinsically tied to the last week of training camp.

The National Football League (NFL) regular season begins on the weekend following the first Monday of September and ends in early January, after which that season's playoffs tournament begins. It consists of 272 games, with each of the NFL's 32 teams playing 17 games during an 18-week period with one "bye" week off.

The 2008 NFL season was the 89th regular season of the National Football League, themed with the slogan "Believe in Now."

Christmas Day and Christmas Eve games in the National Football League (NFL) are an occasional part of the league's schedule. In contrast to Thanksgiving Day games, however, they are not an annual occurrence, since Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday while Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, December 24–25, can fall at any day of the week. The NFL held two Divisional Playoff games on Christmas Day in 1971 when the regular season only spanned a 14-week period. This proved unpopular, and the league avoided any more games on Christmas Day until 1989. Since then, the NFL has occasionally held games on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in some years, as part of week 16 or 17 of the regular season.


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