For questions generally relating to a structure of competition in which multiple teams face each other in a structured hierarchy to determine the best overall team. Questions must also be tagged with the specific sport in question.
A tournament is a structure of competition in many sports, typically consisting of many games being played between competitors to determine the overall best team or player.
The most common structure for tournaments in team sports is a "single-elimination tree tournament"; participating teams are paired in a predefined manner (often based on a "seed structure" determined by a team's winning record during a season of play, and/or by geographic region), play one "deciding unit of play", and the winner advances to the next tier of the tournament while the loser is eliminated from competition. The "deciding unit of play" may be:
- A single game, as in the NFL, many association football leagues and most NCAA-sanctioned sports besides FBS American football,
- A series of 3, 5 or 7 games as in MLB, the NBA and the NHL, or
- A "match" as defined by the rules of the sport, such as in tennis, volleyball and many martial arts.
Advancing teams play the winner of an "adjacent" pairing from the previous level; levels may be named, for instance the "preliminaries", "quarterfinals" and "semifinals", with each level reducing the number of participating players/teams by half until two teams play in the "finals" to determine the winner of the tournament.
Other formats include:
Double-Elimination - Similar to a single-elimination tournament, the winning player or team at each level advances to the next level of the tournament; however, players or teams that lose once compete with other teams that have lost once, often for a "wild card" position in the upper level of the tournament, or for a "consolation prize". A team with two losses is eliminated entirely from the competition.
Round Robin - Teams in the tournament are arranged into one or more "groups", and then each team plays all other teams in their group once, win or lose. The player or team with the best overall winning record after all games are played is the winner.
Multi-game point total - Used in many "precision" sports such as golf, players or teams participate in a fixed number of games, competing for the best overall point total after the final game is complete. The US PGA uses this format at virtually all of its sanctioned events; players compete in a series of four games, and the lowest overall score wins the tournament. These tournaments may also have multiple levels; for instance the U.S. Open has single-round "qualifiers" held at local golf courses, followed by two-round "sectionals" hosting the 550 players with the best qualifying scores at more difficult USGA-chosen regional courses, where players compete for slots in the main 4-round televised event.
Formats may be combined; for instance, the FIFA World Cup association football tournament puts the 32 qualifying teams into 8 groups of 4 teams each; the teams in one group then play each other in a "round robin" format, and the top 2 teams from each group advance to a single-elimination tournament. Most US professional and collegiate sports have a similarly-designed "regular season" during which teams play other teams in the league, most importantly teams in the same "division", "region" or "conference", competing for the best win-loss records which earn them a spot in a single-elimination "playoff" tournament. A notable exception is collegiate Division-1A football, which doesn't have a tournament structure; teams instead compete for votes among the press and coaches, and the teams with the best two rankings among all FBS teams compete for the national championship. This has changed with the 2012 season; the best four teams will now compete in an abbreviated playoff structure.