The Regionalliga is the fourth tier of football in the German football league system. Until 1974, it was the second tier of the league system before being disbanded. The Regionalliga was then re-introduced as the third tier of the system in 1994. Upon introduction of a new nationwide 3. Liga in 2008, it was demoted to the fourth level of the pyramid.
Regionalliga Nord, (covering the states of Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Hamburg)
Regionalliga Nordost, (covering the states of Brandenburg, Berlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen-Anhalt, Thüringen and Sachsen; i.e. the former GDR and the city of Berlin)
Between 1994 and 2000, promotion to the 2. Bundesliga was regulated without much continuity. It was a problematic rule, as becoming champion of a division did not automatically mean promotion for that team. The champions of the South and West/Southwest divisions were automatically promoted, however, along with one of the two runners-up. The champions of the North and Northeast divisions had a play-off to decide who would get the fourth promotion spot. This rule was justified because there are more clubs in the southern part of Germany than the north.
In 1998, the promotion rule was changed again: the winner of the play-off between the North and Northeast division champions was promoted, while the loser faced the runners-up from the West/Southwest and South divisions in another play-off for the remaining promotion spot.
The new divisional alignment was not bound to certain states any more so teams could be moved between the divisions in order to balance club numbers. This led to some clubs in the Southern division being geographically further north than some northern clubs, and vice versa.
The champions and the runners-up of every division were promoted to the 2. Bundesliga.
Regionalliga West, (covering the states of Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland and Nordrhein-Westfalen)
"Covering" means that the single divisions will be annually re-aligned to geographic location by a DFB committee in order to have 18 teams assigned to each division every year. This may lead to teams assigned to a division other than their geographical one. An example for this is BV Cloppenburg, who was assigned to the Western division for the 2008–09 season despite being located in Niedersachsen.
In October 2010, yet another reform of the Regionalligas was decided upon. The number of leagues were now to be expanded to five, with the defunct Regionalliga Nordost to be reestablished and a Regionalliga Bayern to be established. Also, the Regionalliga West would lose the clubs from the south west to a new league, formed out of those clubs and the clubs from Regionalliga Süd without the Bavarian teams. The new system is due to come into operation in the 2012–13 season. It was also decided to limit the number of reserve teams per Regionalliga to seven.
The five league champions and the runners-up of the Regionalliga Süd/Südwest will then play-off for the three promotion spots in a home-and-away series. The new leagues will consist of up to 22 clubs in their inaugural season but will then have to be reduced to between 16 and 18 clubs. The Regionalligas will not be administrated by the DFB but rather by the regional football associations. In regards to reserve teams, initially only seven are permitted per league, however, this rule may be subject to change under certain circumstances. Reserve sides of 3. Liga teams are not permitted in the Regionalliga.
The reorganisation of the Regionalligas so soon after the last changes in 2008 became necessary because of a large number of insolvencies. These were caused by a lack of media interest in the leagues combined with large expenses and infrastructure demands. The five Regionalligas from 2012 are:
Regionalliga Nord, (covering the states of Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Hamburg)
Regionalliga Nordost, (covering the states of Brandenburg, Berlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Saxony)
Some regional football associations, like the Bavarian one, have also made changes to the league system below the Regionalliga in their area. The Bavarian FA is introduction two Bayernligas below the Regionalliga and increasing the number of Landesligas from three to five below the new Verbandsligas.
A club that wants to play in the Regionalliga must meet two conditions. First, the team must qualify for the league. Second, the club must obtain a license from the DFB. This license is granted if the club can prove that they are financially sound, that their stadium conforms to the security regulations, and that they have a working youth section.
The bottom three teams of each division are demoted to their respective Oberliga. In the Regionalliga Nord, the fourth-to-last team will also be demoted.
As clubs in the Regionalliga must have their teams licensed by the DFB on a per-season basis, a team may also be relegated by having its license revoked or by going into administration. Reserve teams are also relegated when the respective first team is relegated to the 3. Liga.