League system

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A league system is a hierarchy of leagues in a sport between consecutive levels of the hierarchy. They are often called pyramids, due to their tendency to split into an increasing number of regional divisions, the further down the pyramid one descends. League systems of some sort are used in most sports in most countries.

In association football and rugby football, league systems are usually joined by the process of promotion and relegation, in which teams from a lower league who finish atop the standings in their league can advance to the next level of the pyramid, while teams in higher leagues who finish last are expelled and move down the pyramid. In most association football pyramids, this process is automatic each year; rugby organizations sometimes require a play-in game in which promoted teams have to prove themselves capable of playing in the higher league.

In North America, a similar league system exists, but without promotion or relegation. Most professional sports are divided into major and minor leagues. Baseball and association football (known as soccer in North America) have well-defined pyramid shapes to their minor league hierarchies, each managed by a governing body (Minor League Baseball, an organization under the authority of the Commissioner of Baseball, governs baseball leagues; the United States Soccer Federation designates the American soccer pyramid.) Ice hockey's professional minor league system is linear, with one league at most of the four levels of the game; the ice hockey league system in North America is governed by collective bargaining agreements and affiliation deals between the NHL, AHL and ECHL. Basketball follows a roughly inverted-T-shaped three-level system.

Gridiron football does not operate on a league system, in part because of that sport's reliance on amateur college football for development of future players (other North American sports also recruit players from colleges and universities, but it is far more pervasive in professional football), and in part because the expense and injury risk of the game makes maintaining a minor football league impractical; even in the 1960s when such leagues were widespread, financial problems and instability were likewise pervasive. Each level of what could be considered a league system in modern times plays by radically different sets of rules in different seasons (the NFL plays 11-a-side on a 100-yard field in autumn and early winter, the CFL uses 12-a-side on a 110-yard field in summer and early fall, while arena football and the minor indoor leagues each play 8-a-side on a 50-yard field in the spring and early summer). There have been attempts at forming true minor leagues for the professional game (most recently with 2017's The Spring League); none so far have been able to balance the major leagues' requests with the ability to maintain financial solvency.

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