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A bye in sports and other competitive activities can have two different meanings. First, in leagues where almost all teams play on the same days, the team (or teams) that does not play on that day is said to be on bye; in sports that are played weekly, especially gridiron football, a team that does not play at all during the week is said to be on its "bye week", but if they play on another day of the week, e.g. Monday or Thursday, they are not. (This definition is chiefly US.)
In round-robin tournaments where there are an odd number of competitors, usually one gets a bye in each round, as it impossible for all competitors to play in the same round. However, over the whole tournament, each team plays the same number of games as well as sitting out for the same number of rounds during the tournament.
In knock-out (single elimination) tournaments, unless the total number of competitors is a power of two (eg 16 or 32) one or more competitors will not play in one round (usually the first round) and will proceed automatically to the following round. They are said to "have a bye".
If the number of competitors in a Single-elimination tournament is not a power of two, some of the competitors (teams or players) receive a bye in the first round, which lets them advance automatically to the second round without playing.
In a seeded tournament, the byes are granted to the top seeds, whereas in an unseeded tournament the byes are usually awarded by random draw.
Often, these byes will be awarded to the highest-rated competitors in the event as a reward for some previous accomplishment; indeed, in some American team sports — most notably American football — the number of teams qualifying for the postseason tournament will be intentionally set at a number which is not a power of two, in order to provide such an advantage to a high-achieving team in the just-completed regular season. However a player/team getting a bye may get them just by luck or random chance (e.g. if there are 7 competitors, one random one will automatically advance to the semi-finals).
Another example is the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which must grant 60 byes for its "play-in" round, since it has 68 participants (128 - 68 = 60) and had to grant 16 first-round byes when it had 48 participants (64-48). Each of the NFL conferences playoff first rounds must grant two byes, since there are six teams in each (8-6). Both of the NCAA tournament and the NFL post-season (not the regular season) are seeded, single-elimination tournaments, so the highest-seeded participants are granted the necessary (single-elimination tournament) byes.
Multiple rounds of byes are also possible: in the English FA Cup, the football clubs in the top two league divisions enter in the third round "proper" (of eight); the two next-highest divisions' teams will have entered two rounds earlier in the first round; and teams which are even lower ranked have to play in up to 6 preliminary rounds to qualify for the first round "proper". Another example is the UEFA Europa League.
In Australia's National Rugby League (NRL), each team has two byes 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 (or following) 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.
The Australian Football League, which comprises an even number of club, gives each club one bye week near mid-season. During the 2011 season, between 1994 and 1991, between 1924 and 1919, and in 1915, when an odd number of clubs competed, each club had two byes.
In both leagues, and under many other professional and amateur sports leagues in Australia, higher placed teams earn byes during finals, but double chance also (top seeds can lose a match and not be eliminated). Double chance is common in Australia, but it is not used in USA; to earn an easier passage to the Grand Final as reward for finishing higher on the ladder.
In the Provincial Championships, a team may receive a bye. This is due to the irregular number of teams competing in each Championship. Thus the method used differs in each Provincial Championship.
For example, below is an assessment of the 2012 Provincial Championships, and their use of the "bye".
In the 2012 Connacht Senior Football Championship, 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.
In the 2012 Ulster Senior Football Championship, all teams except Cavan and Donegal were permitted to advance to the quarter-finals without playing a game in the preliminary round. Cavan and Donegal played each other to determine which would join the other seven teams in the quarter-finals.
Connacht and Munster did not make use of a preliminary round, while Leinster and Ulster did.
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). However, as with the case of NFL "bye weeks", these "byes" do not confer any advantage, or in the case of a seeded tournament, that any player/team receiving one is perceived as any better than one that does not, as all of the participants receive one, whereas the awarding of a bye in a single-elimination tournament most definitely does, in both cases.