How does the Belgian football championship work?

A guide to understanding the specifics of the Jupiler Pro League.

What happens in most of the football national championships in Europe? It is actually easy to understand.

All the teams play about 30 or 40 two-leg games and are ranked depending on the scores (3 points for a victory, 1 point for a draw, 0 point for a defeat). The rank the teams have can allow them to play in the UEFA Champions League (the highest competition) or the Europa League.

In case you have heard a bit about it over the last couple of days, the regular season is now over, and the Play-offs will start. But is the Jupiler Pro League similar to the NBA? Not exactly.

Like everything in Belgium there’s obviously a different way of working, which makes it very specific and hard to understand.

The Jupiler Pro Leagues has 16 teams. During the regular season (from August to March), it works exactly like the other championships across Europe. But when the regular season is over, it becomes way more complicated.

After 30 games, several championships start again. The first six teams are involved in the “Play-off 1”. The points they got after the regular season are divided by two, and the new championship starts on that basis.

At the end of the Play-off 1, the champion is directly qualified for the UEFA Champions League, while the second has to play the third qualifying round to be qualified for the next year. The winner of the regular season is then qualified for the 3rd qualifying round of the Europa league, except if it gets a higher rank at the end of the Playoff 1. In that case, the third one (after the Playoff 1) can play the 3rd qualifying round of Europa league.

But this is not the end of the story. The 2nd Play-offs also start after the regular season. It involves 12 teams divided into two groups. The teams ranked from the 7th to the 15th position, as well as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th best team in second division play two mini-championships.

Once over, the two “first” teams of these championships play a two-leg game and the one which wins can play the 4th or 5th (depending on the results of the Belgian cup, as the winner of the cup is directly qualified for the Europa league, except if it is qualified for the UEFA Champions League) team after the Playoff 1.

Anderlecht playing in Europa
Anderlecht playing in Europa League

This game is of major importance, as the team which wins will be qualified for the 3rd qualifying round of Europa league. In concrete terms, if you are ranked 4th in the second division after the regular season, you in theory can play the Europa League the year after, even if it is impossible to play in the first division.

The last playoff involves the last two teams (the 15th and the 16th) of the regular season for 5 games. The 15th team starts with three points (and the 16th one with 0), as well being offered to play 3 times “at home”. The team which “wins” that playoff remains in the first division, while the other will be relegated to the second division.

The champion of second division will access the first division, although it can’t be involved in the “Playoff II” and be given the chance to compete for the Europa League, while the 4th, 3rd and 2nd teams can.

In a nutshell…the Belgian championship is very complicated. The only easy point to know as of now is that Anderlecht will start the Playoff I in second position, with 28 points (6 points less than Bruges). The Mauves then have a chance to be champion, which will make games interesting to watch…Allez les Mauves!