The X-League (Xリーグ) is the top-level American football league in Japan. It was founded in 1971 as the Japan American Football League, and changed its name to the X League in 1997. There are three divisions (X1, X2, and X3) among which there is promotion and relegation. Teams in the three-tier league are split into East, West, and Central divisions. There are two types of teams, one being a company team in which only employees of that particular sponsoring company may participate as a player, and the other classified as a club team for which anyone can try out.
Game rules are based on those of the NCAA college division in America, with the exception of the length of quarters, which are 12 minutes (the same as high school football and the NBA) instead of 15. The regular season consists of the First Stage, Second Stage and Final Stage. Teams play five matches in the First Stage, after which the top and bottom three teams are separated into two groups; in the Second Stage there is round robin play within each group of three teams. During this stage, the length of quarters is extended from 12 to 15 minutes. The winners of the Second Stage advance to the Final Stage to determine the teams for the Japan X Bowl. There is a spring tournament as well called the Pearl Bowl which is used by teams to ready themselves and evaluate new players before the fall season.
The Japanese national team, which has won the first and second editions of the American Football World Cup and was runner-up, finishing second to the American team, in the 2007 installment of the tournament, was made up almost entirely of players from this league.
Americans are often recruited to play for X League teams, with a strict rule of four per team. No more than two foreign players per team are allowed on the field of play at a time.
The 18 top tier teams are divided into 3 divisions of 6 teams each. The East and Central Divisions are made up of teams from the Kanto (East Japan) region while the West Division teams are from the Kansai (West Japan) region. The teams play a league schedule of 5 games each. After divisional play, the teams are regrouped based on their divisional standings for the 2nd stage.
The top 3 teams from each division advance to the Super9 division while the bottom 3 are relegated to the Battle9 division.
The nine teams in the Super 9 are aligned into three new groups, with each group consisting of a 1st-place team, a 2nd-place team and a 3rd-place team from separate divisions. Each team plays the other two teams in its group. The top four teams in the Super 9, based on combined results from both divisional and second-stage play, advance to the Final Stage (semifinals).
In the Battle 9, the three groups each have a 4th-place team, a 5th-place team and a 6th-place team. The top two teams at the end of the stage advance to the Battle 9 Playoff Game.
The top four teams from the Super 9 are paired up in a random draw, with the two winners advancing to the Japan X Bowl to decide the championship.
The 6th place team from each division of X1 is paired up against the 1st place team of each division of X2. If the X2 team defeats the X1 team, that team is promoted up to X1 while the X1 team is demoted to X2 for the following season.
The two semifinal winners from the final stage meet for the league championship in the Japan X Bowl held at the Tokyo Dome. Since 1987, Japan X Bowl has decided the X League championship. Until 2002, it was known as the Tokyo Super Bowl. The winner of this game goes on to the Rice Bowl to face the winner of the Koshien Bowl, the national college championship game.
Since 2000, the X-League honors outstanding players by electing them to the All X-League Team. 11 offensive players, 11 defensive players and 3 special team players are voted by the Head Coaches and 5 players on each of the 18 X1 teams to be selected for the team.
The X-League Most Valuable Player award (X-League MVP) is an award given to the Japanese American Football player who is considered most valuable to his team in the X-League. Started in 2012 2016 Bogner Cheap Sale, the award was divided between the best player in each division until 2014 when one overall MVP was awarded.
The X-League Rookie of the Year award (X-League ROY) is an award given to the player who is considered have made a big impact during his first year with his team. Started in 2012, the award was divided between the best player in each division until 2014 when one overall ROY was awarded.
Since 2012, the X-League Fairplay award is awarded to the team that had accumulated the least amount of penalties during the 1st stage of the Fall season.