In sports, the final four is the last four teams remaining in a playoff tournament. Usually the final four compete in the two games of a single-elimination tournament's semi-final (penultimate) round. Of these teams, the two who win in the semi-final round play another single-elimination game whose winner is the tournament champion. In some tournaments, the two teams that lose in the semi-final round compete for third place in a consolation game.
The term "final four" is most often used in the United States and in sports heavily influenced by that country; elsewhere, only the term "semi-finals" is in common use. Previously, it was believed that the phrase "final four" first appeared in print in a 1975 article for the Official Collegiate Basketball Guide, whose author Ed Chay was a sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Chay stated that the Marquette basketball team "was one of the final four" during the previous season's tournament. The myth that "final four" was first used in 1975 is refuted by the fact that the term "final four" was in widespread use in descriptions of the NCAA basketball tournament by the 1960s. For example, Bill Mayer of the Lawrence (Kansas) Daily Journal World in 1966 wrote, "What a great year it could be if . . . KU . . . could advance to the NCAA Final Four by winning the regional here." The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) later trademarked the term.
The oldest and most common use of the term is in reference to the final four teams in the annual NCAA basketball tournaments: each Final Four team is the champion from one of four regions of the tournament. These regional champions then travel from the four separate sites of their regional rounds to a common venue for the Final Four. A team must advance through multiple rounds of play—typically winning four consecutive games in a field of 64 (or 68) teams—to qualify for the Final Four. These four teams are matched against each other on the last weekend of the tournament. The Final Four of the men's Division I tournament is traditionally held on a Saturday, while the Final Four of the women's Division I tournament is usually played on a Friday
The NCAA also uses "Final Four" for other sports besides basketball, such as men's volleyball and women's volleyball championships. For ice hockey tournaments, the NCAA uses a variation of the term—"Frozen Four".
Because the term is now a registered trademark of the NCAA in the U.S., no other organizations in that country can use the phrase to refer to their tournaments. Organizations in other countries may officially do so. Many basketball organizations outside the U.S. use the term for the semifinal and final rounds of their tournaments such as the FIBA Americas League (FIBA Americas League Final 4), the EuroLeague (EuroLeague Final Four), the Champions League (Champions League Final Four), the Israeli Premier League, and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines. The CEV Champions League in volleyball also uses "Final Four" for its final rounds.
Despite the NCAA's registration of "Final Four" as a trademark, the term is still widely used by sportswriters, fans etc. to denote participants in semifinal rounds of professional postseason playoffs, such as those of the League Championship Series in Major League Baseball, the conference championship games in the National Football League, and the conference championship series in both the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.
- List of NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament Final Four participants
- NCAA Men's Division I Final Four appearances by school
- Terre Haute Tribune Star (June 17, 1962). "Butler to Play Buckeye Cagers". Retrieved 27 March 2022.
- Mayer, Bill (December 26, 1966). "Sport Talk". Lawrence Daily Journal World. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
- Koerner, Brendan (March 18, 2004). "Why Is It Called "March Madness"?". Slate.com. Slate. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
- Lubinger, Bill (March 14, 2011). "Interested in making some profit from the Final Four? That's just March Madness (for your lawyers)". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
Was a mere passing reference by Ed Chay, the late Plain Dealer sportswriter, in a story he wrote on page 5 of the 1975 Official Collegiate Basketball Guide. 'Outspoken Al McGuire of Marquette, whose team was one of the final four in Greensboro, was among several coaches who said it was good for college basketball that UCLA was finally beaten,' Chay wrote. Previously, it was erroneously reported that the first capitalized use of 'Final Four' was in the NCAA's 1978 basketball guide, when (as shown above) Final Four was in capitalized use at least by 1966.
- Irene Klotz (2011-07-21). "NASA's 'Final Four' astronauts close out shuttle era". Reuters.
- Seth Borenstein (2011-07-22). "Crowd to NASA's 'Final Four' astronauts: Welcome Home". Associated Press via MSNBC. Archived from the original on 2012-10-04.