Alternative Football Leagues

Major Alternative Football Leagues

Ever since the birth of the National Football league in 1920 there have been attempts at creating a second Professional Football League to rival it, with only the American Football League of 1960-1969 being successful enough to force a merger (the NFL and AFL are now the NFC and AFC and the winners of each play in the Super Bowl).

There has been a number of eras of Major Leagues: The American Football Leagues Era (1926-1950), The Continental Football Leagues Era (1960-1983), and the XFL Football Leagues Era (1990-2020). In addition during the XFL Era there were two other Major League attempts: the Arena Football League (1985-2019) and the World Football Leagues (1991-2020).

Rival Leagues to the National Football League have existed since the 1920s, most of them from the 1920s to 1960s called themselves the American Football League, and since then there has been a variety of names and ideas, such as the Continental Football League (1965-1969), World Football League (1974-1975), Spring Leagues (United States Football League, 1983-1985), Indoor Football Leagues (Arena Football League 1986-2019), World Football Leagues (World League of American Football / NFL Europe 1991-2007, Elite Football League of India 2012, China AFL 2016-2019, & LFA Mexico 2016-present), Extreme Football Leagues & Leagues which failed to get off the ground (PSFL 1993, Spring League 2000, XFL 2001, United Football League 2009-2011, FXFL 2014-2015, North American Football League 2016, The Spring League 2017-Present, XFL 2020), More recently Minority Football Leagues have appeared such as the Alliance of American Football 2019 and the Freedom Football League 2020.

Only the American Football League of 1960-1969 has been successful long-term, leading to both the start of the Super Bowl between the AFL Winners and the NFL Winners in 1967 and the eventual merger of the two leagues (They are now the American & National Football Conferences in the NFL – the Super Bowl is still played between the winners of the two Conferences)

Major League Eras

Early Pro American Football (1892-1919) The first attempts at establishing the sport of Professional Football outside of the big Colleges.

American Football Leagues Era (1926-1950) The first Major League Rival Era, the AFL Era isso named because most leagues used the AFL name. Most were based in the South or West with teams also in the Mid-West and North East. At the time the NFL was solely based in the North East and Mid-West.

Continental Football Leagues Era (1960-1983) The second Major League Era featured leagues such as the Continental Football League (which placed teams in Canada and Mexico), the World Football League (which placed a team in Hawaii) and the United States Football League.

XFL Football Leagues Era (1992-2020) The most famous League of this Era is the XFL, which intended to bring back the hard-hitting working class Football which had been seen my some to have disappeared from the NFL.

Failed Pro Football Leagues (1917-Present) There has been a long list of Leagues which failed to get off the ground, which are not important except to obsessive fans.

Other Leagues

Canadian Football League (1958-Present) The Canadian Football League broke away from the Amateur Canadian Rugby Union in 1958 and established the first Pro Gridiron Football League outside of the United States. (see Canadian Football for more on Canadian Football)

Arena Football League (1985-2019) The most successful venture since the AFL of 1960-1969, Arena Football (also known as Indoor Football) is played on a converted Ice Rink, with a 50-yard Field and two 8-yard endzones. Teams have 8 players and 5 downs (attempts) in which to score or the ball is turned over. It has become massively popular in Mexico. (see Arena Indoor Football for more on Reduced Numbers Football Leagues).

World Pro Football Leagues (1991-2020) The first venture by the NFL overseas was the World League of American Football (a development league) which placed teams in Europe and Canada as well as cities without NFL teams. It failed after 17 years in 2007, but Leagues have since been established in India, Canada, Australia and China by various American Leagues. A League in Mexico in 2016 – the Liga Football Americano Mexico looks set to be a third Major League having been recognised by the Canadian Football League. (See World American Football for more details on top-level World American Football Leagues)

Legends Football League and American 7s (2004-Present) An attempt at starting a Womens Pro League and a No Pads Full Tackle Pro League respectively. (see Legends Football Leagues for more details).

Ever since the birth of the National Football league in 1920 there have been attempts at creating a second Professional Football League to rival it, with only the American Football League of 1960-1969 being successful enough to force a merger (the NFL and AFL are now the NFC and AFC and the winners of each play in the Super Bowl).

Irish-born Alternative Major League Players, Coaches, and Personnel

football helmet beside football on gray asphalt road

Spring Leagues Era (1983-Present)

From the early 1990s to 2020 Leagues have sprung up that have attempted to be the AFL / WFL / USFL of the Era. Some of these Leagues, such as the XFL of 2001 and 2020 have had quite an impact on the American Football scene, with big budgets, and Major TV contracts. Another set of leagues has played a limited schedule – 2 to 6 games per team per season, often due to fans not showing up at the gates, or sometimes due to repositioning themselves as leagues confined to one area – ie. South Florida (Stars Football League) or New York / New England (FXFL)

A new Era in Development League (AAA) Football began in 2001 with the first XFL, designed to give Football fans fed up with the NFL and Arena Football League “Hard Working Class Football” back. It lasted one season, but new leagues came up in 2009 (United Football League) and 2011-2013 (Stars Football League); 2014-15 (Fall Xperimental Football League) and 2017-2020 (The Spring League). The Budget XFL was resurrected in 2020 for half a season (it was cancelled due to the COVID virus) but is scheduled to return in 2023. The Spring Leagues are usually based in one city or area (Stars Football League, FXFL, TSL) which moves year-on-year. In 2022 The Spring League shall rebrand as the United States Football League, based in Birmingham, Alabama. Generally speaking the XFL, United Football League (2009-2011) and Alliance of American Football (2019) have been a step above the Spring Development Leagues (Stars Football League, FXFL, The Spring League).

XFL 2020 New York Guardians v Tampa Bay Vipers

American Football Leagues Era (1923-1983)

Only the American Football League of 1960-1969 has been successful long-term, leading to both the start of the Super Bowl between the AFL Winners and the NFL Winners in 1967 and the eventual merger of the two leagues (They are now the American & National Football Conferences in the NFL – the Super Bowl is still played between the winners of the two Conferences)

The first Major rival to the NFL to use the American Football League name was the AFL of 1926, and from then until 1950 Leagues using this name came and went, usually lasting only one or two seasons. Theses Leagues, however, are notable for the genesis of teams such as the Cleveland (Now Los Angeles) Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts, which later joined the NFL. The AFL of 1960 also reused the names of some of these teams (Buffalo Bills & Cincinnati Bengals), teams which are now also in the NFL.

After the 1950s when the National Football League started playing International games in Canada and against Canadian opposition, and the Canadian Football League and Leagues in the New York Metropolitan Area provided a AAA Alternative to the NFL, new AAA Leagues started up again in the 1960s. The Continental Football League (1965-1969), World Football League (1974-1975) and United States Football League (1983-1985) are the most famous and biggest of these leagues.

Most of these Leagues, in particular the WFL & USFL tried, and failed to become another American Football League of 1960-1969 which was so successful it forced a merger with the NFL, with the winners of the two Leagues (now conferences since the merger in 1970) playing each other in the Super Bowl. (see National Football League )

The United Football League (1961-1964) was the first of these, and then from 1965-1969 the Continental Football League was the first to put teams in both Canada and Mexico.

The Southwestern Football League of 1972-1973 was the precursor to the World Football League (1974-1975) which aimed to bring the sport to the World, although Hawaii was as far as it got. The American Football association of 1977-1983 was another attempt at a AAA League although it was put out of business by the United States Football League (1983-1985) which was the first Major Spring League.  It featured High Profile Owners, such as the later US President Donald Trump, but was itself put out of business by the NFL’s collusion with the Major TV Networks to keep it off the air, as was proved in a later anti-trust trial.