American football in the United States

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American football in the United States
Football play from scrimmage.jpg
The U.S. Navy Midshipmen (at left, in blue) line up on offense against the Army's Black Knights
Country United States
National team United States
First played 1873, New York City
National competitions

There is no single national governing body for American football in the United States or a continental governing body for North America. There is an international governing body, the International Federation of American Football, or IFAF, but it does not have much influence in American football in the United States. American football is the most popular sport in the United States, and has some of the most passionate fans in the world. But it does not get as much recognition around the rest of the world.

Organization in the United States[edit]

Befitting its status as a popular sport, football is played in leagues of different size, age and quality, in all regions of the country. Organized football is played almost exclusively by men and boys, although a few amateur and semi-professional women's leagues have begun play in recent years. A team / academy may be referred to as a 'football program' [1] - not to be confused with football program.

Professional[edit]

The 32-team National Football League (NFL) is currently the only major or borderline-major professional American football league in the United States; there is also the Canadian Football League in Canada, which plays a form of gridiron football closely related to American Football. The NFL does not operate any developmental leagues currently since the folding of NFL Europa; as of 2013, there are two independent minor leagues: the Stars Football League, which launched in summer 2011 and is centered in Florida, and the Professional Developmental Football League, which launched in its current form in 2013 and plays in the Pacific Northwest. The A-11 Football League, which uses a modified version of American football rules, will debut in 2014 with two test games. Prior to the launch of the SFL, the last explicitly minor professional league was the American Football Association, which folded in 1982.

There have been numerous attempts over the past several decades to create a second major or high-level professional league, most of which failed within a few years or, in the cases of the All-America Football Conference and 1960s American Football League, merged with the NFL.

There are, however, several professional indoor football leagues, including most notably the Arena Football League, which had several teams co-owned by several NFL owners but is officially independent from the NFL. (The AFL had gone into bankruptcy and canceled its 2009 season. Its assets were subsequently bought and relaunched in 2010.) Indoor football leagues play by significantly different rules that encourage higher scoring and accommodate a smaller field of play. Most commonly, players that do not make the NFL play in these leagues or go to Canada and play in the Canadian Football League, which operates on a somewhat older rule system.

University and collegiate[edit]

College football is also popular throughout North America.[citation needed] Most of college football in the United States is governed by the NCAA. Most colleges and universities have football teams, often with dedicated football stadiums. These teams mostly play other similarly sized schools, through the NCAA's divisional system, which divides collegiate sports teams into four divisions (I-FBS, I-FCS, II and III). The largest, most popular collegiate teams routinely fill stadiums larger than 75,000 [1] Archived 28 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Four college football stadiums, The University of Michigan's Michigan Stadium, Penn State's Beaver Stadium, The University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium and Ohio State's Ohio Stadium, seat more than 100,000 fans and usually sell out. The weekly autumn ritual of college football includes marching bands, cheerleaders, homecoming, parties, the tailgate party; it forms an important part of the culture in much of small-town America.[citation needed] Football is generally the major source of revenue to the athletic programs of schools, public and private, in the United States.[citation needed] The top college football players enter the NFL Draft after their college careers are over, in hopes of signing with an NFL team.

"FBS" and "FCS" are abbreviations for the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision, two sections of Division I that exist only in football. These two subdivisions were formerly known as Divisions I-A and I-AA respectively. The Championship Subdivision, consisting mostly of smaller schools than the FBS but larger than D-II, has a playoff system just like Divisions II and III, while the Bowl Subdivision has only a limited four-team playoff and has historically only featured division championships and bowl games. Unofficially, the Bowl Subdivision is divided into two further subdivisions, "major conferences" (also known as "BCS Conferences") and "mid-majors." In practice, only major conference teams are eligible to compete for the national championship and receive significant favor in the opinion polling over mid-majors, and it was not until the addition of the BCS National Championship Game that mid-majors had a realistic chance at appearing in one of the BCS bowls. Although the FCS has a playoff, two conferences (the Ivy League and historically black SWAC) do not participate. Division III teams do not offer scholarships to their players; there is one Division I conference, the Pioneer Football League, that also does not offer scholarships.

With the exception of the annual Army–Navy Game and the Bayou Classic, only BCS conference teams air on broadcast television, although mid-majors, FCS teams, D-II and D-III games can see more limited coverage on cable television.

Though the NCAA is the most publicized college athletic organization, the NAIA (which houses mostly smaller private colleges) and NJCAA (an association for community colleges) also sanction football games; there also exists a club football circuit for colleges that choose not to compete at the varsity level. In addition to this, eight colleges field teams in the Collegiate Sprint Football League, a league in which all players must weigh less than 172 pounds in order to be eligible to play; five of those teams are long-established sprint teams that co-exist alongside their NCAA counterparts (three from the Ivy League and two military academies), while three recent additions either never had a varsity squad or downgraded from an NCAA team to a sprint team.

High school[edit]

Most American high schools field football teams. High school football is popular; top schools regularly fill stadiums holding over 10,000 fans, and can afford artificial playing surfaces.[citation needed]

High school teams generally play only against other teams from their state (notable exceptions include matchups between nearby schools located on opposite sides of a state line and occasional matchups between two nationally-ranked teams for television purposes). Still, some private Christian high schools play for national championships through organizations like the Federated Christian Athletic Association.

The National Federation of State High School Associations is the sanctioning body for most public high school football in the United States.

Adult Amateur Football / Semi-Pro Football[edit]

Adult amateur football, also known as semi-pro football, is a level of American football. It's commonly known as "working man's" football, meaning the players have regular jobs and play football on the weekends. Though the players don't get paid, the leagues and the games are run in a somewhat professional manner. For most leagues, it's against the rules to pay its players to play. The rules of the game are usually a hybrid of NFL and NCAA rules.

There are several different leagues playing in the United States:

The North American Football League (NAFL) is an adult amateur American football league. Its teams are located mainly in the Eastern, Midwestern and Southern United States. The teams mostly play regionally in the regular season to keep travel short. In the playoffs, winners of regional play will meet each other for the league championship.

The New England Football League (NEFL) has over 30 teams, with at least one in each of the six New England states. The league has three skill levels (A being more for recreational play; AAA being the most comptetitive; AA is somewhat in between).

The Eastern Football League, based in New England, but at times teams from New York state have competed, is one of the countries oldest semi-pro leagues. It started play in 1961.

The Mid Continental Football League began play in 1991 and by the 1990s had expanded through much of the midwest and mid-Atlantic United States before the league split apart and contracted into a four-state area in the midwest. One of the MCFL's spinoff leagues is the Northeastern Football Alliance of upstate New York. Upstate New York also is the home of the Empire Football League, which houses the oldest surviving professional football club in the United States, the Watertown Red & Black, founded in 1896. The EFL and NFA are considered to be roughly on par with each other and teams have moved back and forth between the leagues. Several similar leagues exist across the United States.

An unusual semi-pro league is the National Public Safety Football League. It includes teams in most major markets in the United States; all of its players come from the ranks of public employees, generally firefighters and police officers.

Several leagues supporting women's semi-professional football play have existed. The two current major leagues are the Independent Women's Football League (IWFL) and the Women's Football Alliance (WFA). The WFA plans to begin play in 2009 stocked with teams from two recently dissolved leagues, the National Women's Football Association and Women's Professional Football League (NWFA and WPFL respectively).

Youth leagues[edit]

Football is played recreationally by amateur and youth teams (e.g., American Youth Football and Pop Warner little-league programs). There are also many "semi-pro" teams in leagues where the players are paid to play but at a small enough salary that they generally must also hold a full-time job.[citation needed]

Due to the speed and violence of the sport, many non-organized football games involve variations of the rules to minimize contact and risk of injury.[citation needed] These include touch football and flag football. Another variation, backyard football, features the full tackling of its organized counterparts but far less equipment and simplified rules.

US National American football team[edit]

USA Football assembles a national football team for competition in the IFAF World Championship every four years. Because of concerns over competitive balance, USA Football did not field teams for the first two events in 1999 and 2003. The 2007 team consisted solely of amateur players who had graduated from college that spring, from a diverse mix of smaller and larger colleges and universities. The 2011 squad's criteria were looser, allowing some professional players to play (mostly unemployed, lower-end and minor league players; no NFL or NCAA stars participated). Both the 2007 and 2011 incarnations of the team won their year's respective world championship.

The IFAF also fields an U-19 team composed of high school football players that participated in the 2009 and 2012 junior world championships. The national U-19 team won the 2009 contest but lost the 2012 contest to Canada.

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