The NFL Regular Season
The NFL regular season games are played annually between September and December. The games are scheduled for Sundays as well as Monday and Thursday nights and always draw large television audiences.
There are thirty-two teams in the NFL; sixteen in each conference. The National Football Conference and American Football Conference both divide those teams into four divisions, each of which contains four teams. During the course of the season, each team will play every other team in its division twice (once at home and once away). Teams are also required to play a further ten games against teams chosen for them by the NFL: two based on statistical information from the previous season and eight against teams from other divisions.
The NFL Play-offs
The NFL play-offs take place in January each year. The teams which are invited to take part in the play-offs are chosen on the basis of their success in the regular season. The play-off tournaments of each conference are held independently of each other. The top six teams in each conference (that is, the four divisional champions and the two teams with the next best records) automatically qualify for the play-offs and subsequently compete against each in a knock-out tournament. In the event that two or more teams possess identical records, one or more tie-breaking games may be necessary to determine who will be awarded one of the coveted spots in the play-offs.
The play-offs culminate in the Championship Games, which are held towards the end of January. The top two teams in the AFC compete in the AFC Championship Game for the Lamar Hunt Trophy. The best two NFC teams compete for the George Halas Trophy. As the precursors to the annual Super Bowl, the Championship Games usually attract very large television audiences.
The annual Superbowl is the final of the NFL. At the beginning of February each year, the AFC and NFC Champions go head to head to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the honour of being crowned NFL Champions. The Superbowl is a major event in the American sporting calendar. It is always played on a Sunday and has become an unofficial public holiday in the US. It is one of the most watched television events of the year.
The Official Superbowl Website offers a complete history of the competition including a complete list of previous winners.
The NCAA regular season
College teams across the country compete against each other in a number of leagues during the NCAA Football regular season, which lasts from late August until December. College football consortiums in the US include:
- The Atlantic Coast Conference
- The Big East
- The Big Twelve
- The Ivy League
- The Big Ten
- The Pacific Ten
- The South East Conferences
However, college football is at its most exciting during the NCAA post-season, which includes the popular military games and the important Bowl Championship Series (BCS). College football differs from the NFL in that it does not use a play-off tournament to determine the National Champion. Instead, the BCS is used to find the best two teams in the US. These teams then face each other in the National Championship Game.
The Bowl Championship Series (BCS)
The Bowl Championship Series is an event consisting of five bowl games. The BCS was established to find the best college teams in the country without compromising the traditional Bowl system. A carefully selected panel determine which teams will compete in the BCS by considering three major factors:
- The USA Today Coaches Poll
- The Harris Interactive College Football Poll
- An average of six computer rankings on each team’s record
Through this process, the BCS aims to find the best two college teams in the country for the National Championship Game. The next eight most successful teams will also participate in a Bowl.
The events which make up the BCS are:
- The Rose Bowl – The oldest collegiate post-season Bowl, with the first event held in 1902. Consequently, the game is nicknamed "The Granddaddy of them all". The Rose Bowl is traditionally held on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California.
- The Allstate Sugar Bowl – Hosted by New Orleans, Louisiana and established in the 1930s.
- The Orange Bowl – Also held on New Year’s Day, or the first Monday after it. The event takes place in Miami, Florida. The Bowl is one of the oldest collegiate Bowls in the US. Like the Sugar Bowl, it was founded in the 1930s.
- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl – So-called because it is sponsored by the crisp company Tostitos. It is hosted by the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona and was first held in 1971.
- The National Championship Game is the last event of the BCS. The location of the Bowl varies from year to year.
The American Football World Championships
The World Championships are overseen by the IFAF. The competition takes place between national teams, usually selected by the relevant national governing bodies. The first tournament took place in Palermo, Italy in 1999, where Japan took the first world title. The United States chose not to participate in the first two competitions.
Teams wishing to participate must be successful in the initial qualifying rounds. Those who make it through the preliminary rounds proceed to the knockout tournament.
The Eurobowl is the final of the European Football League (EFL). The game has been played annually since 1986 and involves teams which have been named champion, or sometimes the runner-up, of their own national league. Decisions about which teams ought to participate in the tournament which culminates in the Grand Final are taken by the European Federation of American Football (EFAF).
The games of the tournament are spread out, rather than played one after the other in the structure of a knockout tournament. Teams are split up into four divisions, each of which consists of two or three teams. The teams in each division face each other both at home and away and the most successful teams advance to the final stages of the competition. The best two teams ultimately face each other in the Eurobowl Final.
The EFAF Cup
The EFAF Cup is an annual event which first took place in 2002. The EFAF Cup is organised by EFAF for the most successful gridiron teams in Europe. The competition is played in regional groups and successful teams proceed to the finals.
The British American Football League (BAFL) and the Britbowl
The BAFL (formerly known as the British Senior League) is the major American Football league of the UK. Participation has steadily increased in recent years and most teams welcome both newcomers to the sport and more experienced players. A complete list of the teams which participate in the BAFL can be found in the section entitled ‘Playing American Football in the UK’.
The teams are split into divisions: the Premier, and Divisions 1, 1A and 2. Each division holds play-offs which resemble the NFL play-offs. The finals of each league take place during the annual Britbowl, which is held at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield.
A team’s performance during the season has an effect upon its standing for the following season. The top teams are promoted, whilst the lowest ranking teams are demoted.
The British Collegiate American Football League (BCAFL)
The BCAFL is a league comprised of university teams from around the UK. The rules which govern the league are similar to NCAA Football regulations. It is governed by the British Student American Football Association (BSAFA). The league is divided into northern and southern conferences. The structure of the competition is largely borrowed from the NFL. Each conference holds a playoff tournament annually to determine the Conference Champion, and the winners eventually face each other in the College Bowl. The winner becomes the overall champion of the BCAFL.