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Popularity of Football

Since the 1990s, football has surpassed baseball as the most popular spectator sport in the U.S. The 32-team National Football League (NFL) is the most popular professional league. Its championship game, the Super Bowl, is watched by nearly half of US television households, and is also televised in over 150 other countries. Super Bowl Sunday has become an annual ritual in late January or early February. Additionally, top players in the league are selected to play an annual all-star game, the Pro Bowl, in Honolulu. 

College football is also popular, with many major colleges and universities playing NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I football, and consistently selling out huge stadiums. College games are widely televised and widely watched. Many institutions in lower NCAA divisions and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) also field varsity football teams, as do most high schools. High school football is popular in many parts of the US, notably the South, with games sometimes attracting tens of thousands of fans.

In addition, football is played by amateur, club and youth teams (such as teams in the Pop Warner leagues). There is an American Football World Cup. In addition, there are many "semi-pro" teams, where the players are paid to play, but at a small enough salary that they generally must also hold a full-time job.

Football Leagues – Professional, College, and Other Leagues
Football is played at a number of levels in the United States and abroad. These include the following:

  • The National Football League - top-level men's professional league
  • The Canadian Football League - men's professional league based in Canada, played using a modified set of rules known as Canadian football
  • Women's American football - since 2000, there has been a surge of women's professional leagues.
  • Arena football - an indoor adaptation of professional football, played at a faster pace, on a smaller field
  • College football - played by many US colleges
  • High school football - played by most high schools
  • Nine-man football, Eight-man football, and Six-man football - variations of high school football, usually played in sparsely populated areas
  • Amateur and youth league football
  • Flag football and Touch football - non-tackle; almost exclusively amateur
  • Pop warner or youth football - involves younger kids who are too young to play high school, generally in middle school.

The descriptions in this article are based primarily on the current rules of the National Football League (NFL, 1920-present). Differences with college rules will be noted. Professional, college, high school, and amateur rules are similar.

Professional leagues that no longer exist include the World Football League (WFL, 1974-75), the United States Football League (USFL, 1983-1985), the XFL (XFL, 2001), the All-America Football Conference (1946-1949) (only 3 or 4 teams are now in NFL), the World League of American Football (WLAF, 1991-1993 — now NFL Europe), and, the American Football League (AFL, 1960-1969). Only the AFL survives, as it merged with the NFL in 1970 and now exists (mostly) as the AFC.

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