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Five Notable League Mergers

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The biggest professional sports leagues of today in America tend to, in fact, be made up of pieces of leagues past.

National League and American Association

Baseball and baseball glove

The National League was founded in 1876 in the aftermath of the folding of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. It originally consisted of eight teams. Six had previously been members of the NAPBBP and two were new teams. In 1882, a new rival, the American Association, was created. It originally consisted of six teams.

Four teams would moved from the AA to the NL from 1887 to 1890.[1] Labor problems in the latter year would help to trigger a merger following the 1891 AA season.[2] The new National League would feature eight previously NL teams and four former AA teams.

In the years since, teams have been added and subtracted to the National League. Today, the NL is in a partnership with the American League, created in 1901, but not a formal merger. Together, they make up Major League Baseball.

National Football League and All-America Football Conference

American football field line

The National Football League, originally known as the American Professional Football Conference, had been created in 1920. Other leagues would follow in ensuing years, but would not last. In 1944, Arch Ward, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, founded the All-America Football Conference.[3] Ward's goal had been to ultimately form a partnership with the NFL, similar to that of baseball's National League and American League. The NFL, however, was not welcoming of this idea.

The AAFC had been originally scheduled to begin play in 1945, but it would be delayed until the following year because of World War II. Following the 1949 season, both the NFL and the AAFC faced major financial problems, even despite their popularity.[4] An ensuing merger saw three AAFC teams - the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers and the original Baltimore Colts - join the 10-team NFL. A potential fourth team had been the original Buffalo Bills, but the team failed to get the necessary unanimous vote of approval from the NFL owners.

National Football League and American Football League 

Football field line

Roughly a decade after the merger between the NFL and the AAFC, the unsuccessful attempts by Lamar Hunt to buy a large stake of the Chicago Cardinals in attempt to move them to Dallas or to start an expansion team there inspired Hunt to form a rival league. Ironically, the NFL soon after approached Hunt about forming an expansion team in Dallas, but by then he had become focused on what would become the American Football League.[5]

The new league began play in 1960. Among its eight teams were Lamar Hunt's Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs). Initially, the NFL tried to ignore its new competition, but that soon became impossible. In 1966, the NFL and AFL announced that they would fully merge in 1970. During the years in between, the two leagues would play separate regular seasons resulting with separate champions. The two league champions would meet in one championship game, later to be known as the Super Bowl. The NFL's Green Bay Packers were victorious in the first two championship games.[6] In the third, the AFL's New York Jets stunned the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts, and the Chiefs won the fourth.

Upon the full merger in 1970, the AFL name and logo were no longer active. All ten of the former AFL teams were grouped into the new American Football Conference of the NFL. They were joined by the NFL's Colts, Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. The other thirteen teams that had made up the old NFL were grouped into the National Football Conference, making a total of twenty-six teams in the league. In the years since, six more teams have been created, among other events.

National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association

Basketball court floor

The National Basketball Association was already the result of a merger. In 1949, the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of American joined together to form the NBA. For the next several years, the NBA was the primary professional basketball league in North America, if not the world.

In 1967, the upstart American Basketball Association was founded by Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson. Its first commissioner was NBA legend George Mikan. The story has it that ABA's founders were inspired by the news of the merger of the NFL and AFL, and that their ultimate goal was a similar merger of the NBA and their new league. It wouldn't be long before efforts to merge began.[7]

Though the ABA was ultimately successful in that it caused a merger in 1976 and its style and culture had a major impact on the NBA, its success can be seen as somewhat limited.[8] Most of its franchises were forced to fold and only four teams went on to join the NBA - the San Antonio Spurs, the Indiana Pacers, the Denver Nuggets and the New York Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets). The four teams would be treated as expansion teams by the NBA and would have to pay an expansion fee.

National Hockey League and World Hockey Association 

Ice hockey net and puck

Established in 1917, the National Hockey League had been the dominant North American ice hockey league for most of its existence. In 1971, ABA founders Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson created the World Hockey Association. The league began play the following year.[9]

Though the WHA had its successes, the league and its teams spent much of their existence dealing with financial turmoil. After two previous attempts at mergers had been rejected by the NHL, an agreement was reached in 1979.[10]  Four WHA teams - the Edmonton Oilers, the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche), the New England Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes) and the original Winnipeg Jets (now the Arizona Coyotes) - would make the move to the NHL. The Whalers were forced to changed their name to the Hartford Whalers, following objections from the NHL's Boston Bruins. As with the merger of the NBA and the ABA, all of the former WHA teams were treated as expansion teams.

Photo credits: Pixabay



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  1. "National League." New World Encyclopedia. 18/04/2016 <Web >
  2. "National League." Wikipedia. 18/04/2016 <Web >
  3. "All-America Football Conference." Wikipedia. 18/04/2016 <Web >
  4. Matthew McMurray "Remembering The AAFC On The 60th Anniversary Of The NFL-AAFC Merger." Bleacher Report. 10/07/2009. 18/04/2016 <Web >
  5. "AFL-NFL merger." Wikipedia. 18/04/2016 <Web >
  6. "NFL and AFL announce merger." History.com. 18/04/2016 <Web >
  7. "American Basketball Association-National Basketball Association merger." Wikipedia. 19/04/2016 <Web >
  8. "Bringing the funk: How the ABA changed the NBA forever." AOL.com. 06/08/2015. 19/04/2016 <Web >
  9. Bruce Wilkie "NHL - WHA Merger 30th Anniversary." The Hockey Writers. 19/12/2009. 19/04/2016 <Web >
  10. "NHL-WHA merger." Wikipedia. 19/04/2016 <Web >

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