MLB

What Is the Oldest Major Sports League in the U.S.?

The NFL recently celebrated its 100th season with plenty of fanfare. As the remaining playoff teams fight for the Lombardi Trophy, it’s worth looking back at the other sporting organizations in U.S. history to see which ones are older than the NFL. So what is the oldest major sports league anyway?

The NBA: 74 years old

Much like the NFL, the NBA celebrated a milestone year in 1996, according to History.com. “NBA at 50” selected the 50 greatest players in NBA history all the way back to the first years of the league.

The NBA began as the Basketball Association of America, with its first season being 1946-47. The New York Knicks and Boston Celtics were the only two teams to kept their identities long-term, but major cities including Toronto, Detroit, and Boston also participated.

The NBA eventually merged with the ABA, just as the NFL merged with the AFL. Since the NBA began in 1946, the NFL still edges them out by 26 years. But there are a few other major sports leagues in America.

The NHL: 102 years old

(L-R) Brothers Reg Bentley, Max Bentley and Doug Bentley of the Chicago Blackhawks pose on the ice on December 5, 1942
Brothers Reg, Max, and Doug Bentley of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1942 | Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL began with four teams, all Canadian. Despite being considered a Canuck-heavy sport, it’s been over 25 years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. When the NHL expanded to the U.S. in 1924-26, teams exited and joined until the “Original Six” formed in 1942, reports NHL.com.

The Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers played together for 25 years until 1967 when the league expanded further. Historically, the NHL just edges out the NFL. Happy 102nd birthday, NHL!

The MLB: 144 years old

Much like the NFL, Major League Baseball entered the modern era in 1920. However, its roots date back to 1876. The “dead-ball” era comprises 1876 to 1920. The MLB itself began in 1903 when the American League and National League merged.

With a long, bizarre history and thousands of memorable players, the MLB proudly calls itself the oldest major sports league in the U.S.

During the 1910s, the MLB nearly folded as betting scandals and a fixed World Series led the league to the brink of destruction. However, the league responded by cracking down on corruption and creating the office of the Commissioner.

As America fell into the Roaring ’20s, baseball became a favorite of lower- and upper-class Americans alike. The dominance of Babe Ruth and the Yankees made baseball “America’s Pastime.”

The oldest major sports league in America

By the numbers, the MLB is certainly the oldest of the “Big Four” American sports leagues. However, football existed in an organized form before the MLB merger concluded.

The NFL has a claim to the title if it traces back to the very early days of the sport, but it’s generally agreed that baseball is the oldest. With the health problems many NFL players suffer, however, the MLB may not have competition as the oldest for too long. The future of American football is uncertain, but baseball is stronger than ever.

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