League divided into two conferences - primarily an American thing?

The four major US sports leagues - NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL - are all divided into two main conferences such that two eventual champions emerge from each conference and play for the overall championship (AFC vs. NFC in the Super Bowl, Eastern vs. Western in the NBA Finals, etc.)
Is this mostly an American thing, or do most other nation’s sports leagues do it this way too? (European soccer, for instance, seems to be totally different with its points and relegation system; and soccer tournaments are generally divided into group play and brackets)

Much of the reason for the two conferences thing is that they were originally competing leagues that joined together for a common championship. Eventually they would merge into one league, with the original leagues becoming conferences.

“It should be noted here that all ranks and divisions in sumo are divided into the East group and the West group. For example, in the Juryo rank there are 28 rikishi. Instead of ranking these rikishi 1 through 28, they are divided into two groups, East and West, and the rikishi in each group are ranked 1 through 14 with the East rank being the most prestigious. The top two rikishi in Juryo will be ranked 1 East and 1 West respectively. The East-West aspect of sumo is rather meaningless; it mainly determines from which side the rikishi will enter the ring before his bout.”

Note that college sports don’t do this. Generally the best teams go into some sort of series of elimination matches until the two best teams face each other in the championship. You might have divisions but you don’t have a league cut in half, then the best from one side fights the best from the other side. So this isn’t a universal American thing for all sports.

But it does seem to be pretty universal for professional sports. Look at Major League Soccer; that wasn’t formed by a merger, they just divided it into the East and West conferences by choice, I suspect to mirror what other major US pro sports did. The championship in MLS is indeed the best of the two conferences competing for a cup. So at this point, although the concept started because of the mergers of different sports leagues wanting to preserve some distinctiveness, it’s now just tradition and an expectation of American sports fans to have that structure in pro sports.

In addition to the mergers, the size of the US/Canada means that travel is prohibitively expensive and exhausting for teams that play every other day. The NBA and NHL are divided geographically to cut down on travel to some degree. You play the most games against teams that aren’t that far away. Baseball addresses it by have series, where you play 2-5 games against a single team, and football only plays once per week.

MLB is the only league where the division of conferences really means anything; namely the designated hitter is used in the American League only.

The NFL’s AFC/NFC division has nothing to do with geography, and was born from the NFL/AFL merger. But each conference is subdivided info divisions that are geographic, and 6 out of the 16 regular season games for each team is with a division rival, which does cut down on travel. So there is some practicality to that.

It’s also not just for benefit of teams; fans are more likely to travel to see a game that’s closer.

And it’s mostly TV that drives things these days. So, the major sports try to keep things organized by time zones as much as possible. The NBA/NHL/MLB have a lot of games and they’d like to avoid the 10 pm start times for Eastern teams and 4 pm starts for the West coast teams as much as possible. The most die hard Yankees fan isn’t likely to stay up for a Tuesday 10 PM start against Seattle while the Dodgers fan may like to see the 4 PM first pitch against the Phillies but the boss calls an emergency meeting.

For football, it doesn’t matter as much with most games on Sunday afternoon

Most countries don’t span multiple time zones so it doesn’t affect them.

It’s all historical.

MLB, the NHL, and the NFL all started out with single leagues (two in the case of MLB) with no divisions.

Baseball ending up creating the World Series because fans argued as to which winning team was better. Due to the public pressure (and the chance to make a buck), the World Series was set up.

The NHL had Stanley Cup playoffs, but they took the top teams of their single division (they also experimented with first half vs. second half champions). Early Stanley cups were also contested against teams from the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, until it folded in 1924. At that point, the NHL remained a single league for decades.

The NFL also played as a single league in its early years. In 1933, it was suggested they have a championship game to increase interest, and the league was the first to split in two divisions. When the NBA came along, they saw how well it worked for football, and started with a set of playoffs between divisions.

In addition to the publicity and money involved in a championship game, the smaller divisions made for more fan interest. If you were in 10th place halfway through the season, attendance would drop off, and teams would go under. In a five-team division, it didn’t look so bad, especially if the first-place team was close to you in the standings. Also, by grouping teams geographically – the way it was generally done – it helped cut down on travel time and expenses.

The NHL remained at one division until it expanded in 1967. It was an ambitious effort, doubling the number of teams in the league. But because the expansion teams were not expected to compete with the original 6, they were all put in their own division, which had its own bracket for the Stanley Cup.

Baseball was the last of the big four. Once they expanded beyond 10 teams, they saw the need for two divisions. It was supposed to be geographical, but there were issues with teams losing traditional rivalries, which is why the Cardinals and Cubs were in the East and the Braves in the West.

So, ultimately, the reason for it was primarily money: it added extra games and extra revenue and reduced expenses.

The NHL was always a single league. The PCHA and the other western league whose name I forget were always separate. But during the 20’s the NHL split into two divisions. At it’s height, in 1926-1931 there were 10 teams in Canadian and American divisions. The 4 teams that didn’t become part of the “original” six were Pittsburgh (later Philadelphia), Montreal Maroons, New York Americans, Ottawa. It lost some teams but continued with two divisions until 1938.

It didn’t reduce to the “original” 6 until the fall of 1942

Isn’t it true that the “National” in National Hockey League originally referred to Canada?

Yes. The four original teams in 1917 were all Canadian. US teams weren’t added until 1924.

Well, to the greatest extent possible, but there’s some weird situations. Jacksonville is in the AFC South; Miami, which is indisputably the most southern team the NFL has, is in the AFC East. The Cowboys are plunked into the NFC East because of rivalries, thus relegating any number of more eastern teams to other divisions.

Geographic alignment in Niorth America will invariably suffer from the fact that there are more people and more/larger markets in the East. The two leagues that really split it up that way, the NBA and NHL, have Western conferences that are extremely spread out.

The Big 10, PAC 10, and SEC Conferences do this . At least in Football. They are split between East and West (or North and South for the PAC 10).

The ACC has 2 divisions for FB and Baseball but not for hoops.

No. You are talking about individual conferences within NCAA football. They didn’t take the entirety of football and cut it in two, with half the teams in one and half in the other. That’s not even close to what the topic of this thread is about.

At least Dallas is relatively east; if you cut the country in half geographically it would fall on the eastern side of that line. Not far from it but still, at least it’s not in a western division.

Jacksonville and Miami are in the SE corner of the country so would fit in either a southern or eastern division so no shenanigans there. I agree it would make more sense for them to swap divisions though. Maybe when Jacksonville finally moves to London they will do that; it would certainly be the eastern-most team at that point. :smiley:

They would also be the northernmost team, and by a pretty substantial margin.

London would be the second-northernmost team in the CANADIAN Football League, actually.

The Mexican League of AAA baseball has North and South divisions.

Nippon Professional Baseball has Central and Pacific leagues.

In baseball for a long time the Braves were in the west division because there were not enough teams located in the west.

That seems a little silly, it would be more like the EPL splitting into North and South divisions. The NCAA in this case is more like UEFA.