Ohio League

The Ohio League was an informal and loose association of American football clubs active between 1902 and 1919 that competed for the Ohio Independent Championship (OIC). As the name implied, its teams were mostly based in Ohio. It is the direct predecessor to the modern National Football League (NFL).

Ohio League
SportAmerican football
Inaugural season1902
Claim to famePredecessor to the National Football League (NFL)
No. of teams23
CountryUnited States
Venue(s)Armory Park
Idora Park
Indianola Park
League Field
League Park
Luna Bowl
Swayne Field
Tank Stadium
Triangle Park
Canton Bulldogs
Most titlesMassillon Tigers (5)
New York Pro Football League (NYPFL)
Western Pennsylvania Professional Football Circuit
Chicago League

A proposal to add teams from outside Ohio, such as the Latrobe Athletic Association, to form a formal league known as the "Football Association" fell through prior to the 1904 season.

Though a champion was declared by the group throughout its existence, a formal league was not founded until 1920, when several Ohio League teams added clubs from other states to form the American Professional Football Association. In 1922, the APFA became the National Football League.

All but one of the remaining Ohio League teams left the NFL after the 1926 season, with one team, the Dayton Triangles, surviving until 1929.


Year Champion W L T Deciding game
1902 Akron East Ends
1903 Massillon Tigers 8 1 0 def. Akron East Ends, 11-0
1904 Massillon Tigers 7 0 0 def. Akron East Ends, 6-5
1905 Massillon Tigers 10 0 0 def. Canton Bulldogs, 10-0
1906 Massillon Tigers 10 1 0 def. Canton Bulldogs, 13-6
1907 Massillon Tigers 7 0 1 [1]
1908 Akron Indians 8 0 1
1909 Akron Indians 9 0 0 def. Shelby Blues, 12-9
1910 Shelby Blues and Shelby Tigers[2] 14 0 1 def. Akron Indians, 8-5
1911 Shelby Blues 10 0 0 def. Canton Bulldogs, 1-0 (forfeit)
1912 Elyria Athletics 8 0 0 def. Akron Indians
1913 Akron Indians 8 1 2 def. Shelby Blues, 20-0[3]
1914 Akron Parratt's Indians 8 2 1 def. Canton Bulldogs, 21-0
1915 Disputed [4]
1916 Canton Bulldogs 9 0 1 def. Massillon Tigers, 24-0
1917 Canton Bulldogs 9 1 0 def. Detroit Heralds, 7-0
1918 Dayton Triangles 8 0 0 def. Detroit Heralds
1919 Canton Bulldogs 9 0 1

Other teams

Further, the Detroit Heralds, though based in Michigan, played many of its games against Ohio teams.

Successor leagues

Ohio Valley League (1925-1929)

Some of the better teams of the 20's, who did not join the NFL existed in the Ohio Valley,[5] and would form an unofficial but recognized circuit - The Ohio Valley League - which resemble the old Ohio League.[6] The "league" collapsed at the beginning of the Great Depression.[7]

The two stronger teams in the league were the Portsmouth Spartans and the Ironton Tanks,[8] that in the year after the circuit died (1930) beat the New York Giants and Chicago Bears,[9] while the Spartans would join the NFL and would later become the Detroit Lions. Two other noteworthy teams were the Armco Corporation employees teams - Ashland Armco Yellowjackets (Kentucky) and Middletown Armco Blues (Ohio), who featured many former college All-Americans, including Red Roberts.[10]


1925 Ironton Tanks (9-1-2)[11]
1926 Ironton Tanks (11-1-1)[12]
1927 Ashland Armco Yellowjackets (7-1-3)[13]
1928 Ironton Tanks (7-1-3)[14]
1929 Portsmouth Spartans (12-2-1)[15]

Ohio Professional Football League (1941)

In 1941, there was a resurgence in pro football in Ohio, as local teams tried to form a new professional league called The Ohio Professional Football League (also known as Ohio Valley League).[16] Six teams came together in an attempt to restore the region's former old glory: The Dayton Dakotas, Dayton Merchants, Cincinnati Pepsi-Colas, Columbus Avondales, Middletown Merchants, and another Canadian team the Thomas Athletic Club from Windsor, Ontario,[17], but they withdrew from the league before the season started.

The circuit operated on a much smaller scale from previous leagues, and did not return for a second season.

1941 League standings
Team W L T PCT
Cincinnati Pepsi-Colas[18] 7 0 0 1.000
Dayton Dakotas[19] 5 2 0 .714
Middletown Merchants[20] 3 3 1 .500
Columbus Avondales[21] 1 5 0 .167
Dayton Merchants[22] 0 7 1 .063

See also


  • Braunwart, Bob; Carroll, Bob (1981). "The Ohio League" (PDF). The Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 3 (7). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-22.
  • NFL.com history pages: 1869-1910 and 1911-1920
  • Sye, Roy. Independent Football History (Sye is Vice-President of the Professional Football Researchers Association committee in charge of researching professional football prior to 1920.)


  1. Massillon won by tiebreaker of common opponents. While both Massillon and the Shelby Blues went undefeated and played each other once to a scoreless tie, Shelby tied the Columbus Panhandles, while Massillon had defeated Columbus twice.
  2. Both teams finished undefeated, but shared so many players that it was impossible to stage a true championship game. Their records were added together and the two organizations shared the title and officially merged in 1911. The Tigers name was spun off to another team.
  3. While Akron is traditionally listed as champions, the Dayton Cadets won the Southern Division title with an undefeated record. Akron and Dayton never faced each other.
  4. The Professional Football Researchers Association lists 1915 as "no clear champion" and discounts Youngstown's competition as subpar. Canton and Massillon, the next two contenders, tied at 5-2-2.
  5. "the Ohio Valley in 1924" (PDF).
  6. "Thorpe's Farewell Season" (PDF).
  7. Bob Gill, with Tod Maher. Outsiders II: Minor League And Independent Football, 1951-1985, St. Johann Press, 2010. ISBN 1878282654
  8. "The "Famous" Ironton Tanks" (PDF).
  9. "1930 Ironton Tanks".
  10. "Armco's Semi-Pro Football Teams" (PDF).
  11. "1925 Ironton Tanks".
  12. "1926 Ironton Tanks".
  13. "1927 Ashland Armcos".
  14. "1928 Ironton Tanks".
  15. "1929 Portsmouth Spartans".
  16. "Dakotas to Stand Pat On Lineup". The Journal Herald. October 10, 1941. Retrieved May 5, 2021 via Newspapers.com.
  17. "2 Dayton Teams In New Pro Football Circuit". Dayton Daily News. September 21, 1941. Retrieved May 5, 2021 via Newspapers.com.
  18. "1941 Cincinnati Pepsi-Colas (OVFL)".
  19. "1941 Dayton Dakotas (OVFL)".
  20. "1941 Middletown Merchants (OVFL)".
  21. "1941 Columbus Avondales (OVFL)".
  22. "1941 Dayton Merchants (OVFL)".
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