The Australian Football League (AFL) is the highest-level professional competition in the sport of Australian rules football. Through the AFL Commission, the AFL also serves as the sport's governing body, and is responsible for controlling the Laws of the Game. The league was founded as the Victorian Football League (VFL) as a breakaway from previous Victorian Football Association (VFA), with its inaugural season commencing in 1897. Originally comprising only teams based in the Australian state of Victoria, the competition's name was changed to the Australian Football League for the 1990 season, after the admission of teams from other states, namely Queensland and Western Australia, in 1987.
The league currently consists of 18 teams spread over five states of Australia, although the majority (ten teams) are still based in Victoria. The most recently admitted teams to the competition are the Gold Coast and the Greater Western Sydney Football Clubs, which respectively began play in 2011 and 2012. The AFL season currently consists of a pre-season competition (currently branded as the "NAB Cup"), followed by a 23-round regular (or "home-and-away") season, which runs during the Australian winter (March to September). The top eight teams then play off in a finals series culminating in the AFL Grand Final, which is held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground each year. The winning team in the Grand Final is termed the "premiers", and is awarded the premiership cup.
AFL players are drawn from a number of sources; however, most players enter the league through the AFL Draft, held at the end of each season. A small number of players have converted from other sports, or been recruited internationally. Prior to the nationalisation of the competition, a zoning system was in place. At the end of the season, the best 22 players and coach from across the competition are selected in the All-Australian team. Other awards include the Brownlow Medal, awarded to the player judged the "fairest and best" throughout the regular season; the Coleman Medal, awarded to the player kicking the most goals throughout the regular season; the Norm Smith Medal, awarded to the player judged best on ground in the Grand Final; and the Rising Star Award, given to the most outstanding young player in the competition.
The AFL is the best-attended sporting league in Australia, and averaged 32,748 people per game over the 2012 season. According to market research, the AFL is the second-most-watched sporting event in Australia, behind cricket.