The AAFC was founded by Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward on June 4, 1944. Ward was also the originator of baseball's All-Star Game and football's College All-Star Game.
Ward brought together a number of wealthy pro football enthusiasts, some of whom had previously attempted to purchase NFL franchises. Ward had previously encouraged the NFL to expand, but now he hoped to bring about a permanent second league and a championship game with the NFL, similar to baseball's World Series.
On November 21, 1944, the AAFC chose Jim Crowley, one of the "", as its commissioner. Not coincidentally, the NFL commissioner at this time was Elmer Layden, another of Knute Rockne's legendary " Fighting Irish" backfield at the University of Notre Dame.
During the next months, the AAFC's plans solidified. The league initially issued franchises for Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Brooklyn and Miami were later added. A group representing Baltimore was considered for admission, but could not secure use of Baltimore's stadium. The league planned to begin play in 1945, but postponed its opening for a year as World War II continued towards a victorious end.
As the eight franchises built their teams, no move was more far-reaching than Cleveland's choice of Paul Brown as its head coach. Brown had won six Ohio state championships in nine years at Massillon High School and the 1942 national championship at , and had also coached successfully at the military's Naval Station Great Lakes. As coach of the new Cleveland franchise, Brown would become one of American football's greatest innovators and eventually have the team later named for him.