Early Years of College Football Facts

Early Years of College Football Facts

Games involving the kicking and carrying of a ball can be traced back to Medieval Europe and, also, early Native American societies. In the first decades of the 1800s, contests such as “ballown” “Bloody Monday,” and the “Boston game” were played on an intramural basis at Ivy League schools such as Princeton, Harvard, and Yale.

These games were actually primitive versions of soccer with 20 or more players on a side, and, due to their physical, free-for-all nature, were often called “mob ball.“ Rules, if there were any, varied from school to school. By 1869 these games had expanded to become contests between colleges.

Rutgers vs. Princeton in the First College Football Game

Rutgers met Princeton on November 6, 1869. It is considered as the first intercollegiate game of American football. There were 25 players on a side. Catching, carrying, and throwing the ball were not considered as illegal, writes Malaysia betting website.

Rutgers won the game six goals to four. A rematch was held about a week later using Princeton rules, one of which was the rewarding of a “free kick” to a player who caught the ball. Princeton won this game eight to zero. More details on the first game can be found at Rutgers University’s website and the New York Times.

Harvard vs. McGill University of Montreal

By 1873 Rutgers, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Tufts, and Stevens Institute were regularly fielding intercollegiate football teams. Harvard wanted to also, but was having a hard time scheduling opponents because its rules, based on the “Boston game,” included running with the ball. Their insistence on this rule would help to bring about modern football.

In the spring of 1874 Harvard and Montreal’s McGill University agreed to meet in two games of football. The first game would be based on Harvard rules and the second on McGill rules, which, based on rugby, allowed not only running the ball, but also throwing it laterally or backwards.

Equally important, McGill’s rules included the “try.” Under this rule, if a player ran the ball past his opponent’s goal line and “touched it down,” he was given a opportunity to score by a free kick. This rule later evolved into the present day touchdown.

After the two games, both the McGill and Harvard players agreed that the Canadian version was far superior to its American counterpart. By the late 1870s, the seven other American colleges playing intercollegiate football were also in agreement. Now came the problem of standardizing the rules.

Walter Camp Becomes the Father of American Football

By the mid-1870s the number of players on a side was set at 15 and the “touch down” was recognized as a score. However, many of the rules were still determined on a school-by-school basis and the games themselves still lacked many of the features of today’s sport.

It would take Walter Camp (1859-1925), a former Yale player and later a businessman, sports writer, and coach, to lead the way in codifying a basic set of rules. Among the innovations either created or encouraged by Camp over a ten year period (1879-1889) were:

  • The number of players on a side was reduced from 15 to 11.
  • The creation of a standardized field, 110 yards (with no end zones) by 53 1/3 yards. This was later changed to 100 yards with end zones.
  • The establishment of a line of scrimmage, with seven players designated as linemen and four as backs. (For several years though, linemen could still position themselves in the backfield.)
  • The creation of “down and distance.” Teams had three downs to make five yards.
  • Each play was to be initiated by the center kicking or “heeling” the ball back to the quarterback. Later, the use of hands to “snap” the ball back was allowed.
  • The creation of the safety. There previously had been no penalty for a player being tackled behind his own goal line.
  • The standardization of scoring rules. Touchdowns were four points, two points for kicks after touchdowns, five points for field goals, and two points for safeties.
  • Set the length of each game at 90 minutes, divided in equal halves.
  • Paid officials.

In recognition of his accomplishments as the “Father of American Football,” the Walter Camp Award is presented annually to the collegiate player voted Football Player of the Year.

An 1890 or early 1900 game of football was more recognizable today than the one from 1869. But, as evidenced by the first Rose Bowl game, the sport still had a long way to go.

American Football Traces History to 1880

In 1866 Beadle’s Dime Book of Cricket and Football was published in New York City. It defined, for the first time, some of the earliest terms and “laws” intrinsic to what was then a relatively new sport in the United States: American football.

Similar to the contemporary development of rugby in England, American football was a popular university intramural, with games resembling athletic brouhahas because each school played its own version. In an historic match that blended aspects of soccer, rugby and football, Princeton and Rutgers played the first intercollegiate football game in 1869. Rutgers won six goals to four.

Walter Camp Contributes Important Rules and Helps Define American Football

Four years later, representatives from Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers and Yale met to establish the first intercollegiate rules of play for football. By 1874 players were permitted to run with a football – now oblong instead of round – and kick a goal after scoring a touchdown. This forerunner of the extra point was originally worth more than the touchdown itself.

Walter Camp, a star player at Yale University who made significant contributions to the creation of American football, crafted several major hallmarks of the game in 1880, including

  • The concept of downs, giving each team a period of definite ball possession. In rugby, teams battle for possession after every play.
  • The line of scrimmage, which takes the place of the rugby scrum (the interlocking pack of players that battle for possession).
  • Kicking the ball to an opponent after three downs.
  • Reducing the size of the playing field.
  • Limiting the number of players on the field.

As a result of definite possession, teams soon devised the quarterback position. In Camp’s day, football was a running game, and the quarterback’s main duty centered on handing off the football. Most plays ended in a big pile-up on top of the ball carrier.

Significant Milestones in the Evolution of American Football

Throughout the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th, football continued to evolve into the game Americans love today. The following timeline provides several important milestones:

1882 – The playing field is marked with white lines at five-yard intervals along the width of the field, creating the well-known gridiron.

1883 – Uniform scoring is established, including five points for a goal kicked from the field of play, four for a goal on the free kick after a touchdown, two for a touchdown and one for a safety.

1888 – Tackling below the waist is allowed for the first time. To protect the ball carrier, offensive lines line up shoulder to shoulder.

1889 – First All Americans are selected for Harper’s Weekly.

1891 – First college football game is played at night under lights at Yale.

1895 – Big Ten conference is organized.

1897 – The touchdown is given a five-point value and the goal after the touchdown is reduced to one point.

1902 – First Rose Bowl is played on New Year’s Day at Tournament Park in Pasadena, Calif., between Michigan and Stanford.

1906 – The forward pass is legalized.

1909 – The field goal is reduced from four points to three.

1912 – The touchdown is given the point value of six, and the length of the football field is reduced to 100 yards with endzones. Teams are allowed four downs instead of three.

1916 – Pac-10 is formed.

1927 – Goals posts are moved 10 yards back from the goal line to the end line. The first College All-Star game is played at Soldier Field in Chicago.

1935 – First Heisman Trophy is awarded to Jay Barwanger, halfback for University of Chicago.

1951 – First televised college game is broadcast to a national audience.