The game of football did not just suddenly appear at colleges in the Northeast part of the US when it got started in the country. Versions of the game had already been played in Europe for generations. The English called it Rugby and boasted, “It takes leather balls to play Rugby.”
Truly the game was rougher and tumble than any of the more “civilized” games practiced in 18th century America such as golf, tennis and even the emerging sport of baseball, which also had its roots in games imported from Europe. Ironically, it was British soldiers up in Canada who seem to have been responsible for bringing the games over to this side of the world.
NCAA Football Starts With Princeton
In fact, there was a game recorded that was called ‘football’ way back in 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers. Scores in this contest were called ‘runs’ and Rutgers won the game 6 runs to 4. Other colleges in the Northeast such as Harvard, Yale and Tufts also had notable ‘football’ teams during this era. However, there were no standardized rules in effect going from college to college.
Princeton did make an early effort to write down the rules and regulations, but they were never widely adopted by other schools. Their version was played on a field ‘at least 500 feet in length and 300 feet wide with 25 players to a side.
Seems like a lot of guys out on the field? No worries, in 1879, the rules were modified to allow only 20 players on a side, playing on a field that was reduced to 400 feet long and 250 feet broad. Wouldn’t you just love to go back and witness one of these games?
The First NCAA Overhaul
In the 1890’s there was a player turned coach at Yale named Walter Camp who became known as the ‘Father of Football’, and Coach Camp did a lot to earn that nickname. He first set up a scrimmage line instead of a scrum line bringing a certain amount of order to the sport. Camp also set up the 11 man team system with 7 on the line and 4 in the backfield along with most of the scoring norms still in use today.
But even beyond that, Walter Camp was a true champion of the sport of football. He wrote many articles in the popular magazines of the day such as Collier’s Weekly and Harper’s Weekly which went a long way toward popularizing the new sport of college football on campuses across the country with the American public. Such was the popularity of Walter Camp in the world of collegiate football in America that he actually got to choose the very first All-American team, all by himself.
Then in 1905 the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA, was formed, ostensibly to ‘fix’ the game of football. Some believed that the game did not require fixing, but there was the NCAA to make it all better. Some things never change.
President Teddy Roosevelt was actually instrumental in the formation college football rules and norms and it was his influence that led to the formation of the early NCAA.
Player Protection Makes An Entry
Back in those days players wore very little in the way of protective equipment and the game became more and more violent to the degree that several deaths were recorded and President Roosevelt stepped in and threatened to ban the sport if something was not done about the injury situation. The folks charged with implementing these changes eventually became the NCAA.
University administrations were crying out and threatening to ban the sport of football from their campuses if something was not done to keep their students safe. New rules were put into place limiting the on field violence and modifying, or inventing, more and better protective equipment for the players. Since then, things have continued to get more restrictive, but the excitement of the game continues.