History of Football » College Football
Photo: college football

History of College Football

Modern day football grew out of a combination of a sport resembling rugby, played at the time in Canada, and an earlier version of soccer.

Photo: football stadium

As colleges formed teams and had to come up with a standard set of rules everyone could follow, American football was born.

The first meeting to establish these rules occurred on October 18th, 1873 in New York City when members of Yale, Columbia, Rutgers and Princeton met. But the evolution of the game of football as we understand it today grew out of a competition between Harvard University and McGill University where the two styles of sport each team had been playing were fused. Harvard adopted these rules and spread them in America.

In these earliest college football games, each football team had a total of 25 team players.  Several years later in 1873, the number of players on teams was lowered to a total of twenty team players.  Three years later in 1876, the limit was lowered to fifteen players per team.  Four years after that in 1880, only eleven players were allowed on a college football team and this regulation remains in effect today.

Also it is important to note that Walter Camp, often referred to as the “Father of American Football” was responsible for declaring many of the specific rules of football. He also selected the earliest College Football All-American Team.

First College Football Games

The first technical game of college football was played in New Brunswick, New Jersey on November 6, 1869. The game was played between Rutgers University and the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University. This game was much closer to soccer than modern day football, however.  The first game of college football played the way it is recognized today was played between Harvard and Yale in 1875 following the Harvard, McGill game.

College Football Becomes Less Brutal

In 1906, the game of football was popular, but very violent and players endured injuries so bad that they sometimes resulted in death.  Since the sport was very popular at campuses around the nation, the President of the United States at that time, Theodore Roosevelt, insisted upon the need for improving the game’s safety.  This maneuver eventually resulted in new game rules that improved the safety level of all concerned.  Rules that changed included the addition of the forward pass, the opening up of the game so that fewer injuries would occur like those common in mass rushing maneuvers, and the use of a downs system was put into place.

Following WWII, collegiate football players were starting to become eligible for scholarships.  Simultaneously, the quality of football gaming saw tremendous improvements.  The improvements were implemented because many college teams were affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or the National Collegiate Athletic Association.  The latter organizations oversaw competitions between college teams and ensured rules were followed. 

The first uniforms worn for college football gaming were created in the late 1870s; these uniforms consisted of an orange lined jersey, stockings, knee pants made with black material, a jacket, tightly laced and made of canvas.  Of course, this kind of uniform offered very little in the way of bodily protection.  In addition, by 1885 there was only one referee that monitored the football game. Within a decade’s time, this grew to three referees for each game.  Later, in 1915, a field judge was also added to the line of officials that monitors college football games.  In 1955, a back judge was added.  In the early 1970s a line judge was added to the officials of the game and by the early 1980s a side judge was also added. 

Historic College Football Rivalries Begin

College football was popular in the world of writing too; college games were commonly reported in national newspapers, local papers, and people were interested in the outcome of college gaming.  Some of the earliest of the football rivalries to crop up include those between Alabama and Auburn in 1893; the Holy Cross and Boston College beginning in the year 1896; West Virginia and Pittsburgh starting in 1895, and the Navy and the Army beginning as early as 1890. Sports fans remained enthralled with the events between the latter football teams and how every game unfolded.

Football championship gaming started in 1902 with a game between Stanford and Michigan in a game then sponsored by the Tournament of Roses Association.  Michigan proved the victor in the game with a score of forty-nine to zero.  The game proved so exciting and popular that it became a yearly event.  Later, the Rose Bowl Stadium was created and the site derived its name from the games previously sponsored by the Tournament of Roses Association.  Later, in the 1940s there were five additional championship football games created including the Cotton Bowl, the Sun Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Rose Bowl.

Today there is a National College Football Hall of Fame too. This shrine is for all of those that have achieved major accomplishments in amateur football including coaches and players.  There have been well over five million coaches and players involved in college football, but only a little over one thousand individuals have made it into the prestigious Hall of Fame.  This site was at one time moved to Ohio in King Mills, but by 1995 it was again moved to South Bend.  For more information visit http://www.collegefootball.org/history.php