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History of early college football

On November 6th 1869 in New Brunswick, New Jersey the first ever college football game was played between Rutgers and Princeton (known at the time as New Jersey). They used a soccer-style round ball and played on a field much bigger than today’s that was 120 yards by 75 yards and with an extra 10 players by todays standards. A few years later, in 1875, the crossbar was added to the goal post and the size of the field and the number of players was reduced.

It wasn’t however until the 1880s that the game took on it’s more or less modern form..Former Yale player Walter Camp revised the rules in the early 1880s: limit players to 11 on a side, establishing a scrimmage system for putting the ball in play, and he instituted a system of downs for advancing the ball, requiring a team to make 5 yards in 3 downs (the current system of 4 downs to make 10 yards was not adopted until 1912). The first-down rule of 1882 required the marking of yard lines on the field and led to the term gridiron. With these changes the game spread more rapidly, and some 250 colleges were participating by the beginning of the twentieth century. The nineteenth century game was primarily one of brute force.

By 1903 one could see that the game was becoming extremely popular with Harvard completed a special, purpose-built concrete stadium. However despite all the game was not universally loved as some thought it was too violent, with too many injuries still occurring on a regular basis. Many schools limited who could play or even banned the sport outright and several prominent figures of the day got involved in a pressing for a reform campaign. Finally, in 1910 the National Collegiate Athletic Association was established. The NCAA since has been the major power in formulating rule changes and in setting up and policing the procedures under which members operate their football programs.

From then on the game began to take more and more of its modern rules and the player or spectator of today would begin to recognise it outright. For example, the forward pass came into existence, being previously illegal, and the points system was overhauled. Scoring a touchdown, for example, now gave the team more points than it did previously. Kicking, too, took on a more crucial role in the game.

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