Wondering when and where college football originated? Let’s go back all way to 1869 when the first documented college football game took place. The match was between Rutgers University and the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton) and took place in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The teams were only made up of 25 players and the goal of the game was to kick the ball through the other team’s goal. The rules back then were quite different. Players were allowed to bat the ball with their heads, hands, feet, and sides and were permitted from carrying or throwing the ball. With few rules, this meant violence and injury were common and these rough games often led to widespread protests and many people wanting to abandon the sport altogether. Scoring was also quite different. Back then, there were 10 games played within one full game and every time a team scored, they were awarded a point and began a new game. The final score between the Rutgers and New Jersey was 6-4, Rutgers.
By 1873, several schools starting developing intercollegiate teams and students were making strong efforts to standardize the game. By this time, the only way to score was to bat or kick the ball through the opposing team’s goal and the game was broken into two 45 minute halves. Representatives from Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers planned a meeting this same year to codify the very first set of official rules for intercollegiate football. Representatives for Harvard refused to meet with the other school’s representatives because they were playing a rougher version of the game called “The Boston Game” where players could run with the ball, pass it, dribble it and the player with the ball could be tackled. As a result of their refusal to attend the rules conference meeting, it made it difficult for them to schedule games against other schools.
The following year, in 1874, Harvard challenged the rugby team of McGill University to two games; one to be played under Harvard rules and another under the strict rugby regulations of McGill. Harvard beat McGill in the “Boston Game” and tied the second game 0-0. Harvard students then took to the rugby rules McGill used and adopted them as their own. These series of games represents one of the biggest milestones in the development of our modern day American football. In 1876, representatives from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia met once again to standardize a new code of rules based on the rugby game that was introduced from the Harvard and McGill match.
Following the introduction of the new rugby-style rules, a man named Walter Camp (the Father of American Football) made a few changes reducing the number of players from fifteen to eleven. His most famous change to the rules was establishing the line of scrimmage and the snap from the center to the quarterback. Camp’s new scrimmage rules revolutionized the game of football.
In the early 1930s, the college sport continued to grow and quickly became one of the most popular watched sports until the introduction of professional football. Several major college football conferences arose during this time like the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. Over the years, the rules continued to change and develop into what we know and recognize today.