The One With the Rule Changes

Saturday, January 30, 2010

So I've said that I would examine every year of college football in order to find the top teams in each year of college football and I'm realizing that the project is pretty involved and I could probably spend weeks just setting up a scenario where we could compare teams across years or attempt finding the definitive best team of any given year. Teams are different year to year and there is no way to compare teams across years - just as there is no way to compare college football of one year to the game of a different year with completely different rules.

Considering I don't necessarily want to spend years on this project I must issue the caveat that this is by no means an attempt at scholarly study of college football, just a shot at determining top college teams. I do hope to present a complete study of each year- in this project I hope to take note of all undefeated teams and consider not only the records of the top teams, but the strength of these teams and their schedules. Hopefully I can get it to a point where I roll from year to year with a minimum of explanation on the rule changes and more focus on the teams and results.

Year to year results are one thing - I can post the records and champions of a given year and simply move on to the next year, but without context it would be easy for the reader to lose the real historical value within the evolving game of college football.
In that respect, this project begins with an examination of the history of the rules of football, which I hope to lay out here in one place and revisit as we reach the appropriate years on each year's blog post. Again, this is not a scholarly work, and some information may not be complete. For instance this list is heavy on the rules from the 1800's as because those will be the first years I post about, obviously in chronological order.
This list should provide a sufficient frame of reference on which to examine past years of college football considering that football's earliest years were so different from today. I do expect to revisit this same post with more information on rule changes from later years and add in the specifics of some of the early rule changes - such as the effect of the early conventions on football rules notes on some of the parties that took an interest in football's rules at these early stages. This list is far from complete, but if I continue working on just this I won't ever get around to examining the actual teams, so I'm going to post this today.

Much of the information found here was obtained from John Sayle Watterson's amazing book College Football: History, Spectacle and Controversy as well as from Tom Perrin's equally enjoyable book College Football: A History. I will continue due diligence researching this list as the project goes forward but I'm certain that most problems with the following information will be with things I've left off the list and not errors of content.

With no further ado let's examine the rules of college football from 1869-1972...

The first year of football was in 1869 and the game featured 25 man teams, no officials and a round rubber soccer ball. The game played between Princeton and Rutgers resembled soccer or Ultimate Frisbee more than modern football, but this game is the agreed upon starting place for American football. The field of play in that first year was 120x75 yards and the ball was advanced by kicking or batting the ball with the hands or by dribbling as in basketball.

With Nov. 6 1869 as college football's starting date, here is a time line of important dates in the development of American football rules

1869 Goals count as 1 point

1870 Columbia joins Princeton and Rutgers in a mutual series of football.

1871 No games

1872 The field of play was 400 ft.x 250 ft. Yale defeats Columbia 3-0 under rules that modified the original 'association code'. Harvard played with their own running rules, different than the other colleges and found Canadian Rugby playing schools to play.

1873 Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers and Yale assembled in convention on Oct. 18th 1873 and drafted rules based on the 'association' style of the game. Round ball 30 inches in circumference, 20 players per team.

1874 McGill met Harvard @ Cambridge (using their own set of rugby style rules. 1st game Harvard won, 2d game was a scoreless tie (Harvard then converted to Rugby style Rules)

1875 2000 fans appeared for Harvard/Yale football game which was played under "concessionary rules", with each team accepting certain rules from either set of rules. Harvard 4 Yale 0 Walter Camp in attendance and these Harvard 15 men per side. Intercollegiate Football Association formed where modified rugby union rules were set.

1876 Princeton, Harvard, Columbia and Yale assembled in convention on Nov 26, 1876 for the purpose of adopting Rugby Union Code, forming an American Intercollegiate Football Association and scheduling games, all of which were done. Goals worth 4 Touchdowns with winner being decided by a majority of touchdowns. As per Rugby rules: Game was two 45 minute halves and tackling permitted above the waist only. Goal posts 10 feet high and 18 feet across. 15 players per team.

1878 Nov. 24, Princeton/Yale for the first so-called nat. champ game

1879 Field of play: 140 yards x 70 yards. Oval ball 27 inches in circumference

1880 11 players per team. Scrimmage line invented taking the place of the rugby scrum, field 110 yards x 53.5 yards.

1881 Field 100 yards x 53 yards. Single possession football where a team with the ball could prevent the other team from holding possession of the ball - origin of Princeton "Block tactics". - In case of a tie two additional periods of 15 minutes added to games and kicks from touchdown were given precidence over kicks from the field.

1882 Abolishment of "Block system" of tactics by the institution of a system of downs and yardage to gain. (3 downs to gain 5 yards or lose 10 yards). Settlement of players into positions: seven "forwards", one quarter-back, two half-backs and one full-back.
4 Touchdowns given precedence over a goal from field and two safeties = one touchdown.

1883 Safety - 1 point, Touchdown= 2 pts, P.A.T.= 4 pts, Field Goal= 5 pts

1884 No more than 3 players permitted in motion from the backfield at the start of a play.Scoring- safety = 2 pts, P.A.T.= 2 Pts, Touchdown= 4 pts. "V formation" credited to both Princeton and Lehigh, start of mass momentum plays. Blocking or interference began on offensive plays.

1888 Players in the backfield not permitted to block with extended arms. Tackling extended to below the waist but not below the knees. Offensive formations become tighter with the new tackling rules.

Amos Alonzo Stagg devises a new formation "Ends back" to give linemen room to set up interference on plays.

1892 Harvard introduced the "Flying Wedge". Post score kickoff from the 50 yard line.

1893 Introduction of the flying principle to all interference... blockers began moving before the ball was put in play. This began the popularity of "turtleback" and push plays. Princeton graduate Phillip King came up with Wing Backs - Double Wing formation situated in such a way that the guards could jump back and form an oval in the backfield to create a 'revolving backfield'.

1894 Harvard and Penn withdraw from the Intercollegiate Football Association. University Athletic Club of New York invites Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale to form a rules committee, which was done. Game becomes two halves of 35 minutes each. Momentum and mass plays abolished, strict rules against blocking defenders.

1895 Field marked every 5 yards with lines parallel to goal line. These lines marked the distance the offense needed to make in 3 downs for a first down. Only one man in forward motion before the snap. No more than three players in the backfield. Seven players required on line. Two sets of rules emerge... one sponsored by Yale, Princeton and Navy the other sponsored by Harvard Penn and Cornell. Harvard, Penn and Cornell continue their insistence on using mass momentum plays.

The sport was viewed as too rough and the two rules committees merged. ends anchored and 5 players required on line, 6 required behind line. 2 players required to be 5 yards back or outside the end man on the line. One player permitted in lateral motion. Helmets emerged.

1898 Touchdown= 5 pts, P.A.T.= 1 pt.

1903 Seven or required on the line depending on field position (between the 25 yard lines) Lines 5 yds apart added to the field perpendicular to the yard lines and quarterback was limited to crossing the scrimmage line beyond five yards from where the ball was snapped.

1904 Field goal= 4 pts

1905 Any body part within 12" of ball's position determined to be "on the line". Any player subbed out of a game may not return.

1906 Forward pass introduced. 5 yard lines added parallel to sidelines. These helped officials judge the new forward pass rules. Player receiving the snap couldn't cross the line of scrimmage inside 5 yards of where the ball was snapped. Ball could only be passed forward to a receiver within the same longitudinal 5 yard zone.

1909 Field Goal = 3 pts

1910 Longitudinal lines removed as the ball could be passed to a receiver anywhere on the field, but passer had to be at least 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. 7 players required on line. A Player subbed out could return

1912 22.5-23 inches around middle of ball. Field of play 100 yards long not including end zones 10 feet deep. Touchdowns increased to 6 points. Fourth down added. Modern passing rules in full effect according to John Heisman.

1913 A player subbed out could return at any point of the 4th quarter.

1914 Prior to 1914 teams kicked off from their end zone after a safety or touchback - this year started scrimmage from the 25 yard line. A forward pass falling incomplete out of bounds after being touched by an eligible player form either team given to opponent.

1916 When guards and tackles were removed from the line they were required to be at least 5 yards into the backfield in order to be eligible to receive a forward pass.

1917 Incoming substitutes prohibited from advising other players until after one play had passed.

1922 P.A.T. taken from 5 yard line,with a choice of place kick, drop kick or forward pass. A player subbed out in the 1st half could return in the 2nd half, a player subbed out in the second half could not return

1923 Onside kicks abolished.

1924 P.A.T. taken from 3 yard line. Kickoff from the 50 yard line. All kicking tees abolished.

1925 Kick off moved again to the 40 yard line. Coin toss winner offered choice of kick off or side of field.

1926 Penalty of 5 yards and loss of down for a each incomplete pass after the first incompletion in the same series of four downs.

1927 Goal Post taken off goal line moved to back of end zone. Time limit on huddle - 15 seconds. Missed backward pass except for snap ruled a dead ball and not a fumble. Fumbled snap back for punt ruled a dead ball and not a loose ball.

1929 21.25-21.5 inches around middle of ball.

1930 A player could be substituted for another at any time but the player removed could return only once and not in the same half he was subbed out. Backward passes and fumbles out of bounds between goal lines resulted in ball being given to the team who touched the ball last. Stop period on shift plays fixed at at least one second.

1931 Penalties on try for extra point for the defense penalized by moving the ball half the distance to the goal line. Previously the defense just conceded the point.

1932 A player could return at any time after the period he was subbed out.

1933 Incomplete forward pass into the end zone becomes a loss of down instead of a touchback.

1935 White stripes added to ball.

1941 A player could sub in at any time (except for the last two minutes of a half) but could not be withdrawn or the original player had to come back in for at least one play. Platoon football made legal

1953 Platoon football abolished, players could enter a game only once per quarter.

1954 thru 1964 yearly rule changes moving toward more liberal substitution rules and platoon football.

1959 Goal posts 23'4" wide from 18'6"

1969 Use of rubber ball allowed

1973 College football split into Division 1, Division 2 and
Division 3

1978 Division 1 football split into Division 1-A and Division 1-AA.


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