The consensus is that the first intercollegiate football game was played between Rutgers and Princeton on November 6, 1869 with Rutgers winning 6-4. The length of this game was determined by who got to 6 points first. A week later, these same two teams played another game won by Princeton 8-0 (the length of the game was changed to who got 8 points first.
Field: 70 yards wide by 140 yards long.
Scoring: A goal (rushing TD) = 1 point.
Ball: Round and made of rubber.
1873: Players on each team reduced to 20.
1875: Shape of ball changed to an egg-shaped, leather covered ball similar to that used in rugby.
1876: The American Intercollegiate Football Association formed by Princeton, Rutgers, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale.
Scoring: Rush TD = 1 point; FG = 4 points.
Goal Posts: 18-1/2' wide, cross-bar 10' high, and set on the goal line (no endzones).
Players: Reduced to 15/team with each team required to have 9 players on the line of scrimmage, 1 quarterback, 2 halfbacks, 1 three-quarterback, and 2 fullbacks. [Notice that backfield positions got their names from the distance they were from the line of scrimmage which was called the "rush line" back then because passing wasn't allowed].
Game Length: Set at 90 minutes.
Getting a 1st Down: 3 downs to make 5 yards. This necessitated the marking of yard lines on the field which led to the term "grid iron."
Signals: Introduced to start plays on offense.
Players: Reduced to 11/team.
Scoring: Rush TD = 4 pts; FG = 4 pts; Safety = 2 pts.
Substitutions: Allowed only for disqualified or injured players.
1884: Scoring changes:
TD = 2 pts. (down from 4)
PAT = 4 pts.
FG = 5 pts. (up from 4)
Safety = 1 pt. (down from 2)
1885: Changed scoring again:
TD = 4 pts. (up from 2)
PAT = 2 pts. (down from 4)
FG = 5 pts.
Safety = 2 pts. (up from 1)
1888: Blocking with extended arm(s) banned.
1893: Flying-Wedge banned.
1894: American Intercollegiate Football Association ended and replaced by a rules committee comprised of representatives from Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale with Walter Camp heading the committee.
Game Length: Changed to 70 minutes with two 35-minute halves.
Motion: No more than 3 offensive players in motion at the snap.
1897: Scoring changes:
TD = 5 pts. (up from 4)
PAT = 1 pt. (down from 2)
FG = 5 pts.
Safety = 2 pts.
1904: Scoring changes:
TD = 5 pts.
PAT = 1 pt.
FG = 4 pts. (down from 5)
Safety = 2 pts.
1905: President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban football by Executive Order if steps weren't immediately taken to make the game safer. In 1905, 18 football players died nationally and, in 1908, another 33 died. Also, there were some 300 disabling injuries during this 4-year period. Along with many other schools Cal suspended playing football (1906-14) until the game could be made safer. In response, The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (later called the NCAA) was founded to remove the excess violence from the game.
Tackling: No tackling out-of-bounds or below the knee, no striking the ball carrier in the face, no hurdling or piling on after the play was called dead by the referee. Prior to this time a play ended only when the ball carrier said "down."
Foul Play: Had a penalty of half the distance to the goal and ejection of the offender.
Blocking: No locking of legs except for the 2 players on either side of the center.
Formation/Motion: Offense had to have 6 players on the line of scrimmage and only 1 player (down from 3) could be in motion at the snap. Any player moving from the line of scrimmage had to be replaced before the snap.
Game Length: Shortened to 60 minutes with two 30-minute halves.
Getting a 1st Down: 3 downs to make 10 yards (up from 5 yards).
Neutral Zone: Increased to the length of the ball.
Forward Pass: Legalized but with severe restrictions/consequences. An incomplete pass, a pass hitting an ineligible receiver, or a pass not thrown within 5 yards of the middle of the field (hash marks added) resulted in a turnover. A pass completed in the endzone was a touchback and a turnover for the defenders.
1908: Western & Jefferson became the 1st team to put numbers on their jerseys.
Formations: 7 players required on the line of scrimmage and all mass-formation plays ended with the prohibition of interlocking legs or arms.
Ball Carriers: Crawling or pushing/pulling the ball carrier banned.
Tackling: Flying tackle banned.
Forfeiture: Score set at 1-0.
1909: Scoring changes:
TD = 5 pts.
PAT = 1 pt.
FG = 3 pts. (down from 4)
Safety = 2 pts.
1910: Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the U.S. changes name to NCAA.
Game Length: Divided into 4 15-minute quarters with a 30-minute break between halves.
Substitutions: Until now, a player leaving the game could not return. This was changed to allow a player to return at the start of the next quarter.
Forward Pass: Couldn't be any longer than 20 yards and had to be within the hash marks located 5 yds on either side of the field center line.
On-side Kick: Had to travel at least 20 yards.
1912: Considered the beginning of modern day football.
Getting a 1st Down: 4 downs (up from 3) to make 10 yards.
Field: Length set at 100 yards (down from 110) with 10 yard endzones established.
Forward Pass: A completion in the endzone changed to a TD instead of a turnover; an incomplete pass now a loss of down instead of a turnover; and all distance restrictions removed.
Scoring: TD set at 6 points (up from 5).
Ball: Size standardized at 22" to 28-1/2" around the ends and 22-1/2" to 23" around the middle.
Forward Pass: A pass touched by an eligible receiver that went out-of-bounds became a turnover where the ball went out-of-bounds.
Kickoffs: Moved to mid-field from the 40-yard-line.
1922: PAT set at 5-yard line.
1924: PAT set at 3-yard line.
Coin-toss: Winner allowed to choose whether to receive or defend.
Kickoffs: Moved back to kicking team's 40-yard-line.
1926: 5-yard penalty imposed for an incomplete pass.
Goal Posts: Moved to back of endzone from the goal line.
Time Between Plays: Set at 30 seconds.
Fumbles: Defense prohibited from advancing a fumble recovery.
PAT: Moved to the 2-yard-line.
1934: Ball made a little more streamlined for passing by reducing the circumference around the middle down to 21-1/4" to 21-1/2".
1937: Official stats maintained for the first time and all players required to have numbers on their jerseys.
Helmets: Required though started being used in late 1890's.
TV: First televised game played between Fordham and Waynesburg.
1940: Time allowed between plays lower to 25 seconds (down from 30).
1941: Single platoon football ended with free substitution except during the last 2 minutes of the 1st half.
1942: 5-yard penalty imposed for delay of the game.
1945: First true 2-platoon game played by Michigan against the great Army Team with Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis - Army still wins 28-7.
1951: Face masks made legal.
1952: Single platoon football re-instituted - substitutions allowed only at the start of each quarter.
1958: PAT set a 3-yard line (from the 2) and the option of kicking for 1 point or running/passing for 2 points given.
Goal Posts: Widened to 23' - 4" (up 4' - 10").
Substitution: Free substitution of a single player allowed any time.
1965: 2-platoon football re-instituted after 13 years with free substitution allowed any time.
1966: Tie games eliminated by introduction of overtime rules.
1967: Player numbers required to conform to position played with offensive players from 50-79 ineligible to receive a pass.
1973: Mouth guards required.
Kicking Tee: Disallowed for FG and PAT attempts.
PAT: Defense awarded 2 points for returning a blocked kick or intercepted pass to the opponents goal line.
1991: Goal posts narrowed to original 18' - 6".
1992: Defense also given 2 points for returning a PAT fumbled outside the endzone to the opponents goal line.
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