College football

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College football was the venue through which American football first gained popularity in the United States. College football remains extremely popular today among students, alumni, and other fans of the sport.


The first game played between teams representing different colleges or universities was played on November 6, 1869 between Rutgers University and Princeton University, at College Field (now the site of the College Avenue Gymnasium), New Brunswick, New Jersey. Rutgers won, by a score of 6 to 4. As the score would seemingly indicate, the game bore little resemblance to the game of today. The rules of that game were the 1863 rules of the English Football Association, the basis of the modern form of soccer.

The development of the American game can be traced to a meeting between the Harvard University and McGill University football teams in 1874. The two teams were used to playing different brands of football — the McGill team played a rugby-style game, while Harvard played a soccer-style game. The teams agreed to play under compromise rules, and from this meeting the game of football began to evolve in both the United States and Canada.

Walter Camp, known as the "Father of American Football," is credited with changing the game from a variation of rugby into a unique sport. Camp is responsible for pioneering the play from scrimmage (earlier games featured a rugby scrum), most of the modern elements of scoring, the eleven-man team, and the traditional offensive setup of the seven-man line and the four-man backfield. Camp not only shaped the game, but also had a hand in popularizing it. He published numerous article in publications such as Collier's Weekly and Harper's Weekly and chose the first College Football All-America Team.

College football increased in popularity through the remainder of the 19th century. It also became increasingly violent. President Theodore Roosevelt threatened, in 1906, to ban the sport following a series of player deaths from injuries suffered during games. The response to this was the formation of what became the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which set rules governing the sport. One of the resulting rule changes was the introduction of the forward pass. Another was the banning of "mass momentum" plays (many of which, like the infamous "flying wedge", were sometimes literally deadly).

Prior to the founding of the National Football League, and for a few decades thereafter, college football was the predominant venue of American football. Innovations in strategy and style of play originated in college football and spread to the pro game gradually. It was not until the post-World War II era that the pro game achieved ascendancy in the eyes of the average American sports fan.

Even with the emergence of the NFL, college football remains extremely popular throughout the U.S. Because the accessibilty of the pro game is limited to major urban areas, the college game is especially popular in more rural areas; some particularly notable examples of this may be found in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama and Iowa.

Although the college game has a much larger margin for talent than its pro counterpart, the sheer number of fans following major college provides a financial equalizer for the game. With Division I programs playing in, and consistently selling out huge stadiums (several of which have seating capacity exceeding 100,000). However, a lack of a pro franchise is not necessarily an indicator of where the college game is most successful; for example, in Ohio, Texas and Florida -- states which all have multiple NFL franchises -- there are universities that also rank in the upper financial echelons of the college football. Generally, college games are played on Saturdays, while professional games happen on Sundays. This arrangement has allowed the two games to flourish simultaneously, rather than compete with one another.

The season schedule

The college football season begins two to three weeks earlier than the NFL, toward the end of August. Until 2003, the regular season was officially ushered in by the Kickoff Classic (other pre-season games such as the Eddie Robinson Classic and the Pigskin Classic have also been played). Recent NCAA policy changes have eliminated some of these games. The regular season continues through early December, ending with the annual Army-Navy Game and several conference championship games on the same weekend.

The postseason consists of a series of bowl games that showcase top college teams. Bowl games generally match two teams of similar standing from different conferences, although some pit a high ranked team from a smaller conference aganist a lower ranked team from a more prestigious one. Division I football is the only NCAA sport which doesn't decide its champion with a playoff. In the past, the unofficial national champion was determined by various polls, such as the Associated Press Poll, CNN/USA Today Coaches Poll, and the United Press International Poll. This system was problematic, as two polls often named different champions.

Since 1998, the National Championship has been determined by the Bowl Championship Series. This formula, incorporating numerous computer rankings and human polls, is used to determine the top two teams in the country. The two team compete for the championship in one of the four BCS bowls. This system is not without controversy. Some critics argue that the system unfairly favors teams from large conferences, and that the process used to select the teams can be just as ambigous as the earlier poll system.

The season concludes with series of all-star bowl games in January. These include the East-West Shrine Game, the Gridiron Classic, the Hula Bowl, and the Senior Bowl. However, the Gridiron Classic was recently declared cancelled for 2006 due to lack of sponsorship.

The length of the season has gradually increased over the course of the game's history. In spring 2005, the NCAA ruled that teams could schedule twelve regular-season games (up from eleven) beginning in the 2006 season. This decision was met with some criticism from those who claimed that expanding the season would overwork the athletes.

In the spring, many colleges stage a scrimmage between their offensive and defensive players. The spring game generally comes at the conclusion of spring practice.


Although rules for the high school, college, and NFL games are generally consistent, there are some differences. The NCAA determines the regulations for Division I, I-AA, II, and III games (The NAIA is a separate organization). Some unique rules are:

  • A pass is ruled complete if one of the reciever's feet is inbounds at the time of the catch. In the NFL, both feet must be inbounds.
  • A player is considered down when any part of his body other than the feet or hands touches the ground. In the NFL a player is activie until he is tackled by a member of the opposing team.
  • The play-clock is stopped when a first down is achieved, until the first-down markers are moved to the new line of scrimmage.
  • When a game goes to overtime, each time is given one posession from its opponent's twenty-five yard line. The leader after those possessions is declared the winner. If the game is still tied after the overtime period, the next team to score wins.
  • Two-point conversions are attempted from the three yard line. The NFL uses the two yard line.

For a more general discussion of football rules, see The rules of American football.

National championships

NCAA divisions and conferences

NCAA Division I-A

NCAA Division I-AA

NCAA Division II

NCAA Division III

Defunct Conferences and Teams

NAIA Conferences

College Bowl Games

Bowl Championship Series

Other Current Bowl Games

All-Star Games

College football awards

See also

External links

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