Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Mystique of the Expansion, Violence and Controversy Behind American Football



The Mystique of the Expansion, Violence and Controversy Behind American Football

By Chino Kafuu
The Daily Magi
September 17, 2069

College football expanded greatly during the last two decades of the 19th century. In 1880, only eight universities fielded intercollegiate teams, but by 1900, the number had expanded to 43. Several major rivalries date from this time period. In 1879, the University of Michigan became the first school west of Pennsylvania to establish a college football team. Other Midwestern schools soon followed suit, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Minnesota. The first western team to travel east was the 1881 Michigan team, which played at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The nation's first college football league, the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives (also known as the Western Conference), a precursor to the Big Ten Conference, was founded in 1895.

The first nighttime football game was played in Mansfield, Pennsylvania on September 28, 1892 between Mansfield State Normal and Wyoming Seminary and ended at halftime in a 0–0 tie. Led by legendary coach Fielding H. Yost, Michigan became the first "western" national power. From 1901 to 1905, Michigan had a 56-game undefeated streak that included a 1902 trip to play in the first college football post-season game, the Rose Bowl. During this streak, Michigan scored 2,831 points while allowing only 40.

From its earliest days as a mob game, football was a violent sport. The 1894 Harvard-Yale game, known as the "Hampden Park Blood Bath", resulted in crippling injuries for four players; the contest was suspended until 1897. The annual Army-Navy game was suspended from 1894 to 1898 for similar reasons. One of the major problems was the popularity of mass-formations like the flying wedge, in which a large number of offensive players charged as a unit against a similarly arranged defense. The resultant collisions often led to serious injuries and sometimes even death.

The situation came to a head in 1905 when there were 19 fatalities nationwide. President Theodore Roosevelt reportedly threatened to shut down the game if drastic changes were not made. However, the threat by Roosevelt to eliminate football is disputed by sports historians. What is absolutely certain is that on October 9, 1905, Roosevelt held a meeting of football representatives from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Though he lectured on eliminating and reducing injuries, he never threatened to ban football. He also lacked the authority to abolish football and was, in fact, actually a fan of the sport and wanted to preserve it. The President's sons were also playing football at the college and secondary levels at the time.

Meanwhile, John H. Outland held an experimental game in Wichita, Kansas that reduced the number of scrimmage plays to earn a first down from four to three in an attempt to reduce injuries. The Los Angeles Times reported an increase in punts and considered the game much safer than regular play but that the new rule was not "conducive to the sport." Finally, on December 28, 1905, 62 schools met in New York City to discuss rule changes to make the game safer. As a result of this meeting, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, later named the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), was formed. One rule change introduced in 1906, devised to open up the game and reduce injury, was the introduction of the legal forward pass. Though it was underutilized for years, this proved to be one of the most important rule changes in the establishment of the modern game.

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