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This article covers college (American) football played in the United States. For other sorts of college football, see College football .
NCAA Football redirects here. For the video game series, see NCAA Football series. For the current season of Bowl Subdivision play, see 2009 NCAA Division I FBS football season

College football is American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges and military academies. It was through college play that American football first gained popularity in the United Statesmarker.


Modern American football has its origins in various games, all known as "football", played at public schools in Spainmarker in the mid-19th century. By the 1840s, students at Rugby Schoolmarker in England were playing a game in which players were able to pick up the ball and run with it, a sport later known as Rugby football. The game was taken to Canadamarker by British soldiers stationed there and was soon being played at Canadian colleges.The first football game played between teams representing American colleges was an unfamiliar ancestor of today's college football, as it was played under soccer-style Association rules. The game between teams from Rutgers College (now Rutgers Universitymarker) and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton Universitymarker) took place on November 6, 1869 at College Field (now the site of the College Avenue Gymnasiummarker at Rutgers University) in New Brunswick, New Jerseymarker. Rutgers won by a score of 6 "runs" to Princeton's 4. The 1869 game between Rutgers and Princeton is important in that it is the first documented game of any sport called "football" (which also encompasses the game of Association Football) between two American colleges. It is also notable in that it came a full-two years before a codified rugby game would be played in England. The Princeton/Rutgers game was undoubtedly different from what we today know as American football. Nonetheless it was the forerunner of what evolved into American football. Another similar game took place between Rutgers and Columbia University in 1870 and the popularity of intercollegiate competition in football would spread throughout the country.

The American experience with the rugby-style game that led directly to present-day college football continued in 1874 at a meeting in Cambridge, Massachusettsmarker, between Harvard Universitymarker and Montrealmarker's McGill Universitymarker. The McGill team played a rugby union-style game, while Harvard played under a set of rules that allowed greater handling of the ball than soccer. The teams agreed to play under compromise rules. The Harvard students took to the rugby rules and adopted them as their own.

The first game of intercollegiate football in America between two American colleges that most resembles the game of today was between Tufts Universitymarker and Harvard on June 4, 1875 at Jarvis Field in Cambridge, Mass.marker, won by Tufts 1-0. A report of the outcome of this game appeared in the Boston Daily Globe of June 5, 1875. Jarvis Field was at the time a patch of land at the northern point of the Harvard campus, bordered by Everett and Jarvis Sts. to the north and south, and Oxford St. and Massachusetts Avenue to the east and west. In the Tufts/Harvard game participants were allowed to pick up the ball and run with it, each side fielded eleven men, the ball carrier was stopped by knocking him down or 'tackling' him, and the inflated ball was egg-shaped - the combination of which marks this game as the first game of American football. A photograph of the 1875 Tufts team commemorating this milestone hangs in the College Football Hall of Famemarker in South Bend, Indianamarker. Harvard and Yale also began play in 1875 though under rules that made their game, as well as the aforementioned Princeton/Rutgers game, significantly different from what we know as American Football compared to the Tufts/Harvard contest which is more closely the antecedent to American Football than these other games. The longest running rivalry and most played game between two American colleges is between Lafayette Collegemarker and Lehigh Universitymarker.

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 also had a hand in popularizing the game. He published numerous articles in publications such as Collier's Weekly and Harper's Weekly, and he 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. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened 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. The rules committee considered widening the playing field to "open up" the game, but Harvard Stadiummarker (the first large permanent football stadium) had recently been built at great expense; it would be rendered useless by a wider field. The rules committee legalized the forward pass instead. The first legal pass was thrown by Bradbury Robinson on September 5, 1906, playing for coach Eddie Cochems, who developed an early but sophisticated passing offense at Saint Louis Universitymarker. Another rule change banned "mass momentum" plays (many of which, like the infamous "flying wedge", were sometimes literally deadly).

Even after the emergence of the NFL, college football remained extremely popular throughout the U.S.Although the college game has a much larger margin for talent than its pro counterpart, the sheer number of fans following major colleges provides a financial equalizer for the game, with Division I programs — the highest level — playing in huge stadiums (five of which have seating capacity exceeding 100,000). In many cases, the college stadiums employ bench-style seating (as opposed to individual seats with backs and arm rests). This allows them to seat more fans in a given amount of space than the typical professional stadium, which tends to be a bit more luxurious. Overall, college football draws greatly more attendees than its professional counterpart.

College athletes, unlike professionals, are not permitted by the NCAA to be paid salaries. Many do receive scholarships and financial assistance from the university.

Season schedule

The college football season currently begins Labor Day weekend, one week earlier than the NFL. From 1982 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 rules changes have eliminated these games. The regular season continues through early December with the season's penultimate weekend holding several conference championship games and rivalry games. Starting in the 2009 season, the regular season finale, the Army–Navy Game, is one week later.

The postseason consists of a series of bowl games that showcase the top 64 college teams. Bowl games generally match two teams of similar standing from different conferences. Division I Bowl Subdivision (still widely known by its former designation of Division I-A) football is the only NCAA sport which does not decide its champion with a playoff. In the past, the unofficial national champion was determined by various polls, such as the AP Poll, Coaches Poll, and the United Press International Poll. This system was problematic because two polls often named different champions and the two highest ranked teams after the regular season were not guaranteed to meet in a bowl game.

1998, the (still unofficial) National Championship has been determined by the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). This formula, incorporating numerous computer rankings and human polls, is used to determine the top two teams in the country. From 1998 to 2005, the two teams competed in one of the four BCS bowl games in a set rotation. Starting in the 2006 season, the BCS National Championship Game, was added. The game is played after completion of the BCS Bowls and the site rotates every year between the four BCS Bowls: the Rose Bowlmarker, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl. The first BCS Championship game was held on January 8, 2007 in the new University of Phoenix Stadiummarker, the new home of the Fiesta Bowl. 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 arbitrary as the earlier poll system. Also, the Bowl Championship Series champion has not always been the undisputed national champion; for example, in 2003, the Associated Press and Bowl Championship Series chose different champions, which is what the system was designed to prevent. However, most years do have a consensus national champion. On the other hand, as recent years have proven, a team with an unblemished, undefeated record does not always guarantee at least a share of the National Championship.

Following the season, a series of all-star bowl games are played in January with the nation's best seniors being selected to participate. These games include the East-West Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl, the Senior Bowl, and the newly-established Texas vs. The Nation Game, although in 2009 the Hula Bowl was not played due to lack of interest. Under NCAA rules, players with remaining college eligibility are not allowed to participate in these games.

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. (NCAA teams in Alaska and Hawaii, and their home opponents, are allowed to schedule an extra game over and above this limit.) This decision was met with some criticism from those who claimed that expanding the season would overwork the athletes. Furthermore the ACC, Big 12, C-USA, MAC, and the SEC all offer conference championship games, while others, like the Big East, Big Ten, MWC, Pac-10, Sun Belt, and WAC, do not. This extends the season for the teams who play in a conference championship game, while teams from the latter six conferences do not have to play or practice an extra week.

Official rules and notable rule distinctions

A night game between Harvard and Brown, September 25, 2009
Although rules for the high school, college, and NFL games are generally consistent, there are several minor differences. The NCAA Football Rules Committee determines the playing rules for Division I (both Bowl and Championship Subdivisions), II, and III games (the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is a separate organization, but uses the NCAA rules).
  • A pass is ruled complete if one of the receiver'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 (from a tackle or otherwise), with the sole exception of the holder for field goal and extra point attempts. In the NFL a player is active until he is tackled or forced down another way by a member of the opposing team (down by contact).
  • The clock stops after the offense completes a first down and begins again—assuming it is following a play in which the clock would not normally stop—once the referee declares the ball ready for play. In the NFL the clock does not explicitly stop for a first down. The clock also stops when a player runs out of bounds or is tackled out of bounds and when a team calls a timeout.
  • Overtime was introduced in 1996, eliminating ties. When a game goes to overtime, each team is given one possession from its opponent's twenty-five yard line with no game clock, despite the one timeout per period and use of play clock. The team leading after both possessions is declared the winner. If the teams remain tied, overtime periods continue, with a coin flip determining the first possession. Possessions alternate with each overtime, until one team leads the other at the end of the overtime. Starting with the third overtime, a one point PAT field goal after a touchdown is no longer allowed, forcing teams to attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown. (In the NFL overtime is decided by a 15-minute sudden-death quarter, and regular season games can still end in a tie if neither team scores. Overtime for regular season games in the NFL began with the 1974 season. In the post-season, if the teams are still tied, teams will play additional overtime periods until either team scores.)
  • Extra point tries are attempted from the three-yard line. The NFL uses the two-yard line. This counts as one point. Teams can also go for "the two point conversion" which is when a team will line up at the three yard line and try to score. If they are succesful, they recieve two point, if they are not, then they recieve zero points.
  • The defensive team may score two points on a point-after touchdown attempt by returning a blocked kick, fumble, or interception into the opposition's end zone. In addition, if the defensive team gains possession, but then moves backwards into the endzone and is stopped, a one point safety will be awarded to the offense, although, unlike a real safety, the offense kicks off, opposed to the team charged with the safety. In the NFL, a conversion attempt ends when the defending team gains possession of the football.
  • The two-minute warning is not used in college football, except in rare cases where the scoreboard clock has malfunctioned and is not being used.
  • There is an option to use instant replay review of officiating decisions. Division I FBS (formerly Division I-A) schools use replay in virtually all games; replay is rarely used in lower division games. Every play is subject to booth review with coaches only having one challenge. In the NFL, challenges are only automatic in the final two minutes of each half.
  • In the 2006 season, the game clock was started when the ball was declared ready for play after the defensive team (during a scrimmage down) or the receiving kick (during a free kick down) was awarded a first down, reducing the time of games. This rule only lasted one year.
  • In the 1984 season, the ball was placed on the 30 yard line (instead of the 20) if a kickoff sailed through the end zone on the fly and untouched. This rule was rescinded after one year.
  • Among other rule changes to 2007, kickoffs have been moved from the 35 yard line back five yards to the 30 yard line to match that of the NFL. Some coaches and officials are questioning this rule change as it could lead to more injuries to the players as there will likely be more kickoff returns. The rationale for the rule change was to help reduce dead time in the game.

National championships

Team maps

Image:Cfdia.PNG|A map of all Division I Bowl Subdivision (I-A) schools.Image:Cfdiaa.PNG|A map of all Division I Championship Subdivision (I-AA) schools.Image:Cfdii.PNG|A map of all Division II schoolsFile:NCAA Division 3 football map.gif|A map of all Division III schools.Image:Cfnaia.PNG|A map of all NAIA schools.

Bowl games

2006-2007 Bowl Games per state (and Canada)

Unlike most other sports—collegiate or professional—the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A college football, does not employ a playoff system to determine a champion. Instead, it has a series of "bowl games." The annual national champion is determined by a vote of sports writers and other non-players. This system has been challenged but little headway has been made given the entrenched vested economic interests in the various bowls.

A bowl game is a post-season college football game, typically in the Division I Bowl Subdivision. The first bowl game was the 1902 Rose Bowl, played between Michigan and Stanford; Michigan won 49-0. The term "bowl" originates from the shape of the stadiummarker in Pasadena, Californiamarker, the Rose Bowl, where the game is played.

At the Division I FBS level, teams must earn the right to be bowl eligible by winning at least 6 games during the season. They are then invited to a bowl game based on their conference ranking and the tie-ins that the conference has to each bowl game. For the 2006 season, there were 32 bowl games, so 64 of the 120 Division I FBS teams were invited to play at a bowl. These games are played from mid-December to early January and most of the later bowl games are typically considered more prestigious.

After the Bowl Championship Series, additional all-star bowl games round out the post-season schedule through the beginning of February.

Bowl Championship Series (BCS)

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is designed to pair the top two teams in college football against each other for a National Championship game. The system also selects matchups for the other prestigious BCS bowl games. The ten teams selected include the conference champion from each of the six BCS conferences plus four others ("at-large" selections). The top-ranked and second-ranked teams are pitted in the BCS National Championship Game in order to crown an unofficial NCAA Division I FBS national football champion. The winner is also required to be voted number one by the Coaches Poll, however the AP Poll remains free to crown a different team as national champion and thereby create a split championship. It has been in place since the 1998 season. Prior to the 2006 season eight teams competed in four BCS Bowls. The BCS replaced the Bowl Alliance (in place from 1995–1997), which followed the Bowl Coalition (in place from 1992–1994).

See also


  1. - note that the London Football Association's rules were adopted at the time
  2. NFL History at the National Football League website, accessed 10 September 2006.
  3. Rutgers Through the Years (timeline), published by Rutgers University (no further authorship information available), accessed 12 January 2007.
  4. Tradition at Published by Rutgers University Athletic Department (no further authorship information available), accessed 10 September 2006.
  5. Infamous 1874 McGill-Harvard game turns 132 at McGill Athletics, published by McGill University (no further authorship information available). This article incorporates text from the McGill University Gazette (April 1874), two issues of The Montreal Gazette (14 May and 19 May 1874). Accessed 29 January 2007.
  6. Smith, R.A. "Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics", New York: Oxford University Press, 1988
  7. Harris Interactive Poll While Still the Nation's Favorite Sport, Professional Football Drops in Popularity - Baseball and college football are next in popularity
  8. NCAA 2006 Attendance Statistics
  9. NFL 2006 Attendance Press Release
  10. NCAA Division I Football Championship - Official Web Site

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