1876-1877 Association Foot Ball Summary

by Melvin Smith

This article summarizes the American college foot-ball season of 1876/77. The kicking game or association game of foot-ball (early soccer) reaches an early pinnacle of play in the United States this season. The carrying game or the early rugby game begins to increase significantly this season. A table below shows the number of teams playing the early soccer and rugby games during a period surrounding the 1876/77 season. The number of teams include both college varsity and class teams.

      CODE                         SEASON
              1874/75   1875/76   1876/77   1877/78   1878/79
Early Soccer     39        33        46        27        21                   
Early Rugby       9        12        17        43        52   

It shows about 80% of the teams played the soccer style of foot-ball during the 1874/75 season. By 1876/77, about 73% of the teams played the kicking game of soccer. Many teams in the northeast United States then dropped the early soccer game for the rugby game after 1876/77. By the 1878/79 season, only 29% of the teams were playing the early soccer game.

For discussion purposes, nine varsity teams are placed in the senior level of the soccer game and five teams are listed as division I under the rugby game during 1876/77. Two of these teams played both types of games during the season. Columbia played four soccer games and one rugby game. Princeton played three soccer games and two rugby games.

Here are the varsity teams listed by W-L-T records under both the early soccer and rugby games:

     SOCCER-STYLE                              RUGBY-STYLE 
Princeton Coll           3-0-0     Yale Coll               3-0-0
Washington & Lee Univ    2-0-0     Harvard Univ            4-1-0
Rutgers Coll/NBTS        1-0-0     Tufts Coll              2-0-1
Columbia Coll            2-2-0     Columbia Coll           0-1-0  
Stevens Tech             2-2-0     Princeton Coll          0-2-0    
Univ Pennsylvania        1-2-0     
City Coll New York       0-1-0
New York City UNIV (NYU) 0-1-0
Virginia Military Inst   0-2-0


In the association/soccer-style games, Princeton scored fifteen goals and did not allow a goal. Twelve goals were scored while playing the University of Pennsylvania twice. The association rules of 1873 were used. It would be Penn’s only varsity year playing the early kicking game. Washington & Lee scored fourteen goals and allowed three. Rutgers players combined with the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) team this season and beat Steven Tech, respectively. Captain Andrew Raymond of the Rutgers/NBTS team came from the NBTS.

Columbia scored thirteen goals and allowed eight. They beat Stevens 4g-0 and lost to Princeton 0-3g. In both these games, the goals were kicked over 10-foot cross-ropes. Stevens Tech scored fifteen goals and allowed ten. The City College of New York and New York City University (NYU) each lost big-time to Columbia and Stevens Tech. VMI only scored three goals while Washington & Lee was scoring almost five times that number in the two games played with each other.

At a lower level of play, the University of California 1880 freshmen team defeated the California FBC of San Francisco in an outside game. The Worcester Free Institute (now Worcester Polytechnic Institute) beat the Worcester Classical & English HS (now Doherty Memorial HS). The Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute had at least a 1-1-1 record playing outside teams. In an off year, Rutgers College beat the Rutgers Grammar School, but they lost to the New Brunswick Theological Seminary before the two teams combined.


On November 7, 1876, the football association of Princeton College sent out a call to Yale, Harvard and Columbia to meet and form a conference playing the rugby-style game, not the soccer-style game. The delegates met Saturday, November 26th in the Massasoit House in Springfield, MA. There were 61 rules devised from the British rugby union rules of 1871. There would be 15 players a side. The biggest argument came over the 7th rule – how to score the game. The decision was made that a match game was to be determined by touchdowns and one goal would equal four touchdowns and a goal took precedence over four touchdowns (see Parke H. Davis, Football: The Intercollegiate Game, 1911).

The British had also changed their rule #7 in November 1875 to read, ‘a match to be decided by goals. If no goals are obtained, then the match is to be decided by tries’. The British also changed the number of players from 20 to 15 in late 1876 (see Rev. F. Marshall, ‘Football: The Rugby Union Game’, 1892).

In the rugby-style games, Yale would score a total of 5 goals and 7 touchdowns (5g,7t) while allowing 4t in their undefeated year. Harvard scored 4g,13t versus 1g,1t scored against them. Harvard beat the best team in Canada by a 2g,3t-0 score. Tufts College played a lower level schedule to get a 2-0-1 record. They were tied by the Boston Resolute Athletic Club. Columbia played only one rugby game with Yale, but was able to score a touchdown against the undefeated team. Stevens Tech lost their one game of rugby played with Columbia. Princeton used 20 men while winning the three soccer-style games and 11 and 15 players while losing the two rugby-style game against Yale and Harvard, respectively (see Frank Presbry & James Moffat, ‘Athletics at Princeton: A History, 1901’.

At a division II level, the Harvard 1880 frosh had a 4-2-0 record playing mostly outside teams. Their wins came over the Adams Academy, the Resolute Athletic Club, Phillips Academy of Andover and the Yale 1880 Freshmen. Their two loses were to the Harvard 1878 Junior and 1879 Sophomore class teams. The University of Michigan 1877 Seniors won the campus championship and possibly played the Chicago Foot-Ball Club on 11/17/1876. No other information has been found. A proposed game with the old Chicago University did not come to pass.

Intercollegiate Football Researchers Ass’n, College Football Historian, Vol. 3, #2, March 2011

Last update: August 20, 2011

Back to American Soccer History Archives main page