1881-1882 Association Foot Ball Summary

by Melvin Smith

The most important foot-ball issues during this season took place outside the fields of play. To offset the two ‘block games’ played by Yale and Princeton in 1880 and 1881, Walter Camp introduced new changes to the Intercollegiate Football Association’s (IFA) rules in the spring of 1882. Plus he and the IFA broke with the New York City British rugbeans’ request to stop changing the rugby rules.


There were five college varsity teams playing the kicking game, known as association football in 1881. They are listed by their records:

       TEAM                  RECORD        PF        PA
Richmond Coll                 2-0-0        6g        0  
Washington & Lee Univ         1-0-0        12g       1g  
All-Cornell Univ (NY)         0-1-0        2g        3g      
Virginia Military Inst        0-1-0        1g        12g
Randolph Macon Coll           0-2-0        0         6g

Four of the five teams come from the state of Virginia. At the junior level, there were at least thirteen teams with recorded games. The Clark Commercial College of Titusville, PA, defeated the Titusville HS, and the 2-year Mansfield Normal School (now University) tied the 2-year Potts Business College, 0-0. These were the only teams to play outside games. The rest of the junior teams did not play any outside teams.


For discussion purposes, twelve varsity teams are listed by their records playing America’s version of the rugby game. The seasonal records and total points scored versus those points allowed are shown below:

      TEAM               RECORD        PF          PA        
Yale Coll                  5-0-1    9g,15t,6s       33s
Princeton Coll             7-0-2   24g,32t,8s       39s 
Harvard Univ               7-1-2   16g,24t,7s    1g,1t,19s   
Dartmouth Coll             1-0-1      1t,1s         1s 
Columbia Coll              3-3-1    6g,5t,22s    4g,7t,12s 
City Coll New York         1-1-1    5g,4t,3s      12g,15t 
St Johns (Fordham) Coll    1-1-0       1t          3g,4t  
Stevens Tech               1-2-1    4g,4t,10s    12g,9t,5s 
Rutgers Coll               2-4-1   11g,15t,30s  6g,10t,10s 
Amherst Coll               0-3-2       12s       6g,13t,6s   
Univ of Michigan           0-3-0       11s        3g,5t,1s
Univ of Pennsylvania       0-5-0      1t,16s      16g,21t

The Yale/Princeton/Harvard triumvirate of the Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) was already in place. They would dominate the foot-ball scene, first in rugby and then in football, for many decades to come. It was customary to list a safety under the team doing it. However, it was attributed to the team causing it when the tally was done. For example, the score for the Yale-Harvard game played on 11/12/1881 is written 0-4s. Yale won because there was a stipulation if four safeties, which were scored by one team and caused by another, then the winning team would be the one causing the safeties. Yale caused these safeties so they won. This confusing type of scoring was also becoming a big area of contention.

Many people were really dissatisfied after the second Yale-Princeton game ended in a 0-0 tie. It was played on Thanksgiving Day at the Polo Grounds (#1) on 11/24/1881. A letter appeared in the New York Herald two days later. It was written by ‘A Resident Englishman’. He criticized the Yale-Princeton football match. An article titled ‘Suggestions’ is found in the Daily Princetonian of 12/02/1881; Vol. 6, #10, pps. 117-118. It ‘suggests;’…..’when one side has had the ball down twice in succession, on the third down the half-backs should be obliged to kick, or forfeit the ball’. Walter Camp may have been aware of this article before he came out with the series of downs rule. Camp was already contemplating more changes to the rules to stop the ‘block games’. A NY Herald article on 12/09/1881 tells of a movement to form a football association. It woull use the present English rugby rules. Mr. James Rankine, of the Staten Island Cricket Club, was the first man to push for the formation of this club.

An article in the 12/18/81 NY Herald lists all the men who played a practice game of rugby on the St George Cricket Grounds in Hoboken, NJ. The ‘Reds’ team beat the ‘Blues’ team 2 tries to 1 try. On 12/22/81, the British Football Club received a challenge from Columbia College to play a game in January. The British FBC decided it was not time yet to play any outside games.

The NY Times of 01/01/1882 tells about another British FBC practice game played at the Polo Grounds. Another article on 01/05/82 in the Herald says the purpose of the British Club was to promote, in America and especially in New York City, the rugby game of football as played in England. The Trenton State Gazette on 02/25/82 tells of an Intercollegiate Football Ass’n (IFA) meeting in NYC at the 5th Avenue Hotel. W. O. Osborn of Princeton was elected president.

On 04/07/82, an article in the NY Herald tells of a meeting to be held ‘tomorrow’ between the British FBC and representatives from several college football teams. Walter Camp had consented to this meeting and delegates from Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Princeton were invited. Camp had already devised rule changes to stop the ‘block game’ played the last two years between Yale and Princeton. This meeting was to discuss the rugby union rules with a view to establishing a uniform code of rules for the coming season. Another article in the NY Times of 04/09/82 tells of objections to the American rules of rugby made by the British players. Mr. E. H. Moeran, who presided over the meeting, thought the ‘American game of foot-ball should be crushed in its infancy’. He asked the Americans to cancel all rugby rule changes now. Walter Camp and the delegates from Princeton, Yale, Columbia and Harvard disagreed. Camp decided to make a final decision on the matter at the next meeting of the IFA; called for 04/29/82.

On the 29th of April, 1882, the British rugby rules were rejected by the IFA convention. Walter Camp then proposed the series of downs rule. An article by Camp appears in the Baseball Magazine; Vol. II; #1; Nov. 1908; pps. 46-48. He tells of the meeting, ‘…This caused a lively discussion, and many hands went up in horror. Much serious discussion ensued and the suggestion was not generally approved. But finally one of the Harvard delegates joined with me, and as a result, the rule was tentatively adopted with the proviso that if on upon the occasion of the next meeting, being held in October, the rule had not proved a success, it should be abandoned.’

The series of downs rule and other changes were not passed at this time. The colleges would try the downs rule in the fall and then decide to accept or rule it out at the scheduled 10/14/1882 IFA meeting. A Toronto Globe article on 05/08/82 is titled, ‘American Inter-Collegiate Rules’. It notes there was a motion by Columbia to adopt the English rugby rules at the 04/29 meeting, but it was ‘negatived’. The article listed the several proposed rules changes. An article in the Harvard Crimson for 05/04/82 also lists some of the rule changes.

All discussions in the newspapers then seem to stop. Everyone seemed to be waiting for decisions to be made in the fall with the new rules.

College Football Historical Society (CFHS) Newsletter; Vol. XXIV, #3, May 2011

Last update: August 20, 2011

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