Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Breaking up the Flying Wedge | by Jay

In researching the previous post, I came upon a neat history of the NCAA. Did you know that the NCAA was formed mainly in response to the brutality and violence of early-century football? It's true. You could look it up.

"As more schools picked up the game and the rules developed over time, football became a body-slinging battle that often resulted in severe injuries. There was no forward pass, no neutral zone between teams and no limit to how few players could be on the line at once. 

"Hurdle plays" were permitted, allowing teams to literally pick up and launch their ball carrier over the opposing line. Mass-momentum plays, whereby the runner is protected by a moving "V" or a "flying wedge" of players, gained popularity as a way to advance the ball, but they also increased the game's violence as linemen were permitted to do almost anything to run over the opposition. There were no helmets, mouthpieces or face guards, and the few primitive pads that existed were of little benefit to the athlete. As football's critics got louder, it was obvious that there was need for reform. State legislatures debated making it illegal and several colleges and universities banned the sport, but the loosely formed national football rules committee only offered up a few changes to the game. "To make matters worse," wrote football historian Col. A. M. Weyland, "there was no authoritative body that could take the necessary action." 

The 1905 college football season produced 18 deaths and 149 serious injuries, leading those in higher education to question the game's place on their campuses. "One human life is too big a price for all the games of the season," said James Roscoe Day, chancellor of Syracuse University. The game might have died that year had it not been for the nation's chief executive officer, President Theodore Roosevelt, a Harvard man, football fan and former student-athlete. 

On October 9, 1905, before the bloody season had even finished, Roosevelt called representatives of Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House to discuss the game's future. Roosevelt was clear: Reform the game or it will be outlawed, perhaps even by an Executive Order of the President himself. After hearing of the President's concerns, the existing rules committee made some changes to the game, but there was still no national athletics organization with the power to force the committee to completely reform football. 

  Then Henry M. MacCracken, the chancellor of New York University, took it upon himself to call a meeting of football-playing institutions of higher education. Thirteen attended that first meeting in New York City on December 9, 1905, and the schools decided to reform the game and meet again, on December 28. At that meeting, 62 schools are represented. 

Capt. Palmer E. Pierce of the U.S. Military Academy suggested creating a formal association, the National Intercollegiate Football Conference. Representatives from the other schools agreed with the idea, but decided to leave out the word "football," thus creating the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS). The delegates also created a new IAAUS football rules committee and invited the old football rules committee to participate, which they eventually agreed to do. What was known as the "amalgamated" committee made many changes to the game, including approving the forward pass, prohibiting hurdling and mass-momentum plays (by requiring at least six men on the offensive line), and increasing first-down yardage to 10 yards. 

The game was saved, and by the issuing of a formal constitution and bylaws on March 31, 1906, the Association -- still the IAAUS for another four years -- was created."