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1910: The Forward Pass And The Fight For The Soul of College Football

I have started a new YouTube channel called Hardcore College Football history.

Normally what you do is examine a social media service like YouTube, Instagram, etc, and look at what’s popular, then create a channel around that.

I looked at College Football History. There’s very little of it out there, and what is out there is quite frankly wrong. Or glossed over in favor of “glory stories”.

So.... I’ve decided on this adventure. I hope you’ll join me. I haven’t done a lot of these, but I’m planning on many more.

Summary:

In 1910, college football underwent significant changes due to the fatalities and injuries in the 1909 season, which were not caused by media sensationalism like the 1905 crisis. Despite rule changes after 1905, the sport remained dangerous, particularly due to mass play. The 1909 crisis, highlighted by high-profile deaths, led to a demand for reform. The Intercollegiate Athletics Association, later the NCAA, focused on eliminating mass play, outlawing the diving tackle, and making the forward pass more effective. Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, dominant in college football, resisted these changes, particularly the forward pass, to maintain their success and financial benefits.

The 1910 rule changes included allowing substitutions, shorter game periods, defining and penalizing crawling, and modifying the quarterback’s role. The diving tackle was targeted due to a fatal injury in 1909. Rules required seven players on the line of scrimmage and banned interlocked interference to eliminate mass play. The forward pass rules were complex, limiting the pass length and defining receiver eligibility, leading to the introduction of pass interference rules.

These changes successfully reduced fatalities and serious injuries. In 1910, football-related deaths dropped from 29 to 16, though most victims were young players, indicating a need for better supervision. The season saw many scoreless ties and complaints about the new rules, but overall, the changes were seen as a success in reducing injuries and evolving the game. The 1910 reforms laid the foundation for modern American football, moving away from mass play and expanding the forward pass, despite ongoing resistance and the need for further changes.

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