In 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt threw the gauntlet: Football, reform your brutal ways or be banned!
His decree triggered a battle between the good ol’ boys Rules Committee and college presidents sick and tired of seeing their student-athletes being killed and maimed on the football field (18 died in 1905). In December, ’05, the warring groups merged into what would eventually become the NCAA.
By the spring of 1906, they rewrote the rules of football with a mission: Pry open the “mass attack” game of ground and pound and brawl in the middle of the field, and spread the game to the entire field. Here are the major rule changes from the inside out.
- Six men have to be on the line, eliminating mass formations charging the line with skull-cracking consequences.
- The neutral zone is established, ending the practice of linemen physically abusing each other before the snap, and protecting the center from the same.
- The first down requirement goes from 5 to 10 yards to be gained in 3 downs. Doubling the yardage encourages offenses to avoid scrums only good for small gains, and innovate plays for longer gains. (The 4th down was added in 1912.)
- Hurdling cleats-first into or over players is now illegal. (Tough on a face or head without a helmet.)
- And the biggest game-changer…the forward pass is legal!
Next: In the earliest version of “Deflategate,” how the Rules Committee took some air out of the forward pass by trying to kill it with penalties.