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Today's Tidbit... 1876 IFA Rule #37: Kickoff Timing
This is #37 in a series covering football's original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
Rule 36 told us kickoffs occur from the center line, cannot count as goals, and the opposing team must stand at least ten yards back from the ball. Rule 37 tells us when kickoffs should occur.
Rule 37: The ball shall be kicked off (i) at the commencement of the game (ii) after a goal has been obtained.
By 1881, the rule makers recognized they had omitted how to start the second half. Totten's Laws of Athletics and General Rules (1881) indicates that the IFA's Rule 37 reads as follows:
Rule 37. The ball shall be kicked off: i. At the commencement of the game, ii. After a goal has been obtained, iii. After change of goals at half-time.
Likewise, the 1883 IFA rule book includes Rule 25, which reads:
The ball shall be kicked-off at the beginning of each half; and whenever a goal has been obtained the side which has lost it shall kickoff.
All three rules tell us that teams kicked only after goals, not touchdowns. Touchdowns had some value, but their primary worth came in giving the team scoring the touchdown an opportunity for a free kick at goal or a puntout, which could lead to a free kick at goal.
The ball remained live following a missed kick at goal. Typically, the defensive team recovered the ball beyond the goal line and touched it down. Since football did not yet distinguish touchbacks and safeties, the defensive team performed a kick-out from their 25-yard line. Like the procedure following today's safety, they drop-kicked the ball to the team that missed the goal kick. If the kicking team recovered a missed kick at goal, they either scored another touchdown or ran a play from scrimmage, depending on where they recovered the ball.
Another oddity of the early rules was that the team that had been scored on kicked off. However, since the kicking team commonly dribbled the ball a few inches before picking it up, the kicking team gained possession of the ball. This led to the development of the flying wedge in 1892, which was eliminated in 1894 by requiring kickoffs to travel at least ten yards. That rule change led kicking teams to kick the ball deep, hoping to obtain a field position advantage. The strategy worked when evenly matched teams played one another but resulted in dominant teams retaining possession for much of the game. In 1898, the Western Conference gave the team that was scored on the choice to kick or receive. The NCAA adopted the same rule in 1903. Teams almost always chose to receive the ball, so fans seldom knew the option existed. Still, referees asked team captains whether they wanted to kick or receive after being scored on until 2003, when they eliminated the choice.
Click the appropriate link for previous stories in the series:
Intro | #1 Drop Kick | #2 Place Kick | #3 Punt | #4 Goal Posts | #5 Goal | #6 Goal ≠ Punt | #7 Scoring | #8 Dead Ball | #9 Touchdown | #10 Tackle | #11 Scrimmage | #12 Ball Handling | #13 Dead Ball | #14 Scrimmage Ball Handling | #15 Run In | #16 Goal Line | #17 Boundary Lines | #18 Crying “Down” | #19 Maul In | #20 Maul in Pax | #21 Touch-in Goal | #22 Onside | #23 Offside | #24 Return to Onside | #25 Defensive Offside | #26 Throwing Back | #27 Knocking On | #28 Fair Catch | #29 Punt-out | #30 Punt-On | #31 Into Touch | #32 Inbounding | #33 Pushed Into Touch | #34 Right Angle Throw Out | #35 No Fair Catch | #36 Kickoff
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