Today's Tidbit… 1876 IFA Rule #4: Goal
This is #4 in a series covering football’s original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
Rule 4: Each goal shall be composed of two upright posts exceeding 11 feet in height from the ground and placed 18 feet 6 inches apart, with a cross-bar 10 feet from the ground.
Football's original rules did not specify where to place the goals, though everyone knew to place them in the middle of the boundary lines at the ends of the field, lines that became known as goal lines. (When the goal posts moved to the end line in 1927, they could have renamed the goal line to the touchdown line or something similar, but they chose not to.)
Despite being seemingly simple objects, the goal or goalposts have substantially changed over the years. Early goals were temporary, often using ropes or wires as the crossbar, and the uprights rose only a foot or two above the crossbar.
However, rugby and football scored goals by kicking the ball over the crossbar rather than under it like soccer, so the uprights grew taller. The NCAA now requires them to rise at least forty feet above the field.
The safety goalpost showed up in 1900. They planted both posts a yard or two behind the goal line and used braces to extend the crossbar and uprights over the goal line. Many continued using the H goal posts, though Amos Alonzo Stagg wrapped the posts with mattresses in 1906 to enhance player safety.
The goal posts sometimes interfered with play and players' health, so they were pushed back ten yards in 1927 with the added benefit of making extra point kicks more difficult.
Of course, the NFL moved the goal back to the goal line in 1933 and left them there until 1974, so stadiums hosting professional and college games sometimes struggled to swap one set of goals for another, forcing them to leave both sets on the field.
In 1959, the college football authorities decided field goals had become too rare, so they widened the space between the uprights from 18 feet 6 inches to 23 feet 4 inches. The high schools followed the colleges in 1971, and when the NCAA returned to 18 feet 6 inches in 1991, the high schools stuck with the wider version.
The fork or slingshot goalpost with one center post came on the scene in 1966. Those are used today by all but a few Luddite schools that insist on doubling their postal danger.
Football's goalposts have been unchanged since 1991. The NCAA and NFL goals share their location and width. The high school crossbar and uprights also rise above the end lines, but are wider, while the CFL goals have minded their own business on the goal line since their game began.
For previous stories in the series, click Intro | Rules #1 Drop Kick | #2 Place Kick | #3 Punt
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