Today's Tidbit... Checking In On Late-1950s Substitution Rules
We tend not to think about football's substitution rules anymore other than when the officials delay the game to allow defenses to swap players following offensive substitutions. Under today's free substitution rules, players come and go so often individually, in packages, as special teams, or with possession changes that they all blend into a constant flow in and out of the game.
As covered previously in a broader article about the history of substitutions in football, football began without substitution and then allowed limited substitution before switching to free substitutions. The rules permitted free substitutions starting in 1941, but coaches did not begin using the two-platoon approach until 1945. The colleges returned to single-platoon football in 1952 for two reasons. One was the persistent belief that football players should be all-around players, not specialists, and the second was that
two-platoon football increased the size of rosters, coaching staffs, and expenses, which proved problematic for the NCAAA's small colleges. At the time, the NCAA did not have tiers separating the football factories from the smallest small colleges. Each member's vote counted the same as the others, and since there were more small college members than the big boys, the little guys forced their will on specific issues, including pulling back on substitutions in 1952.
Still, more liberal substitution rules benefited the players at the little liberal arts colleges since more students entered games than in the past, so they allowed the slow march toward open substitution. (Also, the big boys threatened to break away from the NCAA, a club they continue wielding today.)
Anywho, by 1957, the rules allowed the eleven players on each team in the game on the first play of each quarter to be subbed out and reenter the game once in that quarter. The 1958 substitution rule took it further by allowing all players to leave and reenter the game once per quarter.
The practical challenge for enforcing those rules was tracking which players were in and out of the game each quarter, a task that had to be handled on the field, not in the press box. The game officials managed the process by requiring each player on the field to check in with an official before the first play of each quarter. (One official handled the team on one sideline, while another dealt with the opposite.) Typically, the officials had a handy scorecard with columns for each quarter listing the numbers 0 to 99. When a player wearing that number checked in during the first quarter, they circled the number in the first quarter's column and marked it with an X when the player left the game. A similar process occurred when players reentered the game during that or subsequent quarters.
As shown in the image below, the requirements led to lines of players checking in each quarter and generally delayed the game whenever someone substituted during the quarter.
In 1959, the old Border Conference adopted basketball's check-in system by placing an additional official along each sideline to handle the process and relieve the on-field officials of that burden.
Of course, the rulemakers eventually saw the light. They eliminated the limits on individual player substitutions, so the check-in process went away, and by 1964, football adopted free substitution rules. Despite the rules allowing unlimited substitutions, most teams continued substituting players individually. The regular use of package substitutions did not emerge until the mid-1980s as NFL defenses reacted to the Dallas Cowboys using their shotgun or spread formation on third downs.
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