Discover more from Football Archaeology
Today's Tidbit... The NCAA First Required Face Masks in 1993
Football is a rough game with a history full of attempts to limit the number of player injuries. Rules were enacted to reduce injuries, including early football's bans on slugging and hacking. Rules requiring seven players on the line of scrimmage and only one player in motion reduced the dangerous mass and momentum plays. Clipping, piling on, spearing, and targeting penalties are also intended to minimize injuries.
Beyond the rules, players and, later, sporting goods manufacturers created nose guards, shoulder pads, headgear, and other equipment to protect against the worst of the blows. With few exceptions, advances in equipment designs did not result from those with formal authority over the game but from players, some coaches, a few tinkers, and numerous suppliers. Moreover, the rules requiring players to wear protective equipment almost always came after its use was widespread.
This point was never made clearer than the NCAA's rule requiring players to wear face masks, which they waited until 1993 to enact. That is not a typo. They waited until 1993 to add that rule.
Despite players donning nose guards in 1892, the emergence of executioner-style masks in the late Teens, and the rise of birdcage masks in the 1930s, college football players did not have to guard their faces until the 1990s. This situation occurred despite the NCAA, junior colleges, and high schools making grasping another player's face mask illegal in 1957. The NFL did the same in 1962.
It is hard to say how this situation occurred since the new rule received limited media coverage. In addition, the rules committee chair, John Adams, provided conflicting explanations. In July 1993, Adams said:
It seems there never was a rule for facemasks. Everyone had worn them for years but nobody realized they weren't mandatory. Now, they will be.
Ramirez, Steve, 'Colorado State Tackles Toughest Schedule,' El Paso Times, July 24, 1993.
Two months later, Adams provided a different perspective:
We've known all along that the facemask rule wasn't on the books. You would never see a player a player without one, but we just finally got around to making it official.
Fuson, Wayne, 'Time Out",' Indianapolis News, October 1, 1993.
So, there you have it. College football players were welcome to have their teeth knocked out by their facemask-wearing brethren until 1993. Only then did the NCAA take the fun out of the game.
Comment below if you know of a rule enacted later than most would have expected.
Subscribe for free and never miss a story. Support this site with a paid subscription, buy me a coffee (or two), or buy one of my books.