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The Origins of College Football in the United States

NCAA Football: Temple at Cincinnati

When a person comes to the United States for the first time, or watches American sports on television, they may not be too sure why college football is so popular. 

Admiring national teams and even club sides is common around the world. In sports such as cricket, soccer, rugby, or hockey, there are millions of passionate fans of club and international teams in every country on earth. 

However, the United States is unique in how it inspires passion and loyalty from the millions of fans who follow college football. These are not only people who have an interest in football bets and the latest odds, but those who care deeply about the schools and areas they are supporting. 

Below is an in-depth explanation of the origins of college football in the United States. 

How collegiate sport began 

Much like a majority of the college sports in the United States, college football began through the elite colleges in the Eastern part of the country. The first college football game took place in 1869 between Rutgers University and Princeton University. 

What is interesting about this first game is that it represented the sport that Americans have come to know as soccer a lot more than it did football. However, the rules of the game were eventually altered, and by the late 1800s, the sport of college football had found its feet in the Eastern part of the country. 

One of the key men behind the rule changes in football, which led to the game’s present format, was Walter Camp. An outstanding athlete in his youth, Camp enrolled at Yale University in 1976. He became a fixture at Massasoit House conventions at college, where the rules of the sport were debated and eventually altered. 

Even the scoring of the sport changed drastically over the years. For instance, a touchdown was worth 2 points in 1883, 4 points in 1883-1897, 5 points from 1898-1911, and eventually 6 points from 1912 to the present. Other scoring attempts, such as field goals, conversions, and safeties also awarded different points as the game progressed. 

The creation of college football leagues 

By 1890, the sport of college football was going through a rapid expansion. There were teams popping up around the country, with college officials realizing that football could be a great way to get their schools on the map. 

The next few decades saw the formation of the NCAA, or the National College Athletic Organization, which is responsible for the organization and rule setting of various college football leagues and games. The expansion of the sport in the East, Midwest, South, and Southwest meant that having a single league was no longer an option for college football. 

Instead, the sport went on to split itself into various leagues and championships. Teams would play other schools within the same region, while schools also wanted to compete against others who were aspiring to reach a similar level to themselves. 

What’s next for college football? 

One of the most interesting conversations around college football in the United States involves the compensation that athletes receive, or the lack thereof.  

The fact that players can be in the lineup for four consecutive years for a school that wins countless games and trophies and makes a lot of money in the process, but not receive a paycheck is surprising to many people. 

Not only does the sport make a lot of money through ticket and merchandise sales, but TV rights are also very expensive for most conferences. In addition, a great deal of money is made by betting companies as a result of people putting wagers on college football games. Given that sports betting is now legal in many parts of the US, college football betting will soon be a billion-dollar industry in itself. 

Status quo or change? 

Proponents of keeping the present system argue that players get a chance to earn a college degree. If they go to classes, pass their exams, and play on the team for four years, they get a degree that they can use later in life, whether they make it to the NFL or not. 

These proponents also add that if teams had to pay their college athletes, there would be much smaller football teams. It would also result in many schools no longer having a competitive team, or not being part of the leagues they are currently representing.  

Advocates for paying players, however, believe that since college football is a multi-billion dollar operation in the United States, the players who entertain fans around the country every year should earn more than a college degree that would cost $100,000 at the very most. 

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