College football was the venue through which American football first gained popularity in the United States. College football remains extremely popular today among students, alumni, and other fans of the sport.
A college football game between Texas Tech University and the U.S. Naval Academy.
The first game played between teams representing different colleges or universities was played on November 6, 1869 between Rutgers University and Princeton University, at College Field (now the site of the College Avenue Gymnasium), New Brunswick, New Jersey. Rutgers won, by a score of 6 to 4. As the score would seemingly indicate, the game bore little resemblance to the game of today. The rules of that game were the 1863 rules of the English Football Association, the basis of the modern form of soccer.
The development of the American game can be traced to a meeting between the Harvard University and McGill University football teams in 1874. The two teams were used to playing different brands of football — the McGill team played a rugby-style game, while Harvard played a soccer-style game. The teams agreed to play under compromise rules, and from this meeting the game of football began to evolve in both the United States and Canada.
The game increased in popularity through the remainder of the 19th century. It also became increasingly violent. President Theodore Roosevelt threatened, in 1906, to ban the sport following a series of player deaths from injuries suffered during games. The response to this was the formation of what became the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which set rules governing the sport. One of the rules changes to emerge from this attempt at alleviating the violence of the sport was the introduction of the forward pass. Another was the banning of "mass momentum" plays (many of which, like the infamous "flying wedge", were sometimes literally deadly).
Prior to the founding of the National Football League, and for a few decades thereafter, college football was the predominant venue for American football. Innovations in strategy and style of play originated in college football and spread to the pro game gradually. It was not until the post-World War II era that the pro game achieved ascendancy in the eyes of the average American sports fan.
However, college football remains extremely popular throughout the U.S. Because the accessibilty of the pro game is limited to major urban areas, the college game is especially popular in parts of the country not in close proximity to an NFL city; some particularly notable examples of this may be found in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama and Iowa.
Although the college game has a much larger margin for talent than its pro counterpart, the sheer number of fans following major college provides a financial equalizer for the game. Particularly with major (Division I) programs playing in, and consistently selling out huge stadiums (several of which have seating capacity exceeding 100,000), revenue from college football actually rivals the pro game in many areas of the United States. But a lack of a pro franchise is not necessarily an indicator of where the college game is most successful; for example, in Ohio, Texas and Florida -- states which all have multiple NFL franchises -- there are universities that also rank in the upper financial echelons of the college football. There is not, however, a truly defined rivalry between the NFL and the NCAA for a market share; there is room for both on the TV networks and radio airwaves. College football dominates on Saturday, while the NFL owns Sunday.
The season schedule
Division 1A college football begins two to three weeks earlier than the NFL, towards the end of August. Until 2003, the regular season was officially ushered in by the Kickoff Classic, held in recent years in New Jersey (although other pre-season games such as the Eddie Robinson Classic and the Pigskin Classic have also been played), but recent NCAA policy changes have eliminated some of these games, and so the season now largely starts out with regular games. The regular season then continues through early December (generally ending with the annual Army-Navy Game and several conference championship games on the same weekend).
The college post-season is ushered in by the annual presentation of the Heisman Trophy Award, considered the most prestigious award in all of college football, given to the top player of the year as determined by a panel consisting of media voters and former winners of the award. This is then followed by a series of bowl games that showcase (usually) the top college team in a particular conference, as well as the consensus "national champion", which is determined not by a true playoff, but by a controversial confederation of voters, broadcast networks, bowls and conferences known as the Bowl Championship Series. A series of all-star bowl games round out the season for the balance of January, including the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl, the Hula Bowl, and the Gridiron Classic (in recent years, the Hula and Gridiron have alternated as the final game of the season, but the Senior Bowl is currently the season finale, as it is traditionally scheduled for the week prior to the NFL's Super Bowl, which is now played in February).
The length of the season has gradually increased over the course of the game's history. In spring 2005, the NCAA ruled that teams could schedule 12 regular-season games (up from 11) beginning in the 2006 season. This decision was met with some criticism from those who claimed that expanding the season would overwork the athletes..
In the spring, many colleges (Ohio State, University of Minnesota) have what is called "The Spring Football Game." This game is considered a scrimmage.