College Rugby National Champions 1871/72 – 1909/10

This article is a first attempt to list college champions playing in the early seasons of the Carrying Game/Rugby up through the 1909/10 Season. The carrying game of foot-ball became known as the Boston rules game in the local newspapers of Boston during 1872. Harvard played the first rugby union game with McGill in 1874. But Harvard and Tufts began to put in changes to the rugby code almost immediately. Mention of early American rugby changes can be found in the article, ‘The Development of the American Scrimmage System’, Professional Football Researchers Ass’n, by Ian Speers, Vol. 24, 2002.

Independent rugby union clubs began to form in New York City using the original 1871 rugby code after the two, 0-0, tie games were played by Yale and Princeton in 1880 and 1881. The break with the rugby union purists by Walter Camp came when he pushed through the series-of-downs rule in 1882. By 1886, there were more independent clubs playing the original rugby union rules than the old American version of rugby. But it took almost ten years after 1882 for all the colleges to switch from America’s version of rugby to the new collegiate game of football using the ball-control, series-of-downs rule. The rugby game never accepts this kind of rule in its game.

An All-University foot-ball team was formed by Harvard during the spring of 1872. The first Harvard Football Club, or varsity, was formed in December 1872. The Harvard Rugby Football Club web pages have 1872 as their first rugby year. The Yale Rugby Football Club web pages have 1875 as their first year.

1871/72   All-Harvard Team (MA)
1872/73   Harvard (MA)
1873/74   Harvard (MA)
1874/75   Harvard (MA);
                Tufts (MA)
1875/76   Harvard (MA)
1876/77   Harvard (MA);
                Yale (CT) 
1877/78   Yale (CT)
1878/79   Princeton (NJ)
1879/80   Princeton (NJ)
1880/81   Yale (CT)
1881/82   Princeton (NJ)
1882/83   Michigan (MI)
1883/84   Kendall Green (Gallaudet) (DC)
1884/85   U California (CA);
                Colorado College (CO) 
                Kendall Green (Gallaudet) (DC)
1885/86   Colorado College (CO)
1886/87   Minnesota (MN)
1887/88   Minnesota (MN)
1888/80   Wake Forest (NC)
1889/90   Minnesota (MN)
1890/91   N/A
1891/92   Coe College (IA)
1892/93-1904/05   N/A
1905/06   Yale (CT)
1906/07   Stanford (CA)
1907/08   Stanford (CA)
1908/09   Stanford (CA)
1909/10   U California (CA)

During the 1895/96 season, Walter Camp inaugurates a movement to restart the rugby union game again at Yale. Mr. Camp claimed that nearly every man will play it, whereas only comparatively few play the American rugby football game. Apparently no rugby union games were played.

So far, no rugby games have been found played by the colleges during the 1892/93-1904/05 seasons. But several independent clubs did played rugby union game during this time period. By 1905/06 when Yale played the Eastern Rugby Union team, newspapers were calling the game just rugby.

There were a couple games of rugby played in San Francisco area during February 1906. Many West Coast teams switched to the rugby game from the 1906/07 season. Stanford and California, along with Santa Clara, seemed to be the best teams during this period of rugby up through 1917/18. Then there seems to be another lull in college participation in this game until Harvard and Yale restart again in 1929/30. Participation by the college community probably continues from that time.

Much more collegiate research is also needed in this field of the carrying game. Trying to discern whether a team was playing a continuous running game or a game with downs has been quite difficult, especially during the 10-year transition period of 1882-1892. Hopefully this article tweaks some people’s interest to do more research of the early rugby game.

Printed in the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Ass’n (IFRA), College Football Historian, Vol. 2, #10, October 2009.