Some Early Soccer/Rugby/Football Rating Problems

Games played by Princeton are used as examples from the early foot ball season of 1876/77 and the modern football season of 2008/09. A discussion follows that describes how these games have been accepted and in what capacity they are used in rating systems today.

In 1876/77, Princeton played two types of foot ball. They were called the association football game (now called soccer) and the American version of the rugby game (now rugby). In 2008/09, Princeton played three kinds of football: soccer, rugby and American football.

1876/77 ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL games              2008/09 SOCCER games
Record (3-0-0), 20 Men-to-a-side                Record (5-9-3), 11 Men-to-a-side 
Scores: by goals only                           Scores: by goals only
Basic Method Used: Kicking the Ball             Basic Method Used: Kicking the Ball
Acceptance: Total # of Goals For & Against      Acceptance: Total # of Goals For & Against
Games called: Football                          Games called: Soccer

1876/77 AMERICAN RUGBY games                    2008/09 RUGBY games
Record (0-2-0), 11 & 15 Men-to-a-side           Record (9-3-0), 12 Men-to-a-side
Scores: by Goals & Touchdowns                   Scores: by Goals & Touches  
Basic Method Used: Running with the Ball        Basic Method Used: Running with the Ball 
Acceptance: Only Goals counted; TDs ignored     Acceptance: Goals & Touches counted 
Games called: Football                          Games called: Rugby

1876/77 AMERICAN FOOTBALL game not              2008/09 FOOTBALL games
Invented yet; both Association Football & Rugby Record (4-6-0), 11 Men-to-a-side 
Are called Football                             Score: by Field Goals, TDs & Pts after, Safeties
                                                Basic Method Used: Running & Passing with Ball-
                                                    possession (Downs) 
                                                Games called: Football   

I now turn to constructing team standings and selecting National Champions. It’s easy in 2008/09 as teams like Princeton played three distinct types of football. Several top team lists and National Champion selections were done for the soccer, rugby and football sports including Princeton’s input. Princeton’s soccer games were rated with other soccer teams, their rugby games rated with other rugby teams and the football games rated with other football teams.

Now we go to the 1876/77 season. Princeton plays three early association football (now soccer) games and two early rugby games. Columbia also plays three soccer games and two rugby games. Harvard plays five rugby games and both Yale and Tufts three rugby games each. Pennsylvania plays three soccer games while Stevens Tech plays three soccer games and one rugby game. Right now, everybody puts all these games into one group and calls it football. First, the game we call football now had not been invented. Second, to lump rugby games with association football/soccer, everyone has to disregard touchdowns and/or safeties. So for the 1876/77 season, the rugby games are in essence used as association football games for ranking purposes. Only goals are counted to get the standings. But, in the process, the games are listed under early football, not early soccer or rugby. Wouldn’t it be more realistic if the early association football teams were rated and ranked together? The same could be said for the early rugby teams.

Going to the 1877/78 season, only the varsities of the University of Vermont and City College of New York have been found to play an association football game. All other college varsities switched to America’s version of the rugby game. However, when rankings for the season are done, only the goals are counted again. So the rugby games are still treated like they were association football. This same practice is used all the way through the 1882/83 season. Numerical scoring began in 1883/84. The third form of foot ball or the ball-control/collegiate game was called to begin in 1882/83 after the ‘series-of-downs’ rule was passed. The rugby game has never accepted the concept of ball-possession to this day. The practice of just counting goals is still used for the association football games, rugby games and the new collegiate game of football up through the 1882/83 season. So comparable football ratings do not really begin until the 1883/84 season.

One of the important findings to come out of the recent study done of early foot ball in the 1800s (see ‘Evolvements of Early American Foot Ball: Through The 1890/91 Season’, (2008), Melvin I. Smith) is that the nineteenth century may have begun with just variations of the kicking game of foot-ball, but two other basic forms of foot-ball evolved in the States by the 1880s. The carrying game began around 1858 and the ball-possession/collegiate game, now called American football, began in 1882. In Europe the carrying game was definitely separated from the kicking game when the London football association code was written in 1863. Why shouldn’t the kicking games be separated from the carrying games in the States also? There must be better ways to rank these games in the early seasons, so that truer comparisons would have more meaning within these three great sports.

Published in THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORIAN of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association (IFRA); Vol. 2; #8; August 2009.