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A Brief History of College Football Field Design

Did you know that college football fields had a partial checkerboard effect in 1903? That’s because a new rule at the time required the player who received the snap to move laterally at least five yards before advancing the ball forward.

The rule was deemed so successful that the checkerboard effect was extended to the entire field for the next six years:

Did you know about that? I didn’t until last week, when longtime Ticker contributor James Gilbert (who usually specializes in UNC-related items) published a really interesting guide to the evolution of the college football field. I definitely recommend checking out the entire thing, which you can do here. Enjoy!

Comments (16)

    Interestingly – the article does mention “gridiron” as applying to the field with yard markings in one direction only (end to end) (article Fig 3), so I’m out of ideas. :-)

    Thanks for posting this Paul.

    “Gridiron” came from the 1882 field when the field was striped from sideline to sideline. I think Tim Brown said it was coined in the late 1880s. It came from the cooking utensil. I’ve also seen the term “gridironing” as a description of the placement of railroad tracks. Is it too late to call this era ‘waffle iron football’?

    Now to correct the gridiron Wikipedia page.

    Confusing: I meant is it too late to call the 1903-1909 fields ‘waffle iron football’.

    Does it say in the article why the idea was dropped? Unfortunately the internet at work has blocked the link.

    From a book called “How Football became Football” by Timothy Brown (who also has a substack called football archeology), the goal of that era was to open the game up more to make the game less dangerous, and that restriction hindered the openeing up, so it was abandoned. He speaks about it in this article on his substack: link

    I wonder if this is the origin of the checkerboard endzone at Tennessee. LSU had a checkerboard endzone as well at one point.

    The Tennessee story goes that there was a building with a checkerboard pattern that could be seen from the field and the team was told to take the ball to the checkerboard to score.

    All kinds of end zone designs started showing up in 1927 when the goal post were moved because of the ensuing confusion from the stands. Teams no longer had to run past the goal posts to score which was the reason teams widened or added an extra line to the goal line. I believe that is the reason that the NFL still requires an 8″ wide goal line.

    One slight change in the regs occurred in 1992, during the World League of American Football. In that league, the goal line and the inner part of the sidelines were yellow/orange instead of white, so as to make calls easier. I’m a bit surprised that this wasn’t carried over to the NFL.

    At some point goal lines were allowed to be non-white. I used to see a lot of yellow goal lines and TCU’s is red.

    Great stuff today!

    I keep forgetting college football also had goalposts on the goal line (where they should be!). Granted, it was a *long* time ago.

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