FOR FORTY YEARS Germany planned her attack on France, convinced that as a result of her careful preparations she could crush her adversary within a few months. Not only did she mobilize in an incredibly short space of time a vastly superior number of troops and equipment, but her strategy, based on illegal tactics, i.e., the invasion of neutral Belgium, gave her through the element of surprise the tremendous advantage of the initiative. By these means she all but gained her objective, or in football parlance, the goal line.
At the larger universities one football season begins the day after the last season ends. This may seem an exaggerated statement, but few people realize the amount of preparation neces-sary in order to be "there" for the final game of the season. This expression is a term to denote complete fitness and is here used to include the managerial, as well as the physical phases pertaining to the game.
To this end it is of the utmost importance to decide upon a head coach who should at once obtain complete data relative to the past season while this information is still fresh in the minds of those who have had charge. Only in this way may the pitfalls of the past be properly guarded against for the future. Treading upon the heels of this all-important work comes the election of a new captain and a manager, who at once undertakes to arrange a suitable schedule of games for the following autumn. Unless older heads are consulted in this matter serious mistakes may be made, because a thorough knowledge of the prospective playing strength, together with the methods employed by the proposed opponents, must be considered and balanced with the material which will be available for the home team.
One of the fine influences of football and other varsity sports upon all candidates is an honor system which exists regarding their scholastic standing at the college office. At all colleges and schools of good standing a student who is deficient in his studies is barred from representing his school in all athletic endeavors. Hence, it devolves upon the captains and managers of the various teams to supervise the scholastic work of all students who may be of value to their respective sports. When the number of students engaged in athletics is considered, these duties of the captain may appear to be onerous, but a realization has taken root among the students that to fail mentally at the college office is as disgraceful as breaking training physically. Thus all students who have the honor of being "listed" for any sport have an added incentive to keep up to the mark in their college studies.
At some time during each winter, representatives of the leading colleges meet for the purpose of regulating the rules which govern the game of football. As has been seen in a former chapter, the game so abounds with new methods of play and innovations that it is necessary to keep careful watch, lest, through the ingenuity of some coach, certain tactics be introduced which would wreck the delicate balance of strength between the offense and defense.
It is amazing how many carefully worded rules are required to cope with the exigencies of the game. A perusal of the Rule Book will confirm this statement, but in spite of the untiring efforts of the Rules Committee most unexpected things have happened on the field of play. Perhaps the most peculiar incident transpired twice on the same day, in two different games. In each case, the kicker, in attempting a drop kick from scrimmage, "half topped" the ball, which just cleared the opposing scrimmage lines, rolled along the ground and then proceeded to bounce up and over the cross-bar of the goal post. At that time there was nothing in the rules which covered such exotic behavior of the ball. So the officials decided a field goal had taken place, which in one case won the game for Princeton over Dartmouth by a score of 3 to 0. It is perhaps needless to add that the wording of the rule has since been changed to prevent a score resulting from a similar occurrence.
A memorable play, involving doubtful ethics, took place some years ago in a game between Harvard and the Carlisle Indians. Carlisle received the kick-off and the whole team gathered about the player who caught the ball. Behind this screen the ball was quickly tucked under a jersey, fitted with elastic bands for the purpose, on the back of another player. The group then scattered, and the man carried the concealed ball unmolested through the entire Harvard team for a touchdown.
To show to what extremes unscrupulous coaches will go, the following incident which actually took place during a game will suffice. At the beginning of the second half, the team whose turn it was to receive the kick-off took position with only ten men in uniform. The eleventh player, dressed in civilian attire, which included derby hat and pipe, was naturally not observed by opponents or officials, as he casually paced up and down the sidelines. After the kick-off was run back, on the first play from scrimmage, a forward pass was thrown to this individual, who meanwhile had stepped within the field of play and thus complied with all the requisites of the rules. Being totally unaware of his presence as a player, the defense naturally left unprotected the territory in his vicinity, with the result that he ran some forty yards before he was overtaken by one of the unsuspecting defense. He then doffed his hat and pipe, stripped off his civilian clothing, and emerged in the regular uniform of his team.
Through a subsidiary of the Rules Committee, called the Central Board, officials are furnished for practically all the important games, thus saving an enormous amount of work for the various colleges involved, to say nothing of avoiding petty wrangles between narrow-minded coaches. All told, then, the work and influence of the rule makers is of inestimable value to the proper and efficient conduct of the game.
In the spring, then, the coach finds himself with a set of rules already established, and a series of games arranged with suitable officials for each. The next question is who are going to play on the various teams, who are to act as assistant coaches and upon what lines is the campaign to be conducted.
The value of spring practice is a much-mooted question. At small colleges and schools, where the number of candidates is small and a sufficient number of coaches is lacking, it is questionable if any marked advantage accrues; but at the larger colleges where from one hundred to one hundred and fifty candidates report, spring practice is an annual custom. Briefly, the objects are: -
1. To familiarize players with the rules and fundamentals of the game, and with the functions of the individual.
2. To acquaint the coaches with the ability and character of the material at hand
8. To experiment with whatever offensive and defensive theories the coaches deem worthy of consideration.
Spring practice usually lasts from three weeks to a month, and the results accomplished are: -
1. Added experience for the players and an opportunity for the incoming management to familiarize themselves with their various duties.
2. Grading of material, which is of great value when the season proper begins in the autumn.
8. Thorough conviction by the coaches that the great majority of plays which appear effective on paper are in practice fit only for the ash-barrel.
During the summer months it is hard to continue concerted action, but the head coach is always a busy man during this period. It is always extremely difficult to obtain voluntary coaches for the first part of the season. The "loyal graduate" will gladly lend his assistance just prior to the final games, but he is of far greater value during the early stages of development. In impressing this fact on the men whom he wants, the coach must show great tact and much perseverance.
His greatest task, however, lies in sorting data relative to offensive and defensive methods which he has accumulated from time to time from various sources of information. This work requires a vast amount of time and logical thinking; but the wise coach will determine upon his offensive and defensive plays at this time, when his judgment is clear and untrammeled by the many suggestions which will always be offered during the heat of the season.
For example, there is always the much-mooted question whether a quarterback should play in his regular position, linked to the center rush, or as one of the halfbacks in a so-called four-man backfield. There have always been two schools of thought in this matter. One objects to the quarterback's removal because many clever plays, such as a quick dive by the quarterback through center, delayed plunges, and certain plays which involve hidden passes, can be used only when he plays his regular position. Again, if the quarterback is removed the ball is no longer weaved from center through the quarterback and handed into the lap of the back for his line plunge. Moreover, the man best suited for quarterback seems to be brainy rather than brawny and to possess a personality which cannot fail to impress his adversaries, as he stands giving his signals above his center and almost upon the line of his opponents.