Archive for June, 2021

Basketball Cages

June 29, 2021

While reviewing the chapter on the 1908 season from my upcoming book on the complete history of the Carlisle Indian School football team, my wife thought Warner having the football team practice in the basketball cage seemed strange. What was a basketball cage anyway? I had often wondered that myself. As a boy, I would check the local newspaper’s, the Alton Evening Telegraph, “Cage Schedule” to find when the high school basketball games were being played. Much later I learned that basketball games were once played in cages. Of course that meant little to me.

To better answer Ann’s question, a little research quickly found that basketball was once played in 12-feet-tall wire mesh cages that surrounded the courts. Players complained of having tic tac toe  grids imprinted on their bodies from being slammed into the cages. Later, rope mesh replaced the metal, probably because they cost less. But why did they need to cage the players away from spectators?

We have to go back to basketball’s roots. It was invented in 1891 by James Naismith to fill the gap between the end of football season and the beginning of baseball season. In Springfield, Massachusetts where the game was created, only indoor sports were practical that time of the year. Naismith borrowed some rules from other sports, including football’s then out-of-bounds rules. In football, the ball is fumbled out of bounds relatively infrequently but errant and tipped passed are common in the roundball game.

The first few rows of basketball spectators sat just outside the out-of-bounds lines, which meant that players routinely tussled with opponents and fans, who were partisans of one team or the other, for the ball. This quickly became unacceptable to basketball officials, who solved the problem by erecting cages. Why differing from football on out-of-bounds rules wasn’t considered is anybody’s guess.

Fumbling Out of Bounds

June 26, 2021

While reviewing the chapter on the 1906 season from my upcoming book on the complete history of the Carlisle Indian School football team, my wife noticed something she thought was odd from the newspaper coverage of that year’s Penn State game: “Mt. Pleasant received the ball and ran it back to the 35-yard line where he was tackled by Maxwell. The ball flew from his grasp and McCleary secured it out of bounds.”

Teams gaining possession of an out-of-bounds ball seems odd to a modern reader, so I contacted Timothy Brown, author of How Football Became Football: 150 Years of the Game’s Evolution for some insight into out-of-bounds rules in early football. He responded with a paragraph from his book:

“Early football also differed substantially from today in the way it handled the ball going out of bounds as well as in spotting the ball for runners tackled near the sideline. Balls fumbled “in touch” or out of bounds remained live, leading offensive and defensive players to scramble over benches, water jugs, band members, cinder tracks, and all manner of obstacles to grab the ball. An example of such a play occurred when Chicago traveled to Stanford in 1894, the first game between teams east and west of the Rockies. When the ball went “in touch” during a game in San Francisco, Chicago’s Ad Ewing, a hurdler on the track team, used his hurdling skills to leap a picket fence surrounding the Haight Street Grounds and recover the ball while Stanford’s men scaled the fence the old-fashioned way. Such out-of-bounds scrambles continued until a 1926 rule awarded possession to the player last touching the ball before it went out of bounds.”

One can only imagine the melees that resulted on occasions when Stanford’s band stood close to the sidelines and an errant fumble flew or rolled into their midst.