The George Atherton era of the University was a time of change in many aspects of college life. A shift occurred in which life outside of the classroom moved from Bible study and manual labor to sports.
While no formal athletics activities existed, students occasionally engaged in pastimes such as baseball or cricket. Eventually, football—already popular at other college campuses during the period—reached Penn State.
In 1881, thirteen Penn State students traveled to Bucknell University for an informal game of football. The game was played by rules that were more similar to rugby than modern day football. The Penn State team won that game, 9-0.
Six years later, on Nov. 12, 1887, the team set out once again for Lewisburg, where it won, 54-0. This game—which was played under more modern rules—has come to be regarded as Penn State’s first intercollegiate football contest.
By 1896, other sports such as baseball, basketball, and track were all part of Penn State’s intercollegiate schedule. However, football remained the sport that generated the most enthusiasm among the students. At that time, neither faculty nor alumni took an active interest in the sport, leaving the organizational and financial responsibilities of the game to the student-run Athletic Association. There was no admission charge for home games and the travel expenses incurred for away games were offset through fundraising. The players supplied their own equipment.
George W. Hoskins was named the first official coach of the football team, having been appointed supervisor of physical education and director of intercollegiate sports. Beaver Field—a 500-seat grandstand— was completed in time for the 1893 football season. By 1899 the Athletic Association was granted permission to collect an annual $5 fee from students to cover intercollegiate sports expenses.