Collegiate Football is a team sport at American colleges at which African Americans have excelled, despite a history of exclusion from predominantly white colleges and universities.

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were for many years the epicenter of black college football. African American football players were not welcome on white campuses until the late 1950s´┐Żnot until the late 1960s in the Deep South. Jim Crow segregation forced the development of separate teams and leagues for black players. The first black college football game took place in North Carolina in 1892, when Biddle College defeated Livingston College. Thereafter, black college football became a major social event on campus, bringing students and alumni together.

By the beginning of the 20th century several major school rivalries had developed, including Virginia Union-Virginia State, Tuskegee Institute-Talladega College, and Fisk University-Meharry College. The intensity and popularity of these rivalries persuaded several colleges to form a conference in 1912. That year Howard University (Washington, D.C.), Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), Hampton Institute (Virginia), and Shaw University (North Carolina) formed the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). Within a few years several more black conferences were formed to showcase black college football, including the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC), the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), and the Midwestern Athletic Conference (MWAC).

These regional conferences brought national exposure to several outstanding black college football programs. In the 1920s Tuskegee Institute had the most dominant black college program (see Tuskegee University). Its teams won nine SIAC titles between 1924 and 1933, and featured one of the most exciting running backs of that era, Ben Stevenson. Although Tuskegee captured most of the attention during this time, another university dazzled crowds with the athleticism of their running back: Franz "Jazz" Bird, who played at Lincoln in the early 1920s. Bird was nicknamed the black Red Grange after the famous white football star Red Grange.

In the 1930s Morgan State in Maryland succeeded Tuskegee as the nation's premier black college football program. Coached by Edward Hurt, Morgan State won seven CIAA championships between 1930 and 1941. The team was led by running backs Otis Troupe and Thomas "The Tank" Conrad. In the Midwest Athletic Conference, Kentucky State consistently fielded standout players throughout the 1930s, including tight ends William Reed and Robert Hardin, running back George "Big Bertha" Edwards, and quarterback Joseph "Tarzan" Kendall.

Despite dwindling resources, black colleges continued to attract many of the finest players after World War II (1939-1945). In the late 1940s Morris Brown College running back John "Big Train" Moody and Kentucky State guard Herbert "Lord" Trawick were named All Americans by members of the black press. In the 1950s Morgan State sent several players to the National Football League (NFL), including Roosevelt Brown, Leroy Kelly, and Willie Lanier. Florida A&M stars Willie Gallimore and wide receiver Bob Hayes also had successful professional careers.

Grambling State (Louisiana) has produced more professional players than any other black college. Under the leadership of Eddie Robinson, Grambling sent more than 200 players to the NFL, including the league's first black player, running back Paul "Tank" Younger, and its first African American quarterback, James Harris. Grambling graduates also include halfback Sammy White; defensive backs Everson Walls, Roosevelt Taylor, and Willie Brown; defensive tackle Junious "Buck" Buchanan; defensive end Willie Davis; and the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl, Doug Williams. Coach Eddie Robinson is the grandfather of black college football and has paved the way for others, such as Ed Hurt (Morgan State), Earl Banks (Morgan State), and Jake Gaither (Florida A&M).

Of all the black college graduates who have played professional football, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and Art Shell may be the most famous. Payton, a graduate of Jackson State University in Mississippi, was one of the most gifted running backs in NFL history. He finished his career with the Chicago Bears as the league's career rushing leader and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. Jerry Rice, a graduate of Mississippi Valley State, is arguably the best wide receiver ever to play the game. He joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1985 and continues to lead them in receptions. Rice holds the NFL record for most career touchdowns. Art Shell, a graduate of Maryland State, was an NFL Hall of Fame lineman before becoming only the second African American to be named a professional football head coach.

While historically black colleges and universities gave African American athletes a forum from which to showcase their athletic talents, small numbers of black football players were standouts at predominantly white schools. As early as 1889, William Henry Lewis and William Tecumseh Sherman Jackson were among the first blacks to play collegiate football at predominantly white schools. Both attended Amherst College in Massachusetts from 1889 to 1892. Lewis later graduated from Harvard Law School and in 1903 became the first African American to serve as U.S. assistant attorney general.

By the late 1890s a few predominantly white schools had begun recruiting black players such as George Jewett at the University of Michigan in 1890 and George Glippin at the University of Nebraska in 1892. Throughout the 1890s several blacks earned spots on predominantly white football teams. In 1890 William Arthur Johnson was a running back at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). That year Howard Cook played at Cornell, Howard Lee at Harvard, George Chadwell at Williams, William Washington at Oberlin, and Alton Washington at Northwestern. By the turn of the century, black players at predominantly white colleges were gaining national attention for their athleticism.

Among the first black players who prevailed at predominantly white colleges was Robert Marshall, a standout at the University of Minnesota from 1903 to 1906. In 1904 Marshall scored 72 points in one game. Walter Camp named him a Second Team All-American in 1905 and 1906. Several years later another African American earned national recognition: Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard, enrolled at Brown University in Rhode Island in 1915. Pollard was an exceptional running back, defensive back, and kicker. He led Brown to the Rose Bowl in 1916 and was named an All-American the same year. A third standout player was Paul Robeson, a four-sport athlete at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Robeson, the first black player to be named First Team All-American, was an intimidating presence on the football field. He was a dominant lineman who was also recognized as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society.

Throughout the 1920s black players excelled at schools throughout the Northeast, West, and Midwest. Fred "Duke" Slater was a star tackle at the University of Iowa from 1919 to 1921, and Charles West and Charles Drew were running backs at Washington and Jefferson in Pennsylvania. Drew later became a doctor and gained international recognition for his discovery of a technique to preserve blood plasma. At Duquesne Ray Kemp played tackle and at New York University David Myers was a defensive end. During the 1930s, Iowa, Northwestern, and Ohio State included black players on their rosters, such as Oze Simmons, Homer Harris, William Bell, and Bernard Jefferson. These players managed to succeed in environments that were often hostile to blacks.

During his career at Rutgers, Paul Robeson suffered numerous injuries, including a broken nose and a separated shoulder, all as a result of dirty play by opposing white players. In 1923 Jack Trice of Iowa State died from internal bleeding after an excessively rough game against the University of Minnesota. At most white schools, blacks were barred from living in white dormitories, discouraged from playing quarterback, and excluded from Southern schools altogether. Between 1918 and 1937 no African American was named a First Team All-American, despite blacks' dominance at schools such as the University of Iowa, Ohio State, and the University of California at Los Angeles. The second black player to be named First Team All-American was Jerome Holland, a tight end at Cornell in 1937. That year Syracuse bowed to Southern tradition by benching quarterback Wilmeth Sadat-Singh when the team traveled to the University of Maryland. Boston College followed the example set by Syracuse when its team benched Louis Montgomery during the 1937 Cotton Bowl against Clemson.

Although racism continued to segregate blacks and whites in the United States throughout the 1940s and 1950s, several African American players managed to break racial barriers. In 1948 Denny Hoggard and Wally Triplet (Penn State) were the first African Americans to play in the Cotton Bowl. A year later Levi Jackson was the first black to be named captain of the Yale football team. In 1956 Jim Parker of Ohio State became the first black to win the Outland Trophy, an award recognizing the best lineman in the nation. By 1960 some of the most racist Southern universities found themselves on the losing sides of battles with integrated teams, including the all-white University of Alabama, whose head coach swore he would never let a black man play on his team.

Since 1970 African Americans have won a majority of the annual Heisman Trophies and several of the most recent Outland Trophies. In 1980 Dennis Green became the first African American head coach at a predominantly white school. He led Northwestern from 1981 to 1985 and Stanford University from 1989 to 1991, then became the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. Black coaches such as Ronald Cooper, Ronald Dickerson, and Jim Caldwell have made strides at the Division I-A level as well. Today, most of the country's top programs, including those with long-standing histories of racial discrimination, such as the University of Alabama, the University of Georgia, and the University of Tennessee, have predominantly black football teams.