TL;DR: Did oval balls shape the sports of Rugby and Gridiron football or did those sports shape the ball?
I couldn't find anywhere online a clear explanation of the reason why these balls are oval shaped.
You can find the explanation of the consequences of the shape, but the reason is nowhere to be found1
It's obvious that the shape favors carrying the ball with the hands for two reasons:
- It easier to carry with one arm (compared to a round ball), leaving the other arm free to push adversaries away.
- It's harder to dribble the ball by kicking it on the floor as in association football (soccer).
But I couldn't find any explanation about the original reason they had to shape it that way.
By looking at balls from almost all other sports out there, the spherical ball is by far the most common, so it seems that there should be a clear reason as to why a family of sports chose to use an odd-shaped ball.
Does anybody know the answer?
1 It's said that the shape is due to pig bladders being used, but if the sport evolved from using round balls to using oval balls, did the players just accept this fact that would change the sport so much?
2 The William Webb Ellis story is mostly considered a myth at this point, but it could be based on the fact that at some point a ball got deformed and players saw it favored a novel style of play that players at the Rugby school liked best, maybe?