The year 2021 is something to look forward to, and not just because of people are hoping that COVID-19 will be defeated by that time. Rather, it’s the year the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) would like to make women’s flag football a full-time varsity sport.
Through a joint partnership with the NFL and Reigning Champs Experiences (RCX), NAIA will be working to develop a league infrastructure and operations that will support the first women’s flag football competition to be governed by a collegiate athletics association.
And that could just lead to increased hosting opportunities. The NAIA is expected to host an emerging sport or invitational championship in the spring of 2022. The NAIA will begin working with NFL FLAG and RCX immediately to outline competition guidelines and next steps for schools and conferences interested in instituting women’s flag. The first competitive season will be held in the spring of 2021 and the NAIA will host an emerging sport or invitational championship in the spring of 2022.
The NAIA will host its first Showcase open to female football athletes in the late summer or early fall of 2020 – dependent, of course, upon COVID-19 restrictions. The NAIA's championships for women's flag football are likely to generate enviable bid action; the website shows a history of attendance and economic impact for the organization's championships, all of which will likely result in increased interest among destinations. The NAIA also has a section of its website dedicated to hosting of championship events.
Presently, NAIA classifies women’s flag football as an emerging sport, defined as being offered in at least 15 participating institutions, while invitational can be defined as at least 25. A sport must have a minimum of 40 participating institutions to be considered for full championship status.
Expect both NFL FLAG and NAIA to be marketing the sport thoroughly in the years ahead.
The NFL, for its part, has made a monetary commitment to the effort, offering a $15,000 start-up stipend to the first 15 schools to sign up for the inaugural season of the NAIA Women's Flag; interested programs must complete the Declaration of Intent form on the NAIA site. The organization also offers a start-up guide, as well as a launch guide, launch assets, sample budget, a guide for students and information for potential coaches.
The National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) has long hosted flag football for both men and women; however, its programs are not played at the varsity level. The new NAIA/NFL FLAG partnership represents the first time the sport would move toward formally representing the school through the athletic department.
Flag football has been growing in popularity at the youth level for a variety of reasons. In addition to its lack of physical contact (an enormous plus when concussion awareness is at an all-time high), the sport has been lauded as far less expensive for students to enroll in than traditional football since it does not require the padding and helmets needed in tackle programs. In fact, proper shoes and a mouthguard (and any team shirt and shorts) are all that is needed. Depending upon the position being played by individual athletes, the sport uses a number of skills, bringing in individuals from various sports.
The NFL is in favor of onboarding women’s varsity flag football and increasing activity at the collegiate level. Until recently, much activity was centered on youth, with the NFL FLAG program boasting more than 500,000 children in 1,600-plus leagues in all 50 states.
“Increasing female participation in flag football has been a top priority for NFL FLAG,” said Izell Reese, RCX President and General Manager. “By teaming up with the NAIA, we’re able to create even more opportunities for young women to continue the sport they love, and potentially receive scholarships to continue their education and compete at the next level.”
“Football is for everyone,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said. “This groundbreaking and historic joint venture provides an opportunity for the values, fun and competitive environment of football to be enjoyed as a varsity sport by female student-athletes attending NAIA institutions across America.”
According to the NFL, RCX, as the official operating partner of NFL FLAG and the NAIA Showcases, will help facilitate women’s collegiate flag football across the NAIA and drive participation through women’s flag football NAIA Showcases. (RCX is a provider of leagues, camps, combines, tournaments and events across the U.S. and is expected to take a leading role in producing events).