NAIA to offer flag football for females

Robinson has a flag football dynasty with five state titles and a runnerup finish in the past six seasons. Still, Knights coach Josh Saunders constantly worries about coaches in other sports, particularly at the club level, trying to persuade his players to bolt in order to pursue a college scholarship.

There are no flag football programs at the college level, much less any scholarships to offer.

That is about to change. 

On Monday, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced a partnership with the NFL and Reigning Champs Experiences (RCX) to put together the first women’s flag football competition governed by a collegiate athletics association.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Saunders said. “This cracks the ‘flag doesn’t have scholarships’ mantra that other coaches tell players. Some high school coaches do it, not as much at our school anymore, but club coaches are really bad about it. This will likely end that to a degree, but it’s also really great for kids that might get an opportunity to continue playing a sport they love.”

Robinson's flag football team
Robinson’s flag football team

The plan is to increase participation at the college level through showcases that will start in the summer or fall. Competition guidelines will be outlined for colleges interested in starting a program with the first competitive season to be held in 2021 and the first emerging sport or invitational championship in the spring of the following year. 

An emerging sport at the NAIA level must have at least 15 participating schools and invitational status needs at least 25. A sport also is required to have 40 schools involved to be considered for full championship status.

There currently are 11 state colleges that compete at the NAIA level. Webber International said on Monday it plans to add flag football. 

“Football is for everyone,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said in a statement. “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.”

The NFL has made efforts recently to promote the sport. For the past two years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation hosted the largest flag football tournament in the nation. This year’s event, held in March, had 57 high school teams.

Locally, teams have thrived. Alonso was a state runnerup from 2010-11 before winning two straight titles in 2018-19. 

“It’s huge,” Ravens coach Matt Hernandez said of having the sport at the college level. “It gives kids a next step to keep playing with scholarship opportunities. I sent out information (Monday) to our team/parents and had a lot of reaction, especially from the younger kids and parents.”

Alonso flag football
Alonso’s flag football team posing after winning a state title

Saunders said this could end up being the first step to having flag football at all levels of college football.

“I think this could continue to push the NCAA in that direction,” Saunders said. “The sport is extremely popular and extremely cheap. That seems like a good combination.”