Just yesterday, the NFL announced that 15 colleges have already committed to starting programs. The new sport will create new full scholarship opportunities for women who will begin to compete in the spring of 2021.
“We just closed out 100 years of football,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent told me. “Well, this is an example of what the next 100 years of football can look like. Women leading the efforts, not just as fans, not just as moms supporting their boys. Now, young ladies could actually compete and earn a scholarship like they have seen their brothers and their fathers do for so many years.”
NFL Flag and RCX will support the NAIA in the development of league infrastructure, which is uncharted territory for the governing body. The NAIA says this will be the first women’s flag football competition governed by a collegiate athletics association.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was recently named chairman of NFL FLAG, the NFL’s official flag football league, and largest youth flag football organization in the U.S.
“I’m super excited to be part of this journey here,” Wilson tells CNN. “Partnering up with the NFL, NFL Flag, and RCX, it’s really exciting… Football is gonna be a worldwide sport and it should be a great sport for women, and for them to be leaders in the sport. And I think what’s great about this, that we’re expanding not only the game, but also the access for all women in all sports. And I think this is really exciting. This is revolutionary.”
Toni Harris is currently a defensive back for Central Methodist University, a NAIA school in Fayetteville, Missouri. She has been one of few women to compete with and against men at the collegiate level. In 2019, Harris became the first female to receive a full football scholarship to play a skill position at the collegiate level. She believes this development is much bigger than football.
“I think it says that the future of football is female. I think it says that, you know, women will now have their chance,” Harris tells CNN. “I wish I was still in high school, able to go back and, you know, sign up to get an athletic scholarship to play flag football because not only is this opening doors for girls to compete at the collegiate level, it’s opening up more doors for maybe the NFL to start a WNFL one day… I would not be competing with the guys, but I can only take what I have right now, you know. And so, I mean, it means so much to me to be able to see those girls finally get those chances that we’ve been wanting for so long.”
Laura Courtney-Todd has been the athletic director at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida, since 2000. She has twice been named Sun Conference Athletic Director of the Year, most recently in 2018. Her school will be one of the first to offer women’s flag football, because, she says, the demand for it exists.
“Title 9 obviously is a big reason why flag football was started in high school,” Courtney-Todd tells CNN. “But I think what they found was that females were really interested in the sport and oftentimes they were switching from their traditional sport to only play flag football. So that’s why we see such a great potential in the sport.”
Competition guidelines and startup procedures for schools that are interested in instituting women’s flag football as a competitive sport are now being created. The NAIA will work with NFL Flag and RCX to determine the next steps.
“They say that within years two to three, anywhere from 30 to 40 schools could potentially get involved. If they reach 40 schools offering women’s flag football, it’s anywhere from eight to twelve million dollars in scholarship money, which is unbelievable,” said RCX President and general manager, Izell Reese. “It’s going to be phenomenal to see it grow.”
Reese is a former NFL player who believes that women’s flag football can grow to reach the highest levels of competition — even the Olympics someday. He says the athletes will continue to drive the sport’s growth.
“They’re committed, talented, passionate for the sport. You see all those girls on the field. I mean, these girls are for real. They’re serious about it. Their passion, and the energy of these young women playing this game is what’s driving it.”