NCAA

How many colleges have flag football programs in 2024?

Flag football is growing in popularity across the country, with many states now sanctioning the sport ahead of its 2028 Olympic debut. 

Flag football
Peter Ackerman / USA TODAY NETWORK

No need to wear a helmet and pads in college football anymore. 

Flag football, that is. 

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The emerging sport, with the backing of the NFL, is being introduced at more schools across the country, offering players of various sizes, ages and genders a new opportunity to play football.

Rather than the ball-carrier being tackled to stop a play, players pull flags from belts around their opponents’ waists. The non-contact sport has grown in popularity thanks to its safe and inclusive nature, particularly with women who have traditionally been denied the chance to play tackle football at the male-dominated high school and collegiate level.

“Tackle [football] will continue as the professional game played in the NFL and its amateur pipeline from youth through college, but flag will dominate in neighborhoods, schools and recreational leagues around the world,” said Troy Vincent Sr., NFL executive vice president of football operations. “It's happening in front of our eyes.”

It was announced in October that flag football will make its Olympic debut at the 2028 Los Angeles Games.  

Future flag football Olympians will get their start in the sport at the youth, high school and college levels. 

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With flag football making its debut in the 2028 Olympics, here are the basics to know about the sport.

Is flag football an NCAA sport?

The Atlantic East Conference, in partnership with the NFL and RCX sports, became the first NCAA conference to offer varsity female flag football, with an anticipated start date for varsity level status in Spring 2025. 

The Division III conference hosted the sport's first event in April -- with Neumann, Marymount, Centenary and Immaculata the inaugural Women's Flag Football Championship.

“Establishing women’s flag football has been a great honor for us and I am so excited to provide this opportunity for female athletes around the country,” said Atlantic East commissioner Jessica Huntley. “The ever-growing high school ranks makes this a valuable step for our schools and the commitment to future growth with our athletic programs and women’s sports."

What colleges have women's flag football?

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which announced in 2020 that women's flag football would become a sanctioned sport within the division, had 22 schools participating in the sport during the 2023-2024 season. That included: 

Appalachian Athletic Conference

  • Milligan (Tenn.)

Gulf Coast Athletic Conference

  • Talladega (Ala.)

Heart of America Athletic Conference

  • Missouri Valley (Mo.)

Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference

  • Baker (Kan.)
  • Bethel (Kan.)
  • Cottey (Mo.)
  • Graceland (Iowa)
  • Kansas Wesleyan (Kan.)
  • Midland University (Neb.)
  • Ottawa (Kan.)
  • St. Mary (Kan.)
  • Southwestern (Kan.)
  • Mid-South Conference
  • Campbellsville (Ky.)

The Sun Conference

  • Florida Memorial (Fla.)
  • Keiser (Fla.)
  • Life (Ga.)
  • Point (Ga.)
  • Reinhardt (Ga.)
  • St. Thomas (Fla.)
  • Thomas (Ga.)
  • Warner (Fla.)
  • Webber International (Fla.)

The National Junior College Athletic Association, which held its inaugural women's flag football season in 2021, most recently had six teams participating: Bryant & Stratton College (WI), Florida Gateway College, Fort Scott, Hesston, Nassau and Pratt.

Is flag football a varsity sport in high school?

In April, Colorado became the 11th state to sanction girls flag football as a high school varsity sport -- joining Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Nevada, Alaska, New York, Arizona, Illinois, California and Montana. 

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), 17 other states are in various stages of pilot programs. 

Florida started flag football for girls roughly 20 years ago and now has more than 360 schools and 10,000 athletes participating. Georgia, with tremendous support from the Atlanta Falcons, had nearly 5,000 participants last year and held its state championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. 

Alabama had its first girls flag football state championship in December, and Illinois will hold its first in October. 

Per the NFHS, in 2023, about 500,000 girls ages 6-17 played flag football, which is a 63 percent increase since 2019. 

NFL FLAG has assisted in the growth of the sport, offering athletes ranging from age 4 to 17 a chance to play flag football. The program currently includes more than 1,600 teams and 600,000 players nationwide. 

We had the exclusive opportunity to sit down with Mr. Olympics himself, Snoop Dogg, to share his ultimate dream team in flag football for the 2028 Olympics.
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