In the wake of all the off-field drama that the NFL has been dealing with the past few years, from rule changes to protect quarterbacks and receivers to all the research being done on the long term effects that the sport has on the body, many people have joked that the game is eventually headed to the point where it will be no-contact flag football.
Well, if that's the case, then high school girls in Florida, Alaska, Washington D.C. and New York have a leg up on the pros in this regard. Flag football isn't a joke to them, it's a school sport.
That's right, the old gym game of flag football has evolved into a legitimate varsity championship sport in these few states, and the popularity of the sport appears to be rapidly growing. In fact, before this year, only Florida and Alaska had the option, but Washington D.C. And New York hopped on the band wagon this spring.
An inexpensive and relatively safe sport, many girls are flocking to the field to join in on the fun and excitement of this female alternative to tackle football. In fact, it's popularity among the girls is its biggest draw as many students who would never try out for traditional sports show interest in flag football, thus allowing them a chance to experience playing a sport and being part of a team.
"It attracts girls who otherwise would not have played any sport," said Sam Rapoport, senior manager of flag and female football development at USA Football. "It draws a lot of athletes. I've talked with parents who said this is the sport their girls wanted to play.”
If there is one knock on the sport, however, it's that colleges haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, so there are no scholarships available for girls who play flag football. This current lack of long term opportunity that stem from the sport has led many female activists to weigh in against it, condemning it as a dead end.
"We are concerned about the lack of college scholarships for flag football," said Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel with the National Women's Law Center. "You can add sports as recreational or intramural — it's great to have activities to help girls be physically active. If you're going to add a varsity sport, it is relevant if that sport is going to provide the same opportunities as the boys have. Certainly in Washington, D.C., all the varsity sports for boys do offer scholarships at the college level. So, to then add flag football as opposed to a sport, like volleyball or soccer, that does allow girls to get college scholarships is not equitable."
Proponents to the sport, though, believe that it is only a matter of time before the sport is expanded to the next level and that until then, the experience of team bonding and playing in the spotlight of high school sports is enough of a reward to girls who would otherwise not participate in the more traditional sense.
"We need to provide as many opportunities as we can," Said Chelsea Palmer, a senior at Florida State who coaches flag football at Leon. "You look at every other sport, there is an equivalent. Women's tennis and men's tennis. Softball and baseball. We have yet to find an equivalent to men's football at the college level. This is the direction."
Girls High School Flag Football is played in the spring and consists of seven starters on offense and defense and no helmets or pads are worn. It's played on a field of varying size but is normally around 40×80 yards. It is a no contact sport, of course, with the only hitting being incidental.
Photo Credit: AP
James LeBeau is a sports contributor for CraveOnline Sports and you can follow him on Twitter @JleBeau76 or subscribe on Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.