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Unprecedented Growth Leads NAIA to Greenlight Women’s Flag Football to Emerging Sport Status

In just over a month since the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced that women’s flag football would be its newest sport, it has grown exponentially and was recently voted as the newest sport to receive “emerging” status by the NAIA National Administrative Council (NAC).

The start of women’s flag football, a joint effort with the NAIA and NFL, has been historically fast within the NAIA and member institutions were quick to pledge their schools to become among the first to begin a team at their institution. This high level of interest allowed the NAIA governing bodies to grant the sport emerging status recently, which will put it on track to continue to grow toward becoming a full championship sport over the course of the next several years.

“As anticipated, many NAIA member schools have quickly taken advantage of the opportunity to add women’s flag football for 2020-21,” said Jim Carr, NAIA president and CEO. “The financial assistance provided by the NFL has had a significant impact on participation and the NAIA is grateful for the league’s support in this joint venture.” 

The NAIA has two status levels prior to becoming a championship sport, which allows for a timely approach for the sport to find success and interest amongst NAIA membership. Emerging is that first step, which requires 15 schools to begin a program and declare intent to participate in the following year. The next step for women’s flag would be invitational status, which requires 25 schools to declare such intent. The final stage would be to become a championship sport, which requires a minimum of 40 schools and NAIA final approval.

Each of the 15 schools that have declared intent to participate in 2020 have been granted a $15,000 stipend from the NFL to aid in the on-boarding process of the sport. Three of these schools are Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), which were a key component to have involved from day one. Xavier University of Louisiana, Florida Memorial University and Tougaloo (Miss.) will be the three HBCU’s that will lead the charge in women’s flag beginning in the 2021 campaign.

“Adding women's flag football to the list of sports that we offer here at Florida Memorial University means that the amount of lives that we get to impact as an institution of higher education grows,” said Florida Memorial Athletic Director Ernest T. Jones. “More young women will have the opportunity to pursue their academic and athletic goals and potentially change their lives and their families' lives. We look forward to building a (women’s) flag football program that follows in the footsteps of all our other sports programs – one that chases academic excellence and championships.”

Kansas Wesleyan was one of the first institutions to announce they would begin a women’s flag program, a distinction that Director of Athletics Steve Wilson was excited to have.

"Through everything we have experienced in collegiate athletics the last few months, being able to be on the front end of something so special for women's sports and the NAIA, as a whole, has been a welcome relief,” said Steve Wilson, Kansas Wesleyan Director of Athletics. “Talking sports and planning can re-center you, at times. More importantly, though, the decision to be part of this was strategic. I firmly believe women's flag football will be an extremely high-profile offering, and we are excited to be able to help shape the initial steps of the sport within our organization. Working with the NFL is icing on the cake. There are just so many bright aspects of this sport's future."

The NAIA is currently finalizing the creation of the rule book and will be releasing information for potential hosts of the inaugural NAIA Women’s Flag Football Jamboree, set for spring 2021. Since its inception, the NAIA has worked with Reigning Champs Experiences (RCX), whom operates the NFL FLAG initiative for the NFL and has been instrumental in the process of bringing women’s flag football to the NAIA.

Learn more about women’s flag football in the NAIA.

NAIA Schools Committed to Women’s Flag in 2020-21

Cottey (Mo.) (Nevada, Mo.)

Reinhardt (Ga.) (Waleska, Ga.)

Florida Memorial (Miami Gardens, Fla.)

St. Thomas (Fla.) (Miami Gardens, Fla.)

Kansas Wesleyan (Salina, Kan.)

Tougaloo (Miss.) (Jackson, Miss.)

Keiser (Fla.) (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

Saint Mary (Kan.) (Leavenworth, Kan.)

La Sierra (Calif.) (Riverside, Calif.)

Warner (Fla.) (Lake Wales, Fla.)

Midland (Neb.) (Fremont, Neb.)

Webber International (Fla.) (Babson Park, Fla.)

Milligan (Tenn.) (Elizabethton, Tenn.)

Xavier (La.) (New Orleans, La.)

Ottawa (Kan.) (Ottawa, Kan.)