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Women’s college football is set to kick off.
It’s flag football, seven-on-seven, and about a dozen NAIA schools — including Kansas Wesleyan and Ottawa University in Kansas and Missouri’s Cottey College in Nevada — plan to sponsor teams next spring at the varsity level.
Also, it has the backing of the NFL.
“I have three granddaughters,” said Troy Vincent, a former NFL player who’s now the league’s executive vice president for football operations. “And now I’m going out and playing football with them.”
Kansas Wesleyan athletic director Steve Wilson said he will use a member of the school’s current football coaching staff to head up the women’s program. He also said he plans to hire another coach and assemble a roster of about 25 women.
“We are always looking for quality opportunities for student-athletes,” Wilson said. “The timing as a sports sport enables us to use our facilities and it has the backing at the national level.”
The NFL for years has operated its own youth flag football program, NFL Flag, with more than 1,600 locally operated leagues and some 500,000 participating boys and girls ages 5-17.
Now, it will help usher in the game on a college-campus level with an assist from Reigning Champs Experiences, which operates leagues, camps and scouting combines and has worked with the NFL and NAIA in the past. The organization is expected to operate a showcase, or recruiting, event for female football players this summer if the COVID-19 pandemic allows.
The idea of non-contact women’s college football gained momentum after Vincent watched the Georgia high school girls flag football championship game at Mercedes Benz Stadium in December. Georgia is one of a handful of states that sanctions the sport at the high school level. Starting next school year, those players will have an opportunity to continue their football careers in college.
“To see the same passion, desire and energy that drives these young ladies, and to hear them talk about their passion for the game — now there’s a landing spot,” he said. “There is a destination and pathway. Football is for everyone.”
Vincent said he spoke with NAIA and NCAA officials about the idea during the annual American Football Coaches Association’s convention in January, and the NAIA,which is headquartered in Kansas City, was in a position to make women’s flag football happen sooner than the NCAA could.
“Our schools love to have activities for students, and athletics is a big driver, especially for women” NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr said.
Women’s wrestling, Carr said, is the NAIA’s fastest-growing sport with 37 schools. To become a national championship sport, the NAIA requires 40 participating schools.
Carr believes that can happen in women’s flag football in three years. The NAIA will hold an invitational flag football national event in 2022.
Other NAIA schools that plan to start programs for 2020-21 include five Florida schools — St. Thomas, Warner University, Webber International, Keiser University and Florida Memorial — as well as Georgia’s Dalton State and Reinhardt University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Milligan College of Tennessee and La Sierra in California.
There are details to be worked out, of course, such as scheduling — and that’s not easily done during a pandemic. But Kansas Wesleyan, a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, is in pre-game mode.
“We’re celebrating 50 years of women’s athletics here,” Wilson said. “So the timing couldn’t be more ideal.”