Women's flag football now played at college level in Philly region

The Atlantic East Conference hosted the first NCAA level women’s flag football championship at Immaculata University

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The dream of playing women’s flag football on the college level is now a reality for athletes in the Philadelphia region.

Immaculata University in Chester County hosted the Atlantic East Conference (AEC) inaugural women’s flag football championship last weekend, the first conference in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to do so.

“Never before in the NCAA has there been women’s flag football and we are doing it,” said Jessica Huntley, AEC Commissioner. “You can’t be it if you don’t see it.”

The AEC partnered with the NFL and RCX Sports in June to announce its plans to be the first NCAA conference- Division I, II or III- to offer varsity women’s flag football. Centenary University, Immaculata University, Marymount University, and Neumann University jumped at the opportunity to participate for the inaugural season.

Flag football will make its Olympic Debut at Los Angeles 2028. In recent years the sport has surged in popularity nationwide, especially among girls. The NFL is a big backer.

Locally, the Philadelphia Eagles launched the Eagles Girls Flag Football league in 2022. The league began with 16 teams. The Birds recently announced their league has expanded to 96 teams- a nearly 600% increase in just two years’ time.

"It's really for us just about making sure that everyone has access to play," Eagles Youth football community relations manager Dan Levy said. "Just excited to get all these girls on the field and see these leaders."

The interest on the high school level caught the attention of Huntley and her team at the AEC.

“The high schools are doing it around the area so why wouldn’t we do it at the collegiate level?” said Huntley.

Across the country, women’s flag is played on the junior college level. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) also sponsors women’s flag football at more than a dozen institutions across 10 states.

“There was no opportunity at the NCAA level and so I felt like there was an opportunity here,” said Huntley.

Immaculata University head coach, Joe Trainer, said he is thrilled that his team is on the ground floor of women’s flag football at the NCAA level.

“You have all these young student athletes who are now exploring the possibilities of playing in college and we feel like being on the ground floor of this movement is pretty special,” said Trainer. “It is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. It is a tremendous groundswell of support, of interest, of participation.”  

Trainer is no stranger to coaching. He was a college football coach for decades, but never imagined he’d be on the sidelines for such a groundbreaking moment in women’s flag football.

“There are a ton of nuances with women’s flag football that don’t exist in the men’s game that I think make it really cool,” said Trainer.

Pointing to Immaculata’s history, when the school’s women’s basketball team took the world by storm in the 1970s, Trainer said he views the university as the birthplace of women’s basketball and it is only appropriate that Immaculata is a part of the women’s flag football movement too.

“It’s a seminal moment in my opinion,” said Trainer.

Natalie Dodd, a freshman at Immaculata, started playing flag football as a high school junior in Northeast Philadelphia. When she learned that Immaculata was going to offer women the chance to play flag football, she was thrilled and grateful that she could keep on playing the sport she loves.

“I was very, very excited and I immediately emailed the coach about being able to play,” said Dodd.

NCAA president, Charlie Baker, talked about embracing new opportunities for women in sports and building on the enthusiasm for women’s flag football during his 2024 State of College Sports address.

Marymount University won the inaugural AEC Women’s Flag Football Championship. The AEC plans to host more women’s flag football events next year. Leaders anticipate more NCAA schools will begin sponsoring the sport.

“It’s going to spread like wildfire,” said Huntley.   

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