College flag football now a reality

Neumann-Goretti High School’s flag football team at an event at the NovaCare Center. Contributed photo

As high school girls flag football continues to gain popularity in Philadelphia, the fun and competition doesn’t have to stop at graduation. 

Starting in the spring of 2025, the Atlantic East Conference will become the first NCAA Conference to offer women’s flag football. The plan comes with partnerships with the National Football League, RCX Sports and the Philadelphia Eagles.

“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. I truly appreciate all of the guidance and support from the NFL, RCX Sports and the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Five AEC institutions will be inaugural members: Centenary, Cabrini, Immaculata, Marymoun, and Neumann. And next year, there are plans to offer club-level opportunities and weekend tournaments.

“When we started our girls flag league, our goal was to create more opportunities for female youth athletes to play the game by providing them with the equipment and resources needed to feel comfortable and confident engaging in the sport they love,” said Jen Kavanagh, Senior Vice President, Media and Marketing, Philadelphia Eagles. “We look forward to continuing to remove the barriers facing female athletes and supporting the Atlantic East Conference in their endeavors to bring flag football to more women at the collegiate level.”

The Eagles have given high school flag football a major push by sponsoring events and hosting the championship games at The NovaCare Center. The 2023 high school season saw 52 participants across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Just in South Philly, teams sprouted up at the Academy at Palumbo, Neumann-Goretti and South Philadelphia High School.

“It’s been phenomenal,” said Neumann-Goretti athletic director Pat Devenney, who took on the role of flag football coach this spring. “The Eagles getting involved was great. They gave us equipment, jerseys and everything. And now they have a chance to get scholarships.”

The growth of the sport is at a rapid pace in the infant stages, and it is expected to flourish even further in the next few years. 

“Since partnering with the Philadelphia Eagles last season to launch our Girls Flag Football program in the Philadelphia Public League, we’ve seen a rapid growth in the game across our city.” said Jimmy Lynch, Executive Director of Athletics for the School District of Philadelphia and president of the Philadelphia Public League. “Our hope is to have Girls Flag Football become a sanctioned sport in our state in the coming years and to continue expanding on these opportunities for our female student-athletes.”

The Atlantic East will soon provide high school student-athletes the opportunity to continue playing the sport at the collegiate level.

“It’s something a lot of girls probably didn’t think they’d be able to participate in college,” Devenney said. “Now they get the opportunity of something that’s fun to play as a sport and grow with it.”

It’s now the favorite sport of hundreds of local athletes.

“I believe sports have the power to transform lives, so one of our goals at RCX Sports is to increase access to flag football for women around the country,” said RCX Sports CEO Izell Reese. “I’m excited about this opportunity with the Atlantic East Conference as the first step towards growing a new generation of college athletes.”