• Introduction
  • The object of the game
  • Scoring in flag football
  • Starting the game
  • Gameplay
  • Turnovers and dead balls
  • Fouls and penalties
  • Overtime
  • Game intervals
  • Flag football field dimensions
  • Rules and regulation of flag football equipment
  • Other rules of flag football
  • Sources

Scoring

  • Touchdown: 6pts 
  • Successful try from 5yd: 1pt
  • Successful try from 10yd: 2pts
  • Defense touchdown on a try: 2pts
  • Safety: 2pts awarded to the opponent
  • Safety on a try: 1pt awarded to the opponent
  • A game ends after two 20min halves. The team with the most points is the winner

Intervals and game changes

  • A game consists of two 20min halves
  • During the last two minutes of each half, the game clock runs only when the ball is in play
  • Half-time is 2mins
  • Teams switch ends after the first half
  • Both teams have two 90s timeouts per half
  • Teams must start the next play within 25s

Starting the game

  • Played in a 5 vs 5 format, maximum of 15 players
  • Winner of the coin toss starts as the offensive team, losing team chooses sides

Gameplay

  • Offensive team has 4 tries to cross the center line, if successful, they have an additional 4 tries to score a touchdown
  • After a touchdown, the team has one more try from the 5yd or 10yd line
  • Quarterback has 7s to pass the ball and may not run past the scrimmage unless the ball has touched another player
  • Forward passes are allowed from behind the scrimmage
  • Backwards passes and hand-offs are only allowed behind the scrimmage
  • Ball is dead if it is fumbled, a runner goes out of bounds, or a pass is incomplete
  • The next try continues from where the last play ended
  • Only passing plays are allowed if the play starts from the no running zone
  • If the defending team catches the ball, the play continues and they become the attacking team (turnover)
  • Tackling, blocking and other physical contact is strictly prohibited

Introduction

Flag football is believed to be invented in 1933 as a recreational sport in the US military bases. After World War II, the sport quickly spread across the country and the first recreational leagues were founded around the 1950s. One decade later, the first flag football organization, the National Touch Football League (NTFL) was founded. In the 1970s, flag football arrived to college campuses, and the first official college tournament was hosted by The University of New Orleans in 1979. 

After 1990s, multiple different leagues and organizations attempted to standardize the modern rules of flag football. However, none of them were quite successful. While the rules of flag football remain very similar, different leagues such as NFL Flag Football League and Canadian Football League (CFL), have their own intricacies and specific field dimensions. This post refers to official rules of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). 

Nowadays, with an estimated 1.5 million active players in the US alone, flag football has grown to be one of the most well-known ball sports out there. Its biggest tournaments include the World Cup of Flag Football and IFAF Flag Football World Championships. 

The object of the game

The object of flag football is to score points by either running with the ball over the opponent’s goal line or catching the ball in the offensive end zone. Naturally, the opposing team has the same goal, as they try to score more points than your team. The team that has more points at the end of the game is declared the winner. 

Scoring in flag football

There are several different ways to score in flag football, all of which score a different amount of points. The scoring plays are;

  • Touchdown: 6pts (running to the end zone with the ball)
  • Successful try from 5yd: 1pt
  • Successful try from 10yd: 2pts
  • Defense touchdown on a try: 2pts
  • Safety: 2pts awarded to the opponent
  • Safety on a try: 1pt awarded to the opponent

The team with the most points at the end of the second half wins the game. However, if the second half ends in a tie, the game will go into overtime. 

Starting the game

Flag football is played in a 5 vs 5 format, with a maximum number of 15 players per team. Each game starts with a coin toss. The winner of the coin toss attacks first, whereas the other team may choose which side of the field they start from. The team that lost the coin toss also attacks first during the second half. 

If a team has less than four players at the beginning of the game, they are forced to forfeit the game. Teams must also consist of players of the same sex. 

Gameplay

At the start of the game, the attacking team has four attempts to cross the center line of the court. If the team has successfully crossed the center line, the team may continue attacking for four more attempts. Every time a team successfully proceeds on the field, they may start the next try from further on the field. The offensive team may perform a running or passing play, provided they are out of the no running zone. If the attacking team is unable to cross the center line within four attempts, or score after crossing the center line, the defending team starts attacking from their 5-yard line.

After the snap (a backwards pass), the quarterback has 7s to pass the ball forwards or hand it off to another player. The quarterback is not allowed to run past the scrimmage unless the ball has been released and touched another player. Forward passes are allowed as long as the pass is thrown behind the scrimmage line, and before the runner has gone beyond it. On the other hand, backwards passes are only allowed behind the scrimmage line. During an offensive try, all defending players may try to sack the quarterback. However, a blitzer must stand at least 6.4m (7yd) from the scrimmage and raise their hand before the snap. 

If a player is able to run over the goal line or catch the ball in the end zone, the team will score 6 points. After a touchdown, the team has one attempt at an extra point from either the 5-yard line (1pt) or the 10-yard line (2pts).

Turnovers and dead balls

Any pass that is not caught by a player with at least one foot on the ground, is considered incomplete. If the pass is caught by a player, be it from the same team or not, the play will continue. In case of a turnover (defending team catches the ball), the team may attempt a touchdown. After a turnover, the defending team also becomes the attacking team from the position where the ball became ”dead”. If the turnover occurs in the defending team’s end zone and the play has been stopped, the defending team will start attacking from their 5-yard line.

The game will continue until the ball is ”dead”. This happens when a touchdown or safety is scored, or the ball carrier steps out of bounds, their or knee touches the ground, or when their flag is pulled. Any physical contact like tackles or blocking are strictly prohibited.

If the runner fumbles the ball, the ball is dead and belongs to the fumbling team. However, if the runner or an opponent regains possession of the ball before it dies, it remains in play. However, a ball fumbled into the offensive team’s end zone it is considered a safety, which rewards two points for the other team.

Fouls and penalties

Both the defending team and the attacking team may be given penalties during the game. Each penalty may be 5 or 10 yards depending on the foul, and given from the location of the previous try. In some cases, the offensive team may also lose a down. The only exception for this is that the penalty may not cross the distance between the starting line and the goal line. In this case, the penalty towards the end zone will be halved.

Automatic first down penalties include defensive pass interference, targeting, and illegal contact. However, loss of down penalties include delayed passes, illegal backward and forward passes, as well as flag guarding. 

In addition to loss of a down, some fouls also result in loss of 5 or 10 yards. The most common 5-yard penalties are kicking the ball, illegal snaps, blocking, as well as illegal forward and backward passes. On the other hand, more serious fouls may result in a 10-yard penalty as well as a loss of a down. The most common 10-yard penalties are illegal contact, game interference, pass interference and unsportsmanlike behavior. 

Gameplay rules, fouls and penalties are overseen by a referee. The referee is responsible for making calls during the match as well as ensuring the game is played fairly and according to the official rules of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). A match also has two official supervisors.

Overtime

If both teams are tied at the end of the second half, the game will go on overtime (tiebreaker). The first extra period consists of two series with both teams starting once from the middle line by a snap. If the defense scores during the first series, other than on their try, the game is over. If the game is still tied after two series, the game will continue with a series of 1-point-tries from the 5-yard line. 

In tournaments, a tie game does not end in overtime. Instead, the winner will be declared by:

  1. Head-to-head win percentage, if all teams have played each other
  2. Head-to-head net point difference, if all teams have played each other
  3. Head-to-head points scored, if all teams have played each other
  4. Total point differential
  5. Total points scored

Game intervals

According to the official rules of flag football, each game consists of two 20-minute halves with a 2-minute intermission in between. During the last two minutes of each half, the game clock runs only when the ball is in play.

After each try, teams also have 25s to get ready for the next play. Unlike some other field sports such as ultimate frisbee, teams do not switch ends after every point. However, they do so after the first half.

Both teams are allowed two 90s timeouts per half. The referee will notify both teams 30s before the timeout expires, and 5s later when the ball is ready for play. Once the timeout has expired, the play continues from the same location where the team was when the timeout was called. During overtime, neither team is allowed a timeout. 

If a player gets injured, any official may declare a timeout, as long as the injured player is taken off the field for at least one down. In case of a team timeout or injury timeout, the game clock may be stopped at the referee’s discretion during the last two minutes of each half. 

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Flag football is a low-impact version of American football.

Flag football field dimensions

A flag football field is divided into a central zone with a length of 36,6m (40yd) and two 9,1m (10yd) long end zones on opposite sides of the court. The width of the playing field is 22,9m (25yd). Each intersection where two lines meet is marked by Pylons or disk markers. 

The field is also surrounded by a 2,75m (3yd) safety area on all sides of the field for safety reasons if a player runs out of the court. Additionally, if two fields are next to each other, there must be at least 5,5m (6yd) between them. 

The field also has one- and two-point-try lines on both sides of the field – both of them being 90cm (1ft) long. The one-point-try line is located 4,57m (5yd) from the middle of the goal line whereas the two-point-try line is 9,15m (10yd) from the goal line. 

Flag football can also be played indoors or on a beach. These fields are slightly smaller in size.

Rules and regulation of flag football equipment

Aside from regular athletic sportswear, a team jersey, and a field to play on, flag football requires an official ball, flag belts, and two pop-flags. 

The football is 30cm long (11-12in) with a circumference of 58-62cm (23-24in). The recommended air pressure is 65.7-68.8kPa (9.5-10.0 psi). While most footballs are made from leather, they may also be made from rubber. 

A flag belt is a tightly-worn belt with two pop-flags. These flags must measure 5cm (2in) wide and 38cm (15in) long. These flags must be facing outwards and downwards, and may not be altered in any way. The pop-flags must also be of the same color. 

Players are allowed to wear shoes with cleats under 1,25cm (0.5in). Mouthguards and gloves are not mandatory, but often recommended. Any sort of protection or other equipment that may endanger other players is prohibited. This includes helmets, shoulder pads, headwear, jewelry, towels, etc. 

Other rules of flag football

Aside from the regular rules of flag football, the referee may also stop the game due to unsportsmanlike conduct. This includes unnecessary physical contact such as tackles, blocks, elbow strikes and other dangerous plays. The referee may also give a warning due to unsportsmanlike language and violent behavior. If a player violates these rules multiple times, they may be sent out of the field and even banned from the rest of the tournament. 

Before the game begins, both teams will designate a maximum of two captains and two coaches for their team. During gameplay, only the captains of each team are allowed to talk to the referee. Coaches and captains of the offended team are also allowed to decline a penalty. 

Did you learn anything new about the rules of flag football? Let us know in the comments below.

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