Big Ten Conference head coaches discuss flag football’s Olympic hopes

By Samuel Teets | Posted 9/28/2022

Football’s popularity is on the rise in countries across the globe, and the sport’s international popularity could continue to grow if flag football is approved as an Olympic sport for the 2028 summer games in Los Angeles. Flag football’s cost effectiveness, limited injury risk, and inclusive nature makes it an ideal vehicle to drive the game’s growing participation numbers in countries outside of the United States.   

The international community is already responding positively to flag football. The 2021 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Flag World Championships in Jerusalem, Israel drew a record number 39 men’s and women’s flag national teams (combined) from 22 nations, and the sport’s debut at The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Ala. this past July showcased flag football on a multi-sport, global stage for the first time.  

As a proud supporter of football’s expanding international footprint and multiple game-types, USA Football recently spoke with the Big Ten Conference’s head football coaches at the conference’s annual football media days in Indianapolis about the possibility of flag football joining the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Here are some of their responses: 

“We could really gather some great interest throughout the world for the game of football and educate others on the ways to have fun playing it. There are a few tackle football leagues in other countries, but flag football in the Olympics would be a chance for a lot of people to learn more about the game and fall in love with it.” 

     --Jeff Brohm, Purdue University 

“I never played flag football until I was done playing in college and was cut in the Canadian league. I played flag football on Sunday mornings, and man was that fun. I played linebacker in college, so to actually catch and run with the football was exciting. Flag is a different game than tackle, but it’s still in essence football. Flag football is an entry point to spread the great game of football across the world. It can be a great mechanism to introduce the game into different countries and cultures.” 

     --Greg Schiano, Rutgers University 

“I think including flag football in the Olympics would be great. It’s not tackle football, but that’s okay. Playing tackle football takes a toll on your body, so usually you only play once a week. With flag football, you can play much more often. The more we play the game, the better off we’ll be. I think it’s a great idea, and I hope it happens.” 

     --Ryan Day, Ohio State University 

“The more ways our game is represented, not only in our country but worldwide, the better. There’s a reason why the NFL has pushed for international games. We want to promote our game as many ways as we possibly can. I think flag football provides an opportunity for some young people early in their developmental stages to play, enjoy, learn and experience the game. You also have older people still being able to play the game and compete at a high level because of flag. Before these opportunities, football was one of the few games where you finished playing in high school or college and you never played again. The fact that this has provided an opportunity for people to play the game long after a normal career has ended is powerful. Whether that’s in parks around the country or on an international stage like the Olympics, it’s awesome because it’s promoting the game of football at the end of the day.” 

     --James Franklin, Penn State University 

“Anything that expands the knowledge and range of football worldwide is good for the game. Football can be played globally. It just needs the outreach and exposure through the media to touch every country. That’s the great thing about flag football. Flag football is a different type of football, but it’s still football. Everybody around the world can start playing that, and it will help the game’s exposure as we move into the future.” 

     --P.J. Fleck, University of Minnesota 

“Anything that globally enhances our game would be a positive step in the right direction. Football took a hit for a few years, but the participation numbers have come back the past couple of years in youth and high school football. The trend is moving in the right direction, so I think anything that promotes the game will be a good thing.” 

     --Bret Bielema, University of Illinois