Big Ten Conference head coaches support flag football’s growth and Olympic dreams

By Samuel Teets | Posted 10/11/2023

USA Football recently continued its long-standing relationship with the Big Ten Conference by attending the conference’s 2023 Football Media Days held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The quotes in this story were produced from a series of one-on-one sit-down interviews with the head football coaches responsible for programs in the Big Ten.  

Flag football is exploding in popularity in the United States and internationally. More than 20 million people participate in the sport across 100 countries, including roughly 7.1 million Americans, according to an annual U.S. participation study from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) in 2022. USA Football and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) hope to see flag football included in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  

As a cost effective, fast, exciting, competitive and inclusive game, flag football is an ideal game-type to drive the sport’s increasing popularity and participation numbers worldwide. Flag football is an excellent vehicle for development at the youth level. It’s also expanding to the high school and college levels, and USA Football is dedicated to creating pathways for adults to remain in the game through opportunities like sanctioned tournaments and the U.S. National Team Program.  

The game type differs from tackle football, but it still offers many athletes chances to engage with America’s favorite sport. The head football coaches of the Big Ten Conference support flag football’s growth. They recognize the game’s booming participation numbers and hope flag helps more athletes and fans fall in love with football.   

“I think people all over the world are intrigued by the game when they see it. They like it. They potentially love it. In my job, I already see kids coming from across the globe to play college football. I hope we can continue to grow that by bringing the game to people. I think flag football is a great sport. It’s a great way to get people involved, and I hope to see it in the Olympics.” 

– Matt Rhule, University of Nebraska  

“I think it's great for women. My daughter really wants to play in the worst way. I shared with her that this has an opportunity to be an Olympic sport down the road. I think that allows a lot more people who historically haven’t played football the opportunity to get exposure.” 

– Ryan Day, Ohio State University 

“Anytime you reach the Olympics with a sport, it helps in a lot of different ways. Flag [football] will allow women and others that want to play this great game, that has given so much to so many, an opportunity to take a piece of what football can be about. It just opens the doors for a whole new group of players that get an opportunity to see what a great game we have.” 

– Mike Locksley, University of Maryland 

“You’re offering the game in a different way to different populations – whether it’s young people or people for whom tackle football doesn’t make sense or isn’t something they’re comfortable with, but they still love the game of football and want to be involved. I have two daughters, and they were involved in flag football, so it’s an outlet for women. There are a lot of different reasons why flag football is important. At the end of the day, it’s still football. The more people that can fall in love with the game, play and are involved in the activity – I think is really important.”  

– James Franklin, Penn State University 

“It's about the expansion of the game. Football is America’s game. Soccer is Europe's game, but that's international. Every country plays soccer. Why can’t every country evolve into a football country and play the game at different levels like tackle, flag and in youth sports? How neat would that be to actually have the game of football in the Olympics with the USA competing for gold medals?”  

– P.J. Fleck, University of Minnesota 

“We have to continue to think about how we can make football more inclusive and the passion that comes with new people playing the game. There will be growth opportunities in all realms of the sport, including through the new fans that are created. The more people we draw in, the better off football will be for decades to come.”  

– David Braun, Northwestern University