Rules finalized for CIF girls’ flag football, but plenty of questions remain

Crenshaw High's De'Chelle Bracket takes off down the sideline during a League of Champions local flag football game.
(Craig Weston)

They rose as one, a group of about 20 high school girls standing in front of the Irvine Unified School District Board of Education, each raising a piece of paper with a different word scribbled.

Equality. Opportunity. Hope. Empowered. Badass. All showing, as University High junior Leah Schulman announced to the board via public comment March 14, what playing flag football meant to them. An emphatic demonstration, designed to nudge the board toward passing applications for flag football programs at Irvine high schools such as Woodbridge and University.

“Now,” said University coach Justin Schulman, “at least they know we’re watching.”

And for the kicker, Schulman invited members of a local youth team to speak. A handful of elementary school girls, each carrying custom-made signs they presented to the board.


“I love flag football — let us play,” one read, in a tone that would melt even the most frozen of hearts.

As such community showings of support grow for girls’ flag football — Oak Park High holding an interest meeting March 29 that drew dozens, coaching hires becoming official at schools around the Southland — the CIF took another massive step toward an uncharted future Wednesday, distributing a flag football rulebook to member sections.

Individual sections can evaluate interested programs and districts to set up schedules. The City Section currently has three dozen schools committed to playing, according to sports information director Dick Dornan. Paula Hart Rodas, president-elect of the Southern Section council, said they’d likely know a full list of participating teams by July.

Each step forward, though, brings another wave of questions. Here are some of the latest developments.



For the most part, CIF associate executive director Brian Seymour said, the state rulebook was designed to give schools flexibility with regard to scheduling and field space. Coaches are thrilled clearer guidance, and a rulebook, exist.


But they disagree with many of the specifics.

An analysis:

• Games will be played in two 20-minute halves, with a running clock until the last two minutes of each half.

Reasoning: The time frame allows schools to play a game every hour, Seymour said, important for potential “league nights” where every member of a league can participate in a one-day round of play to fit in as many games as possible.

Argument: “Way too short,” Schulman said.

There’s no screening or blocking

Reasoning: The NCAA has its own set of rules for every sport separate from high school, Seymour said. And the CIF wants to eliminate as much contact as possible given the potential of injury.

Argument: Screening would help to develop quarterbacks for the college level, where more contact is allowed, said Gardena Serra coach Monique Adams.


Runners may not leap or spin to evade a flag grab.

Reasoning: Full spins, Seymour said, could invite more contact, which the CIF wants to limit. Full rules can be found here.

Argument: “That’s the whole point of flag football — it’s showcasing your athleticism and your skills and ability … that’s kind of shocking,” Adams said when told runners couldn’t spin.


Scheduling around officiating

How, exactly, are flag football teams going to construct a schedule around a widespread referee shortage — particularly playing in the fall during tackle football season?

“It’s going to be incredibly difficult,” said Orange County football referee Jeff Roberts, former president of the Orange County Officials Assn.


There are conflicts at every turn. Football officials would be stretched thin if games were held Thursdays, when many junior varsity tackle games are scheduled, or even Saturdays, when Pop Warner games take place. The best bet, Roberts said, would be games scheduled for Monday or Tuesday — the tentative plan some districts are exploring in that one-night format.


Who will compete?

In the inaugural season there will be no playoffs in the Southern Section, only a potential end-of-year tournament. The City Section likely will hold playoffs, according to Dornan, who said earlier this year they needed only six schools to field teams in order to have a postseason tournament. In the Southern Section, 20% of all schools in the section need to field a team, and an initial season is needed to determine how to sort teams into playoff divisions.

Whatever results are measured, Long Beach Poly and Gardena Serra enter as major favorites — two historic rivals meeting in the final of the winter girls’ flag football “League of Champions,” which is sponsored in part by the Rams and Chargers, USA Football and Nike.

Look out for Redondo Union, which has a mob of talent at receiver, incredibly important in a 7-on-7 game in which everyone behind the line of scrimmage is an eligible target. Surf League schools such as Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos will likely field strong programs.

It will be a strange, learn-on-the-fly first season come fall, but seniors, in particular, are happy for the opportunity to cinch a belt for their high school — and establish the ground floor of a new sport for generations to come.


“I think it’s really about the legacy that we create and leave for the little girls that are coming up behind us,” said Woodbridge’s Milan Heisdorf.