A Staple of Student Life: Flag Football

Author: Megan Kelleher

Dsc 5426 1"

The university is famously a football school with legendary players like Joe Montana, Jerome Bettis and Tim Brown emerging from the Irish program to have all-star careers in the NFL. Less widely known, however, is that Notre Dame is also a flag football school, especially for women’s dorms.

RecSports has records of women’s flag football competitions dating back as early as 1972: the first year the university admitted women. Since then, women have been competing, largely as part of their residence hall’s teams, against members of other dorms to secure the title of “Flag Football Champions.”

In recent years, the season has begun in early September, running through late October and culminating in the championship game played in Notre Dame Stadium. The Fall 2023 Championship game featured the Ryan Wildcats facing off against the Cavanaugh Chaos, resulting in a final score of 19-16 with the Wildcats taking home the title.

Senior and star Wildcats player Margaret Casson described the match: “The championship game was super thrilling, and we were down for most of the second half and scored a last-minute touchdown at the end to win it … I think what was super cool is every single person made an impact and added a ton of value.”

Although flag football is intended to be a less aggressive competition than traditional tackle football, the Notre Dame women’s league continuously sees serious injuries ranging from severe concussions to torn ACLs and broken wrists.

Cavanaugh Captain, 2021 Flag Football Champion and runner-up in 2023 Maeve Dolan has sprained her ankle, bruised a rib, and torn part of her meniscus in the four years she has played flag football, yet she describes the sport as one of her favorite parts of dorm life. “I love it because of the people — I’ve made most of my closest friends, in various grades, through flag [football], and it’s also just such a great outlet for competitive spirit and dorm camaraderie,” said Dolan.

Beyond building dorm spirit and fostering competition on campus, RecSports assistant director of communication & engagement Veronica Ballinger added that participating in intramural sports such as flag football also enhances students’ “professional development.” “The rich environment of inclusive competition, sportsmanship, and personal development — from participants to spectators and staff — supports communities built on safety, integrity, mentorship, and diversity, which is what RecSports is all about,” said Ballinger.

While the majority of female athletes opt to participate as part of their dorm’s team, students can also join the CoRecreational division, which allows undergraduates from any dorm to play together. Graduate students, faculty and staff can also join in on the fun as there is a Graduate/Faculty/Staff (GFS) division in addition to the undergraduate leagues.

Prior to the Fall of 2023, RecSports offered an interhall tackle football program, as well, so “if a resident from a women’s hall wanted to join a team, she would be assigned to a men’s hall team following established policies and procedures” explained Ballinger.

In June 2023, however, Rev. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C. announced the discontinuance of Interhall Tackle Football (ITFB), citing a “decrease in undergraduate student interest in addition to fewer numbers of participating students with prior experience playing organized tackle football.” According to the study that the Office of Recreational Sports conducted in the Fall of 2022, 44% of participants had no previous experience in organized tackle football before their involvement in ITFB with another 49% of participants with at least 3 years of tackle football experience from high school.

The university ultimately decided to discontinue ITFB under the guidance of the Competitive Athletics Medical Review Panel, emphasizing “ the risks associated with a competitive environment where there is a large disparity in the experience participants have with tackle football.”

Although tackle football has been discontinued, the university also cited an increased interest and participation in men’s 7-on-7 Flag Football, which was introduced as an interhall sport in 2019. When the league began, there were 18 men’s Flag Football interhall teams, a figure which has since increased to 23 teams.

Despite the changing landscape, the general popularity of flag football has been consistent — from 2021-2023, RecSports saw an average of 1175 students participate across all of their divisions. Flag football remains a highlight for so many members of the community and will surely remain a staple of student life.