Flag football was designed to minimize the injuries caused by tackle football. Aimed primarily as an alternative sport for American children, flag football has gone on to inspire numerous leagues throughout the world. The NFL holds a yearly world championship of flag football, though other leagues offer larger prizes. The NFL events are held in a different country around the world every year.
Flag football rules vary from one league to the next–and have evolved significantly over the years–but here are the standard rules for most forms of flag football.
Flag Football Rules
There are a number of different flag football rules in existence, mainly due to the fact that the activity lacks a single governing body. Around the globe, there exist rules for 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9-man teams, along with variations for punting, kicking, field goals and point-after conversions.
There are even contact flag football leagues, where blocking above the waist is allowed, and offensive players can hand block defensive players who are trying to grab their flag.
What Is Flag Football?
Basically, flag football is played in a similar fashion to regular football. The biggest difference revolves around stopping the offensive ball carrier.
In traditional football, this is done by tackling the opposing player. But according to flag football rules, each player wears a belt with flags around their waist. Instead of having to tackle the player, the defender must yank the belt free from the player’s waist. When this is accomplished, the ball carrier is considered
Example of Flag Football Rules
While a number of rule variations exist from league to league, I still thought it would be helpful to examine what makes flag football so unique. Therefore, I’ve decided to use the rules set forth by the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, which allows for seven players on each team.
If you want to look at rules from additional flag football leagues, try searching for one of the following:
USFTL Flag Football
Top Gun Flag Football
International Women’s Flag Football Association
The United States Flag Football Association
Texas Flag Football Association
Rules According to the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association
Flag Football General Rules
1. The game will be supervised by two to four officials.
2. Each game will be played by two teams of seven players each.
3. Each team is responsible for electing a captain. This captain is the only player on a team who may interact with the officials.
4. The playing field should be at least 40 yards wide and contain four zones of twenty yards. A ten yard end zone should also be marked at each end of the field.
5. A line should also be marked at the three and ten yard lines on both ends of the field. These lines will be used for point-after attempts.
6. Men are required to use a regulation football, while women and children will use the intermediate, junior or youth size.
7. Each team must wear jerseys which contrast each other.
8. Pants or shorts must be free from exposed drawstrings, belts or belt loops.
9. Each player is required to wear a flag belt around their waist. Each belt has three flags attached – one on each side and another in the center of the back. If a player does not have his belt legally attached prior to the snap, a 5-yard penalty will be enforced.
10. Hats with a bill are not allowed. Neither are bandanas.
11. Shoes with metal cleats are not allowed.
12. Other illegal equipment includes: jewelry, untucked shirts or jerseys, and hard leg or knee braces. Players wearing illegal equipment will not be allowed to play.
Game Time – Flag Football
1. The game lasts for 40 minutes, with two 20-minute halves. A 2-minute rest break occurs between halves. If overtime occurs, a three-minute rest period will take place before play resumes.
2. If the opposing captains and referee agree, the game may be shortened at any time.
3. When the ball is legally snapped during a half, the clock will run continuously for 18 minutes unless:
A team calls a time-out.
The referee calls a time-out.
When only two minutes are left in the half, the referee will stop the clock and inform both teams that two minutes remain. After each play in the final two minutes, the back judge will inform the captains of the time remaining.
4. During the final minute of each half, the clock will stop for one of the following reasons:
A team scores
Fair Catch on a punt return
One team calls a time-out
Ball carrier runs out of bounds
A penalty is called
Referee time-out (clock will resume at referee’s discretion)
Touchback on kick return
Change of possession
Note: The clock will begin again on the snap of the next play.
5. Each team will receive 2 charged time-outs per game.
Overtime Rules – Flag Football
1. If a tie occurs in the regular season, the game is over. If it happens during the playoffs, then an overtime period will occur.
2. A coin toss will then be held. The winner of the toss can choose either offense, defense or direction. Assuming they will choose offense, the remaining team captain gets to choose which end of the field they will defend. It should be noted, however, that each team in overtime will play towards the same goal line.
3. The team on offense will start with a 1st and goal from the 20 yard line. The object is to score a touchdown. If the first team scores, then the other team gets a chance. If one team scores and the other does not, then the game is over. If both teams score on their possession, then the game continues until one team fails to score. If the defense returns a fumble or interception for a touchdown, then that team automatically wins.
4. Each team gets one time-out per overtime period.
5. If the defending team is charged with roughing the passer or pass interference, the offense will receive a fresh set of downs.
Flag Football Penalties
Delay of Game – 5 yards from the previous spot
Illegal Procedure – 5 yards from the previous spot
Dead Ball Foul, Encroachment – 5 yards from the previous spot
Illegal Motion – 5 yards from the previous spot
Offensive Pass Interference – 10 yards from previous spot, loss of down
Defensive Pass Interference – 10 yards from previous spot, automatic first down
Roughing the Passer – 10 yards, automatic first down
Defensive Holding – 10 yards from the spot of the foul
Flag Guarding – 10 yards from the spot of the foul
Face Guarding – 10 yards, automatic first down
Stiff Arm – 10 yards from the spot of the foul
Helping the Runner – 5 yards from the spot of the foul
Illegal Blocking – 10 yards from the spot of the foul
Downs and Possessions
1. A team has 4 downs to reach the endzone.
2. If a team moves the ball into the next zone on a penalty-free play, then the team will receive a new set of downs. This also applies if an accepted penalty moves the team forward into a new zone.
Punting and Fair Catches
1. On fourth down, a team may choose to punt the ball. If they do so, all offensive players besides the punter must be on the line of scrimmage. The defense must have at least five players within one yard of their scrimmage line (which is a yard away from the offensive line of scrimmage). Players on either line of scrimmage must remain motionless until the punt is made. They may not try to distract the kicker in any way.
2. Once the ball is in the air, the player from the receiving team may signal for a fair catch. After the signal has been given, the ball will be considered dead after it is caught.
Prior to the Snap
1. Once the snapper has placed his hands on the ball, no player may cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is snapped.
When the snapper is in position, he may not adjust the ball or move until he actually snaps the ball.
2. At the snap, the offense must have at least four players on their line of scrimmage. All offensive players must be within 15 yards of the ball.
3. Prior to the snap, one offensive player may be in motion, but they cannot be moving towards the opposing goal line.
4. The player receiving the snap must be at least two yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Passing and Catching
1. All players are eligible to catch a pass.
2. A receiver (or defender on an interception) must get one foot inbounds for a catch to be complete.
3. If a quarterback’s foot goes beyond the line of scrimmage, a forward pass will not be considered legal.
1. While a player may dive to catch a ball (or grab a flag), there is no diving while running with the ball.
2. When the flag belt has been removed from the ball carrier, the ball is considered dead. Players who remove a flag belt should hold it over their head to show the referee.
3. When a runner loses their flag belt during a play, but they were not de-flagged, play continues. The ball carrier will be considered downed if an opposing player touches them anywhere between the knees and shoulders.
4. A defensive player may not hold the runner in an attempt to remove the flag belt.
5. A player is prohibited from pushing or pulling his ball-carrying teammate down the field.
1. Offensive players may block with their hands and arms at their side or behind their back.
2. Teammates of a ball carrier may attempt to run interference for them, but they may not hold onto one another.
3. Defensive players must go around an offensive blocker. They may not initiate contact.
1. If one team gets ahead by 19 or more points with five minutes to go in the second half, the game will be called due to the mercy rule. However, the losing team can elect to continue.
2. Touchdowns are worth 6 points.
3. Point-after attempts are worth 1, 2 or 3 points. Kicking from the 3-yard line is worth 1 pt., while kicks from the 10-yard line are worth 2 points. Kicks from the 20-yard line are worth 3 points.
4. A safety is worth two points. When a safety is scored, the defending team takes possession on the 20 yard line. If a team on offense commits a penalty in their own end zone, the result will be a safety.
The rules above are for teams comprised of one specific gender. In the case of mixed-gender teams, the following rules apply.
1. If teams have eight players on each side, then four men and four women should be on each team.
If seven players are on each side, then each team should have four women and three men.
2. An intermediate, junior or youth football should be used.
3. During a punt, a male receiver may advance the ball two steps. A woman receiver may advance the ball as far as she is able.
4. A male runner cannot advance the ball beyond the line of scrimmage.
5. When a team is on offense, there cannot be two consecutive forward passes from a male quarterback to a male receiver. If a male carries the ball for positive yardage, then the next receiver or runner for positive yards must be a woman.
6. If a team is ahead by 25 points with five minutes remaining in the second half, the referee may invoke the mercy rule and end the game.
7. A scoring team receives nine points for a touchdown if the scoring player is female.