The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics will start women’s flag football as an official sport by 2021 thanks to a two-year partnership between the NAIA, the National Football League and Reigning Champs Experiences. The agreement will give the NAIA the ability to develop league infrastructure and operations for the first women’s flag football competition governed by a collegiate athletics association.

The NAIA will host its first showcase open to female football athletes by the end of 2020 and will begin working with NFL Flag and Reigning Champs to outline competition guidelines and next steps for schools and conferences interested in instituting women’s flag. The organization has also put together a startup guide for institutions interested in the sport.

“Football is for everyone,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said. “This groundbreaking and historic joint venture provides an opportunity for the values, fun and competitive environment of football to be enjoyed as a varsity sport by female student-athletes attending NAIA institutions across America.”

The first competitive season will be held in the spring of 2021 and the NAIA will host an emerging sport or invitational championship in 2022. An emerging sport in the NAIA is defined as being played in at least 15 institutions, while invitational can be defined as at least 25. A sport must have a minimum of 40 participating institutions to be considered for full championship status.

”The NAIA is thrilled to partner with the NFL and Reigning Champs in launching women’s flag football,” said Jim Carr, NAIA president and chief executive officer. “This is a fantastic opportunity for our members to expand their athletics programming with support from valuable partners like Reigning Champs and one of the most relevant and successful professional sports leagues in the world.”

In addition to the women’s flag football initiative, the NFL will serve as the presenting sponsor of the 2020 NAIA Football National Championship, scheduled for December 19 at Eddie G. Robinson Stadium at Grambling University in Grambling, Louisiana.

“Increasing female participation in flag football has been a top priority for NFL Flag,” said Izell Reese, Reigning Champs president and general manager. “By teaming up with the NAIA, we’re able to create even more opportunities for young women to continue the sport they love, and potentially receive scholarships to continue their education and compete at the next level.”