Embracing college (flag) football culture
Intramural flag football helps fill the void for AU’s lack of tailgate opportunities
Saturdays at AU aren’t special affairs. The library is only slightly less packed than weekdays, campus coffee shops are buzzing with study groups and the quad is lined with foldable tables. Some students set early alarms for internships or jobs, hoping to get another resume-booster. Saturdays don’t involve the words “football game day” because, well, they can’t.
AU works to churn out congressmen and women, non-profit starters and foreign correspondents, but the athletic portion of the University is not a centerpiece of the campus culture. Sporting events, which already are sparsely attended, are without a staple of the college experience: a football team.
Though the University doesn’t have a team to play on Saturday afternoons as the leaves change from green to brown, students still have the opportunity to play (and watch) football. Intramural flag football, that is.
AU’s intramural flag football league, as well as the sport itself, encourages minimal contact and no tackling, making it appealing to people who may not have experience playing traditional football, said Garret Schmidt, AU’s intramural sports coordinator. And for those students who have played football, there’s really only one key similarity, Schmidt said: the ball.
The league is inclusive to all genders, giving students the opportunity to foster a competitive spirit while practicing a healthy and balanced lifestyle, Schmidt said.
Adam Deakin, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs who played in the flag football league this season, said the sport has a different vibe “than having 100,000 kids pregaming.” But he doesn’t necessarily mind the contrast.
“For me, and for others at American, I feel there was an aspect of wanting sports at school, but football wasn’t too important,” Deakin said.
Not having football at AU has not “really detracted” from Deakin’s college experience because he’s been able to play in the intramural league, he said.
“I think at a lot of football-factory colleges -- big D-I schools -- there’s a larger division between athletes and students than there is here,” Deakin said. “Even the athletes are ‘just students.’ That’s what AU is.”
Joshua DeSouza, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been a referee for intramural sports for six months. He has reffed flag football, volleyball and indoor futsal -- indoor soccer with slightly tweaked rules. DeSouza found flag football to be the most competitive out of the three, he said.
“While we had fewer teams participate than other sports, the community of people who participated in flag was much more diverse in age range and ethnicity and openly passionate about the game,” DeSouza said. “Some people were merely there for fun and friendship, while others were clearly lifelong football participants looking for a way to stay active and competitive to the best that they could here at American.”
While teams do get competitive during games, friendships and inter-team relationships are created through competition, DeSouza said. And players like Deakin prefer flag football’s diminished intensity.
While AU’s flag football program is -- quite literally -- all fun and games, the winner is determined through a one-day tournament bracket system. During the regular season, teams are rotated so that each plays against a different one within AU.
This year, members of the fraternity Delta Tau Delta made up the team that came out on top. Out of the eight intramural football teams this season, six were fraternity groups -- Phi Sigma Kappa, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Theta Sigma and Pi Kappa Alpha. Delta Tau Delta’s intramural championship win gave them the opportunity to represent AU at a national flag football championship at the University of Maryland in late November.
“No one went for the hard tackle or extreme play. It was all for the sake of fun,” DeSouza said of the season. “There were not many close games, and the games just became about trying new things, like full-field chucks or one-hand catches. I saw some incredible plays throughout the season.”
Kathleen Duffy, a graduate student pursuing her J.D. and MBA at AU, was captain of the law school team this past intramural season. Feeling connected to sports throughout her life, Duffy came to D.C. after attending Bucknell University as an undergraduate.
Organizing a flag football team offered Duffy the chance to bring her business class group together, she said.
“I organized IM as a social thing, which became much greater than that because the boys got really into it,” Duffy said. “As a result, the business program is a lot more social, and we do more things together after class or after the game. We were able to bring the interactions during the game into our group project, which made the semester-long class better for all of us.”
While DeSouza understands that flag football will never be the same as having a football team at AU, he sees the positive aspects of the intramural program.
“I can see why flag football isn't a bad alternative,” DeSouza said. “You get refs, you get a full field and you get all the materials provided to you. Not only that, but unlike just having a football team, you are the football team at AU.”
This article originally appeared in December 2017 print edition of The Eagle.