Men's and Co-Rec Flag Football Rules | Recreational Services
The University of Iowa

2018 Flag Football Rules

Rule 1: Facility | Rule 2: Player Eligibility | Rule 3: Team Composition | Rule 4: Equipment | Rule 5: Beginning a Game | Rule 6: Game Time and Time-Outs | 
Rule 7: Flag Belts | Rule 8: Definitions of Playing Terms | Rule 9: Ball In Play, Dead Ball, Out-of-Bounds | Rule 10: Series of Downs, Number of Downs |
Rule 11: Kicking the Ball | Rule 12: Snapping, Handing, and Passing the Ball | Rule 13: Scoring Plays and Touchback | Rule 14: Conduct of Players and Others | 
Rule 15: Enforcement of Penalties | Rule 16: Co-Rec Flag Football Differences | Rule 17: Other Rules | RainOut Line

The rules for The University of Iowa Intramural Flag Football are derived from the NIRSA Flag & Touch Football Rules Book & Officials’ Manual, unless otherwise stated within this document. The current NIRSA Flag & Touch Football Rules Book & Officials’ Manual will apply in all cases not specifically covered below. Copies of the rules can be found here.  Recent rule changes appear in italicized font.

Rule 1: Facility

  1. All games will be played at the Hawkeye Recreation Fields unless otherwise noted. Alcohol and tobacco are not permitted inside the complex or in the parking lot.

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Rule 2: Player Eligibility

  1. All Intramural Sports eligibility rules apply. Please check the Intramural Sports Rules and Regulations carefully.
  2. All players must check-in with their University ID cards or government-issued photo IDs with the Intramural Supervisor prior to the start of each game.

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Rule 3: Team Composition

  1. The game shall be played between two teams of seven players each on the field at one time. A minimum of four players are required to prevent a forfeit. Roster sizes are unlimited.
  2. For Co-Rec the game shall be played between two teams of eight players each on the field at one time. A minimum of five players are required to prevent a forfeit. Each Co-Rec team on the field must maintain the proper male to female ratio by not exceeding a difference of two between genders.  
    • The legal Co-Rec team combinations are as follows:
      • Team of 8: 4 men and 4 women or 5 men and 3 women or 3 men and 5 women
      • Team of 7: 3 men and 4 women or 4 men and 3 women
      • Team of 6: 3 men and 3 women or 4 men and 2 women or 2 men and 4 women
      • Team of 5: 3 men and 2 women or 2 men and 3 women

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Rule 4: Equipment

  1. Each player on the field must wear a one-piece belt at the waistline with three flags permanently attached, one flag to each hip and one to the center of the back.
    1. (Failure to wear required equipment – PENALTY: 5 yards)
  2. Cleats are limited to studs or projections that do not exceed ½ inch in length and are made with non-abrasive rubber or rubber-type synthetic material, which does not chip or develop a cutting edge. No metal cleats will be allowed.
  3. Players are not allowed to wear pants or shorts with pockets. Players are allowed to reverse pants or shorts as long as the pants or shorts have a lining, making the pockets not visible.
  4. Players may wear a stocking cap. It may have a knit ball attached. The cap must have no bill. Players may wear a headbands. Rubber or elastic bands may only be used to control hair.
  5. Illegal equipment consists of pads, shoulder pads, un-taped jewelry, or any unyielding or dangerous equipment, which include shoes with detachable cleats unless the screw is part of the cleat. Any slippery or sticky substance of a foreign nature on equipment or exposed parts of the body is illegal.
    • Jewelry. Hand jewelry is not permitted to be worn during participation in Flag Football. Wrist jewelry must be taped down, and must stay taped down throughout the contest. Necklaces must be taped down inside the shirt, and must stay taped down throughout the contest. Stud earrings, or earrings that do not extend beyond the earlobe, are permitted, but must be covered throughout the contest. Intramural Sports will not provide tape for the taping of jewelry. The Intramural Sports staff retains the right to require any jewelry deemed dangerous to be removed prior to participation, or continued participation.​​
  6. ALL PLAYERS MUST KEEP SHIRTS TUCKED IN AT ALL TIMES. A cut-off shirt short enough not to interfere with the flags is permissible. A cut-off shirt must be at least four inches from the bottom of the jersey to the player’s waistline.
  7. Cutoff or sleeveless shirt openings may hang no lower than four inches from the armpit.
    • (Illegal equipment - PENALTY: Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 10 yards)
  8. When any illegal equipment is found on any player or incoming substitute, the illegal equipment must be removed before participation. If illegal equipment removal takes more than 25 seconds, that player must be replaced for at least one down, or the team may call a team time-out. 

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Rule 5: Beginning a Game

  1. Before the start of the game the referee shall toss a coin in the presence of the opposing captains, after first designating which captain shall call the coin toss.
    • The captain of the winning toss shall choose one of the following options.
      • Offense.
      • Defense.
      • To designate which goal his/her team will defend.
      • To have the choice of the above options to begin the second half (defer).
    • The loser of the toss shall make a choice of the remaining options.
    • Putting the ball into play. The ball shall be put into play  on the 14-yard line at the beginning of the game, at the beginning of the second half, after a score, and after a safety by a scrimmage down.
    • Before the coin toss, the referee will approve each team’s game ball. If needed, a football will be made available for check-out by Intramural Sports.
      • Men shall use the regular size ball only. A regular, intermediate, youth, or junior size football shall be used for Women’s and Co-Rec games.

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Rule 6: Game Time and Time-outs

  1. Playing time shall be 40 minutes, divided into four periods of 10 minutes each. There will be a five-minute intermission between halves. Between the first and second period and between the third and fourth period, the teams shall change goals. Team possession, number of the next down, and the zone line-to-gain remain unchanged.
    • The time between the first and second period and between the third and fourth period shall be no more than one minute. At approximately two minutes before the end of each half the referee shall stop the clock and inform both captains of the playing time remaining in the half. The starting of the clock depends on the previous play.
    • During the final two minutes of each half the clock stops for:
      • Incomplete Pass – starts on the snap.
      • Out-of-Bounds – starts on the snap.
      • Penalty and Administration – depends on the previous play. (Exception: following delay of game, clock starts on the snap).
      • Touchdown – starts on the succeeding snap after the extra point try.
      • Team Time-Out – starts on the snap.
      • First Down – depends on the previous play.
      • Official’s Time-Out – starts at the referee’s discretion.
      • Touchback – starts on the snap.
      • Safety – starts on the snap.
      • New series for Team B – starts on the snap.
  2. The clock will start when the ball is legally snapped and will run continuously during the first and third periods, and during the first 8 minutes of the second and fourth periods, except for a team time-out or an official’s time-out.
  3. Each team is entitled to two time-outs during each half. Time-outs will be no longer than one minute. The time-outs not used during the first half may not be used in the second half. No time-outs will be granted after a team uses both of its time-outs. In the case of overtime, each team is entitled to only one time-out for all overtime periods combined.
  4. If the game is tied at the end of the second half, the following procedures are used:
    • Overtime Periods – All overtime periods are played towards the same goal line. A coin toss, as in the beginning of the game, will determine the options. If additional overtime periods are played, field captains will alternate option choices. Each team will have a series of downs to score a touchdown beginning from the 10-yard line.
    • Penalties shall be assessed according to the regular rules of the game.
    • Each play shall begin from scrimmage and shall be limited to running and passing plays.
      • No kicks from scrimmage are permitted.
    • When the defensive team secures possession of a live ball, the ball is dead and the period is over.
    • The goal line shall always be the line-to-gain in overtime.

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Rule 7: Flag Belts

  1. All players must wear flags while on the playing field.
    • The flags will be fastened to the belt in such a manner as not to be twisted under or fastened to the inside of the belt.
    • Two flags are to hang down vertically along the side seam of the trousers and one down the center of the back.
    • Solid belts will be comprised of three flags. The ball carrier will be declared down when the belt clip becomes unfastened when pulled by a defensive player, the belt is torn into more than one piece, or the flag is torn off the belt. If the defensive player pulls the belt and it does not immediately become unfastened, the ball carrier will not be considered down until the belt does become unfastened.
    • If the flag belt should become unfastened without being pulled by a defensive player, the play will remain live until a defensive player legally tags the runner between the shoulders and knees with one hand.
    • If a defensive player unfastens an offensive player’s belt after having thrown a forward or backward pass, the player is still eligible to advance the ball. He/she must be tagged with one hand between the shoulders and knees if he/she receives the ball again.
    • A defensive player intentionally pulling a flag from an offensive player without the ball is illegal. (PENALTY – Personal Foul - 10 yards)
    • It is illegal for any player to participate in a play with an illegally secured flag belt. (PENALTY – Personal Foul – 10 yards from previous spot – player ejection – loss of down if player is on offense, automatic 1st down if player is on defense)

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Rule 8: Definitions of Playing Terms

  1. CATCH: A catch is the act of establishing player possession of a live ball which is in flight, and first contacting the ground inbounds or being contacted by an opponent in such a way that he/she is prevented from returning to the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball. Sideline cones are considered out-of-bounds.
    • If one foot first lands inbounds and the receiver has possession and control of the ball, it is a catch even though a subsequent step or fall takes the receiver out-of-bounds.
  2. FIGHTING: Fighting is an attempt by a player or non-player to strike or engage an opponent in a combative manner. Such acts include, but are not limited to: attempts to strike an opponent(s) with the arm(s), hand(s), leg(s), or foot (feet) whether or not there is contact.

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Rule 9: Ball in Play, Dead Ball, Out-of-Bounds

  1. A live ball becomes dead when an official sounds his/her whistle or declares it dead:
    • When the ball goes out-of-bounds or when it touches the ground.
    • When any part of the ball carrier’s person other than the hand or foot touches the ground.
      • NOTE: The ball carrier may contact the ball to the ground and the ball will remain live as long as the ball carrier maintains possession of the ball and as long as no other body parts other than the foot or hand are in contact with the ground. The ball is considered to be part of the hand.
    • When a touchdown, touchback, safety, or try for point is made.
    • When a forward pass strikes the ground or is caught simultaneously by opposing players. When a simultaneous catch occurs the ball will be awarded to the offense.
    • When a backward pass or fumble by a player touches the ground; this includes a snap.
      • EXAMPLE: On protected scrimmage kicks, the ball will be considered dead if it hits the ground at any time after the snap and before it is kicked.
      • NOTE: A backward pass or fumble in flight may be caught or intercepted by any other player in bounds and advanced.
    • When a ball carrier has a flag belt removed legally by a defensive player.
    • When a ball carrier is legally touched with one hand below the shoulders once the flag belt is no longer attached.
    • A muffed scrimmage kick is dead when it strikes the ground.
      • When the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick, the receiving team can take possession at the point of first touching by the kicking team.  
      • NOTE: A scrimmage kick that falls to the ground untouched will remain alive until the ball comes completely to rest or breaks the plane of R’s goal line.
    • When an inadvertent whistle occurs.
  2. BALL BLOWN DEAD: In flag football, it is not uncommon for a play to be mistakenly blown dead. In these cases, the offensive team shall have the option of replaying the down or accepting the ball at the spot where it was blown dead. On loose balls, such as a backward pass, the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where possession was lost or replay the down. If blown during a legal forward pass, the ball will be put in play at the previous spot and the down will be replayed.
  3. INBOUNDS SPOT: If the ball becomes dead between the hash marks, the ball shall be placed at that approximate spot. If the ball becomes dead in a side zone, the ball will be placed at the nearest hash mark at the corresponding yard line.

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Rule 10: Series of Downs, Number of Downs

  1. When a first down is legally gained in a zone, the team in possession of the ball is allowed four downs in which to move it from that point into the next zone. The most forward point of the ball, when declared dead between the goal lines, shall be the determining factor. 

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Rule 11: Kicking the Ball

  1. All punts must be declared to the referee, before the ready-for-play whistle. The referee shall notify the defensive team of the declaration to punt.
    • Players on either team may not enter the neutral zone until after the ball has been kicked. (PENALTY –Illegal procedure (live ball) – 5 yards and the offensive team retains the down.)
    • The kicker, after possessing the snap, must kick the ball immediately in a continuous motion. (PENALTY –Illegal Procedure– 5 yards).
    • If the ball hits the ground at any time after the snap and before it is kicked, it is dead at that spot.
    • A ball that is snapped out of the back of the end of the end zone will be ruled a safety.
    • Quick kicks are not allowed. All punts must be declared to the referee prior to the down.
    • When a punt breaks the plane of the receiving team’s goal line, it is a touchback unless R chooses the spot of first touching by K.

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Rule 12: Snapping, Handing, and Passing the Ball

  1. Any member of the passing team is an eligible receiver.
    • All forward passes must be from behind the line of scrimmage.
    • Only one forward pass per down is permitted.
  2. BALL IN PLAY: A team gets 25 seconds to put the ball in play after it is signaled ready for play by the referee. (PENALTY –Delay of Game– 5 yards)
    • The snapper need not have his/her shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage or snap the ball between his/her legs in order for the snap to be legal. No body part other than the feet of the snapper may be touching the ground at the time of the snap.
    • Ball must be snapped to a player at least two yards behind the line of scrimmage.
    • The snapper may not snap the ball to him/herself.
    • A team may legally spike the ball to prevent loss of time in the final minutes of each half.
  3. LEGAL POSITION: Anytime on or after the ball is marked ready for play, each offensive player must momentarily be at least 5 yards inbounds before the snap. (PENALTY – Illegal Formation - 5 yards.)
  4. MINIMUM LINE PLAYERS: The snapper is the only player required to be on his/her scrimmage line of scrimmage (orange puck) at the snap.

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Rule 13: Scoring Plays and Touchback

    • Touchdown – 6 points;
    • Extra point try: 1 point from 3 yards; 2 points from 10 yards; 3 points from 20 yards;
      • If, during a try, the defense intercepts a ball that is thrown or fumbled in flight, the play is blown dead immediately, and the try is over.
    • Safety – 2 points. (After a safety, the team that scored the safety will put the ball into play on its own 14-yard line with a new series of scrimmage downs.)
  2. MERCY RULE: If a team is 19 or more points ahead when the referee announces the two minute warning for the second half, or any time after that, the game is over.
  3. FOULS ON A SCORE: If there is a foul by the defensive team during a down that results in a successful touchdown, the scoring team may choose to have the foul enforced at the succeeding spot of the try or after the try on the 14-yard line. If there is a foul by the defensive team during a successful try, the scoring team may choose to have the foul enforced at the succeeding spot (14-yard line).

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Rule 14: Conduct of Players and Others

  1. BLOCKING: Offensive screen blocking should take place without an attempt to make contact with an opponent. The screen blocker shall position her/his hands and arms at his/her sides or behind his/her back. Any use of the hands, arms, elbows, legs, or body to initiate contact during a screen block is illegal. A player must be on his/her feet before, during, and after screen blocking. Some legal incidental contact may occur. (PENALTY – Personal Foul – 10 yards)
    • Screen Blocking Fundamentals. A player who screens shall not:
      • Take a position closer than a normal step when behind a stationary opponent.
      • Initiate contact when assuming a position at the side or in front of a stationary opponent.
      • Take a position so close to a moving opponent that his/her opponent cannot avoid contact by stopping or changing direction. The speed of the player to be screened will determine where the screener may take his/her stationary position. This position will vary and may be one-to-two normal strides from the opponent.
  2. DEFENSIVE RESTRICTION: Defensive players may not use their hands on blockers. They must attempt to avoid blockers. Incidental contact with the hands will be allowed, but should the defender gain an advantage by use of the hands, he/she will be penalized. (PENALTY – Personal Foul – 10 yards)
  3. TACKLING:  It is a foul to tackle, trip, kick, push, shove, or elbow the ball carrier or blocker. It is also a foul for a defensive player to strip or attempt to strip the ball by punching, striking, or stealing it. The runner’s forward progress cannot be impeded in any way. (PENALTY –Personal Foul - 10 yards. If flagrant ADDITIONAL PENALTY – Disqualification)
  4. BALL CARRIER AND RUNNING WITH THE BALL: It is a penalty for the ball carrier to “stiff arm”, charge into, knee, kick, or try to knock over a player at anytime. (PENALTY –Personal Foul– 10 yards).
    • This is judged like a block/charge foul in basketball.
    • Spinning is legal; however, the ball carrier must be in control of his/her person at all times.
    • Diving is allowed, however, the ball carrier cannot make contact with a defender while in the act of diving.
  5. ROUGH TACTICS: Any rough tactics, such as lowering one’s shoulder in an attempt to run over an opponent, must be penalized as flagrant and unnecessary roughness. (PENALTY –Personal Foul– 10 yards, ejection, and suspension)
  6. UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS: For unnecessary roughness, the penalty is 10 yards and disqualification if flagrant.
  7. DISQUALIFICATION: Whenever, in the judgment of the officials or supervisor, a player or players may be involved in any deliberate or flagrant violation of the rules, the person will be ejected and his/her team penalized 10 yards. This includes foul, dirty or abusive language or violent protest by either word or action against any official or other players. In the judgment of any official or supervisor any type of unsportsmanlike conduct by any player or team will be penalized by a 10-yard penalty and if the official feels it necessary, he/she can eject players or forfeit the game. Players or spectators will be automatically ejected if they physically (or attempt to) contact an official or supervisor. Any player ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct will be required to sit out a minimum of the next scheduled game for his/her team. Repeat disqualifications will result in expulsion from the league and future intramural sports.
  8. FOULS TO PREVENT PLAY: If the defensive team commits a foul so near its own goal line that they can be penalized only by halving the distance to the goal line, the object being (in the opinion of the referee) to consume time, it shall be regarded as a refusal to allow play to proceed. In that event, the referee shall warn the offending team once and then if the offense is repeated, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty shall be issued to the offending player.
  9. TEAMS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR PLAYERS AND FANS: Players and fans must remain at least three yards from the sideline and stand on the opposite side of the field as the players. (PENALTY: First Offense - warning, Second Offense – 5 yards, Thereafter – 10 yards)

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Rule 15: Enforcement of Penalties

  1. 5-Yard Penalties
    • Delay of Game
    • False Start
    • Encroachment (10 yards for 2 or more consecutive encroachments by the same team)
    • Illegal Procedure
    • Illegal Motion
    • Illegal Shift
    • Illegal Snap
    • Illegal Formation
    • Illegal Forward Pass (Also loss of down)
    • Illegal Backward Pass (Also loss of down)
    • Intentional Grounding (Also loss of down)
    • Illegal Substitution
    • Failure to Wear Required Equipment
    • Illegal Advancement (Co-Rec)
    • Helping the Runner
  2. 10-Yard Penalties
    • Illegal Contact
    • Illegal Participation
    • Offensive Pass Interference
    • Defensive Pass Interference
    • Roughing the Passer (Automatic First Down)
    • Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Loss of Down if on Offense, Automatic First Down if on Defense)
    • Sideline Interference
    • Illegal Equipment
    • Kick Catch Interference
    • Holding
    • Flag Guarding
    • Illegal Batting
    • Illegal Kicking
    • Illegally Secured Flag Belt (Loss of Down)
  3. POST SCRIMMMAGE KICK ENFORCEMENT: A post scrimmage kick (PSK) foul is any live ball foul by a player on the receiving team that occurs on the receiver’s side of the neutral zone prior to the end of the kick during a punt that ends beyond the neutral zone and the kicking team does not have possession at the end of the down. The enforcement spot is the spot where the kick ends. The receiving team retains possession of the ball after enforcement, first down and one line to gain. If the spot of the PSK foul is behind the spot where the kick ends, the enforcement spot will be from the spot of the foul. If the kick ends in the end zone, any PSK foul will be enforced from the succeeding spot, the 14-yard line.

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Rule 16: Co-Rec Flag Football Differences

The Co-Rec game will use the same rules as the Men’s and Women’s game with the following modifications.

  1. NUMBER OF PLAYERS: Eight players can be on the field for each team at one time. A minimum of five players are required to start the game and avoid a forfeit. The legal co-rec team combinations are as follows:
    • Team of 8: 4 men and 4 women or 5 men and 3 women or 3 men and 5 women
    • Team of 7: 3 men and 4 women or 4 men and 3 women
    • Team of 6: 3 men and 3 women or 4 men and 2 women or 2 men and 4 women
    • Team of 5: 3 men and 2 women or 2 men and 3 women
      • The game may be continued with less than five players as long as, in the referee’s opinion, the team has a chance to win.
      • If proper ratio is not used (Penalty: Illegal participation, 10 yards.)
  2. THE BALL: The regular, intermediate, youth or junior size football shall be used in Co-Rec play.
  3. MALE RUNNER: An offensive male runner may only advance the ball through Team A’s scrimmage line: 
    • During a run by a male runner once the ball has been touched beyond the scrimmage line;
    • During a run by a female runner; 
    • After change of team possession; 
    • After a legal forward pass. 
      • In all other instances where a male advances the ball beyond the line of scrimmage a 5-yard illegal procedure penalty will be assessed.
    • MALE-TO-MALE COMPLETION: During the offensive team’s possession there may not be two consecutive legal forward pass completions from a male passer to a male receiver. This rule also applies to a try. If a male passer completes a legal forward pass to a male receiver, the next legal forward pass completion must involve either a female passer or a female receiver for positive yards. (Penalty: Illegal Male Reception, 5 yards from the spot where the second consecutive male-to-male completed forward pass is released, and a loss of down.)
      • Any pass caught simultaneously by male and female teammates is considered a female reception. Any foul, whether accepted or declined shall have no effect on whether the next legal forward pass completion is “open” or “closed.” The term “open” means any player may complete a forward pass to any other player. The term “closed” means a female must be involved in the forward pass to advance the line of scrimmage.

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    Rule 17: Other Rules

    1. PROTESTS: If a team feels an official has misinterpreted a rule, it must lodge a protest at the time of the ruling. The team must call a time-out at the time of the ruling and inform the official it wishes to protest a misapplication or misinterpretation of a rule. The game will be stopped to obtain a ruling from the Intramural Supervisor. Failure to call time-out and obtain an immediate ruling from the Intramural Supervisor at the time of the rule in question will void any future right to protest. If the official’s ruling stands, the protesting team will be charged the time-out. If the official’s ruling is changed, the team is not charged a time-out. No protest concerning officials’ judgment will be considered. If the protesting team still feels the ruling is incorrect, it must then lodge a written protest form with the Intramural Supervisor on duty.

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    RainOut Line - (319) 333-7032 Ex. 3

    If there is inclement weather and outdoor sports are scheduled, call our RainOut Line for the most up-to-date information on the status of games.

    You can download the RainOut Line app in the Apple App Store or Google Play. You can use this app to check the status of Intramural Sports contests right from your smartphone! Once you have downloaded the app, search "Recreational Services" and select "The University of Iowa Recreational Services." It's that easy!

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