Alex “Food” Daniel
Women’s tackle football as a semi-pro sport is real. It’s under the radar, but it’s nationwide. Not to be confused with lingerie football or flag football, this is women playing honest-to-God full-contact helmet-and-pads football with very little watering-down of the rules of the men’s game. This blog post is intended to anticipate questions you, the reader, might have. I’ve attended over 60 women’s football games in six different states in the past six years, and I’m hooked on it. I hope this blog post makes you curious about it too.
WHAT AND WHERE ARE THE LEAGUES?
There are two nationwide women’s football leagues: The Independent Women’s Football League (iwflsports.com) and the Women’s Football Alliance (wfafootball.net). The IWFL was founded in 2000, and the WFA was founded in 2009. There have been other leagues between 2000 and 2009 that vied for supremacy with the IWFL, but right now, the IWFL and WFA are the two coast-to-coast leagues. The IWFL currently has 29 full 11-on-11 teams plus 7 affiliate teams who play 8-on-8 or 6-on-6 depending on roster size. The WFA has 40 teams, all 11-on-11.
There is also an Eastern U.S. league called the Women’s Spring Football League (wsflsports.com). Founded in 2010 with the intention of being nationwide, this league came under new ownership in 2014 and, for the present anyway, operates solely in the Eastern US. This league has a division for 11s and another division called W8FL for 8s.
WHEN DO THEY PLAY?
All three leagues play in the springtime. They all start within a week of each other, with the season running from early April through mid-June, and the playoffs last through July. The Championship Game for all three leagues usually falls on the last weekend of July or the first weekend of August.
WHAT ARE THE RULE CHANGES FROM THE MEN’S GAME?
That’s the beautiful part. The IWFL plays straight NCAA rules, with only tiny changes like a smaller ball and kickoff from the 40-yard line. The WFA plays straight NFL rules, with those same tiny changes. There are no cosmetic changes to gussy up the game (like the XFL), and there are no changes to water down the game to make it easy on the ladies (like the WNBA’s shorter quarters). The WSFL’s 8s division and the IWFL’s affiliate teams do play shorter quarters, because of the smaller rosters.
IF I WERE TO GO TO SEE A GAME, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK AND FEEL LIKE?
The experience of attending a women’s football game is similar to that of a high school men’s game. Most teams play at high school stadiums (the WFA scored a huge coup when their 2012 Championship Game was played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with ESPN3 televising). Attendance at most games is a few hundred, although a few teams can break a thousand, with the Pittsburgh Passion topping all teams by averaging over 4,000 fans a game. A typical game lasts between 2.5 and 3 hours, similar to untelevised men’s football.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO SEE A GAME?
Not much, hurrah! Almost every team I’ve seen charges $10 for admission (some have discounts for seniors, children, military, etc). Concessions are also reasonable, with hot dogs ranging from $2 to $4, sodas from $1 to $2, etc, souvenir shirts and sweaters range from $10 to $25. So going to a women’s game is far cheaper than its most direct men’s competitor, Arena Football.
DO THEY PLAY IN FOUL WEATHER?
For the most part, yes. While there have been cancellations in the past due to severe thunderstorms (mostly in the Southeastern US) and more rarely a severe blizzard (the far northern US), teams will play in pouring rain, 100-degree heat, heavy wind, and heavy snow.
DO THE PLAYERS GET PAID? HOW DO THE TEAM’S GET THE MONEY TO DO THIS?
In all three leagues, players are not paid; in fact, most teams require the players to pay for their own equipment and/or travel expenses. Team’s get their money the same way men’s semi-pro leagues do. They scrape it up to the best of their imaginations. Bake sales, raffles, car washes, sponsorships from local businesses, whatever they can think of to get the funding to get themselves on the field. Road team travel is kept low-budget, with almost all teams travelling by charter bus or carpooling. The more well-endowed teams do pay their coaches, the less well-endowed teams do not.
ARE THE COACHES WOMEN, TOO?
Most of the coaching staffs in all three leagues are male, but there are some female coaches around these leagues.
WHERE DO THESE LADIES COME FROM? WHO ARE THEY?
As you’d expect, most of them come from athletic backgrounds, having played soccer, softball, basketball, or track in high school and/or college. Vocationally though, they’re from all over the spectrum. There are students, grunt workers, medical workers, professionals, servicewomen, business owners, teachers, firewomen,………they’re from all walks of life.
DO ANY NFL PLAYERS ASSOCIATE THEMSELVES WITH WOMEN’S FOOTBALL?
A few, yes. NFL Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris is a co-owner of the IWFL’s Pittsburgh Passion. Former Cincinnati Bengal and current Geico pitchman and cold-cut enthusiast Ickey Woods is the owner of the WSFL’s Cincinnati Sizzle. Former Steelers O-liner Darnell Stapleton is the head coach of the IWFL’s New York Sharks. There are probably others that I’m not aware of.
ARE THEY REALLY HITTING THAT HARD? DOES ANYONE EVER GET INJURED?
Yes and yes. The single biggest surprise that new fans have is how ferocious these ladies can be. Please see the links below to see a few nifty hits. In most games, there will be a few injury time-outs. It does happen on rare occasion when an injury will necessitate a player leaving the field by ambulance. Thankfully though, this is about as rare as it is in the men’s game.
WHAT ARE THE WARTS? DON’T TELL ME THERE AREN’T ANY.
The single biggest wart is one that exists in all semi-pro leagues: Lack of parity results in preponderance of blowouts. The WFA does have a mercy rule that allows a team that trails by 35 points of more to go to a running clock should they request it.
Surprisingly for a sport with a disproportionately high number of players who’ve played soccer, the kicking aspect of women’s football is, at least for now, quite underutilized. Field goal attempts are rare, and field goal attempts of longer than 40 yards are almost unheard of. Punt distances are also much shorter, with most punts travelling 20-some or 30-some yards rather than the 40-some or 50-some yards you’re familiar with. As a result, women’s teams are much more likely to go for it on 4th down than men’s teams.
Here are some video montages I filmed that can give you an idea of what women’s football looks like.
The five best hits I saw in 2013:
Seattle Majestics highlights from 5/10/2014:
The five best sacks I saw in 2013:
Utah Blitz @ Nevada Storm highlights, 4/19/2014: