I have lots of conversations with other league commissioners, players and officials about running leagues. Rules are the most fundamental foundation to running a successful league and tournament. Here’s my blunt assessment on 5 v 5 Men’s rules that work for our league and why we incorporate and revise them every year.
We deal with over 400+ players annually, and its my job to keep them happy and keep the competition coming back. Although there are many different levels of play, we need standards that promote the game of adult flag football. I’m always open to changes, but I am also critical of the rules out there that are such easy fixes for most leagues. Safety is by far our main concern. But we are still playing the sport of “football” and we have to find that balance for all our players to maintain interest and sportsmanship season to season.
1. Game length = 36 minutes (40 minutes pool play). 2 – 18 minute halves (Clock stops last minute of game) 40 minutes (league play). 2 – 20 minute halves (Clock stops last minute of game). 2-(30 second time outs per team). 1–minute warning time–out (30 second officials‘ timeout). Fields cost a lot of money to rent, I get it. But 10–minute and 12–minute halves do no one any favors. QBs will never be able to get in a rhythm. Huddles are still important especially for teams that don‘t have as much experience with one another. It takes multiple seasons and practices before a team in an adult recreation league can click. Do the math, in our format games are roughly 40 to 50 minutes. Two games are equivalent to 4 games in some of these tournaments out there. Its about quality of play, not quantity.
2. Roster = 12 Players maximum/4 players minimum to avoid forfeit. We may shrink this down to 10 max players, with two alternates. In our league we have over 400 players. Some guys try to play all 4 divisions and in some instances within same conference. Is it profitable? Yes, but sometimes its needed so we avoid forfeits. Shrinking the roster should create more parity. We will sign off on all roster rules before the league/tournament starts.
3. SCORING: TD = 6 points. Extra Point = 1 point automatically rewarded during regulation, 2 points (10 yards) conversion optional. Pretty standard, we discovered this at a Harvard U flag football tournament who used this format for their PATs – we implemented this in our league. We crunched the numbers and based on the average 35–28 game scores, we get approximately 10 additional plays a game. This makes it high scoring which Flag is all about.
4. CONTACT IS ALLOWED – Open hand contact allowed between shoulder and waist within the line of scrimmage only. Beyond the line of scrimmage at any point is a penalty. This can get tricky for new players to the league and occasional subs. We have guys who are 10 year veterans in our league, I feel there is a mutual respect among our players not to abuse this rule. It‘s a priority of mine to track every player who steps foot on the field, and our Smartwaiver process of registering players, and our monitors on the field help eliminate a lot of the troublemakers. This enforces our unwritten – “No Knuckleheads Allowed” Rule.
5. Center must assume a blocking position or take two steps into pass pattern before he can he touched. Again, we are playing football. There are plenty of leagues out there that do not allow any contact. We can manage this and know our players.
6. When rushing the QB, defensive rusher must NOT take a straight line to the QB. Rusher must make a move around/ pick a side of any blocker within the line of scrimmage. Pick a side is what you will hear on the field. Bull rush is a heavy penalty on the defense. Pick a side also means pick a one of the side flags, Rolling into the QB from the center is a great way to cost your team a double–double…a 10 yard penalty and automatic first down. Spin move, while engaging with the center is fair game. In most cases, the center will push the rusher’s back and will be called for the blocking in the back penalty.
7. One chuck/bump and run of receiver allowed at line of scrimmage only. At the line of scrimmage boys, not 5-yards down the field. Good luck though, it‘s a rule we‘ve never changed since the beginning, but a good receiver will just swim through and blow by the first layer of the defense. If its man–up, it‘s almost a guaranteed 6. I don‘t see it as much as you would think based on the demand from players that don‘t want it changed.
8. All Players on Offense may run the ball, including the QB (Except in the “NO–RUN ZONES”). Direct run QB leagues for any offensive play are a joke. We love gadget plays, but we are a passing league.
9. The “NO–RUN ZONES” are located 5 yards from the goal line, 10 yard markers & the mid–field line. There are still leagues out there that don‘t have this rule. No thanks.
10. Laterals are allowed. Laterals before the line of scrimmage are unlimited and include hand offs. Once the ball breaks the line of scrimmage, only 2 are allowed. The ball is live in the air only. We are playing football, not rugby. We have to allow some laterals, but it can‘t become a free for all.
11. All players are eligible to receive passes. Obvious. Especially in 5 v 5 where both Centers and QBs can become receivers.
12. There are two (2) markers on the field – LOS (Line of Scrimmage) marker and RUSH marker. Each team is responsible to move their respective marker or spot it during play. Offense is responsible for the LOS marker. Defense is responsible for the RUSH marker. Again, something we implemented for a long time. 7 Yards is 8 standard steps gentlemen. Officials will make final determination if the marker is in play.
13. Any number of defenders may rush from the 7 yard RUSH marker. I believe this would be known as blitzing.
14. The QB (Quarterback) has 6–seconds to release the ball into play once the ball is snapped. The OB (Option–back) must either pass the ball within 6–seconds, if its beyond 6–seconds, the OB‘s only option is to run. 6–second pass is still in effect, but the play is live until the ball carrier‘s flag is pulled or there is a dead ball. We are the most accurate league when it comes to the 6-second count. Why? because our officials use actual t i m e r s. The Mississippi count is flawed. It has been since I was in third grade. Scientifically, you can never get the exact time if you count time out loud. I learned this in Physics 101. But we still have guys who argue with officials about the 6–second count when using a digital timer. Again, fewer errors.
15. Only 1 running play allowed per every set of downs within the same zone. The first player QB (Quarterback) to receive the ball after the snap must still hand–off or lateral the ball to the runner. A tackle behind the line of scrimmage does not constitute a running play. The QB cannot directly run with the ball. We still like a little backyard gadgetry in our flag football.
16. All drives & changes of possession (except interceptions) start at the 10 yd line.
17. Offense has 4 plays to cross the mid–field line for a first down and additional 4 plays to cross the 10–yard line. Offense has only 3 plays to score within the Red Zone (10–yard zone) to score a touchdown. Best format out there. Extends drives and puts pressure on teams to score with one less play in the red zone.
18. Penalties. All illegal contact penalties are a DOUBLE/DOUBLE penalty. Defensive Penalty is a 10–yard penalty and automatic first down. Offensive Penalty is a loss of 10–yards and loss of down. Offensive Penalties–Loss of down & yardage; Defensive Penalties–Automatic 1st down For instance, if a QB flag–guards and there is physical contact it is both a 10–yard penalty and loss of down. Dunkin Donuts, a Double D – that‘s how I tell me referees to remember how to penalize any illegal physical contact play. It’s a harsh penalty, but we are still playing flag rules football. Enforcing and reinforcing this, trains players not to commit these contact penalties.
19. Official Flag is “FLAG–A–TAG SONIC BOOM BELT”. 2 Flags placed at both sides of the players hips. The official will provide game day flags. Not the best out there, but the most serviceable. We used triple threat belts, but when taken off they can become whips and I‘ve seen players almost lose an eye from the flailing belt clip.
20. Any ball that hits the ground will be ruled dead. Fumbles or Muffs are dead at spot. The only EXCEPTION is during the transfer of the snap. The ball is only live for the QB (first offensive player to touch the ball) and he is the only player allowed to put the ball into play. Defenses must allow QB to put the ball in play. I like this rule, but snapping a football really isn‘t child‘s play. There is definitely technique which makes your center probably the second most important player on the field – he does touch the ball the most. Again, a second chance rule that makes sense and still keeps safety in mind.
21. Ball must be snapped between legs, not off to one side to start play.
Technique, technique, technique.
22. The defense can not line up on the center nor bump the center. The center is granted a 2 yard halo rule. Just like NFL and college. Center is at a disadvantage and I despise those QB self–snap leagues.
23. All players must wear a protective mouthpiece. Highly suggest wearing one if you have a girlfriend or wife or you don’t want to look like Isaiah Thomas did. Plus you have to go to work on Monday mornings.
24. Zero Tolerance Policy. Flagrant fouls and any threatening behavior both verbal or physical will not be tolerated. Player(s) will be ejected from that game, sit out the next game & pay a fine. Depending on severity, a player may be asked to leave and be escorted from the premises immediately. No joking on this. This is strictly enforced. And guys new to the league, you never know if you are lining up against a police officer, Karate instructor, or worse – a lawyer. No fist–to–cuffs please!
25. Interceptions may be returned. Yes, the obvious. And 2–pts if you return a PAT.
26. Two (2) 30 second timeouts per game. One (1) 30 second timeouts per overtime period. Know how the clock works. Put a body that’s not in the game on the referee who is managing the clock especially when the game is in the 1 minute pro clock mode.
27. Overtime – 1 extra point play from 5 yard line – 1 point (pass), 10 yard line – 2 points (run or pass). There is no OT during pool play and the game can end in a tie. Ties are rewarded 2–points. We need to keep games under 50 minutes to an hour. My recommendation, always go for the win…
28. Roughing the QB also includes striking the arm when the defense tries to block the pass.
We are a QB league. 9 out of 10 times, he‘s usually the captain as well. We protect the QB in our league, even if its incidental.
29. Defensive players have to be one yard off the ball at the snap. The 2–yard halo rule on the center is always in effect. We talked about this somewhere above.
30. Any player that comes off the sidelines during a fight will be ejected. Buh-bye Felicia. See zero tolerance rule.
31. All players flag belts must be worn properly. The hip points must face out. The referee will enforce the licensed flag and, if improperly used, will result in a penalty. This is one of those rules where you need to remind your players along with the referees if you see this. Most of the players don‘t even know how to put on the belt. The veteran players on the other hand…
32. No stiff arming allowed – considered flag guarding and illegal contact. We‘ve had some pretty big players in our league. Thank goodness this rule is in effect.
33. If player falls down, or if knee touches ground, player MAY get up and run. Defense only needs to tag the player if he is on the ground. We love scoring and NFL style rules! Referee has final say.
34. Teams will switch ends at half time. Standard stuff.
35. Footballs–Regular size for adult men (14 years and up). All teams provide their own footballs. Try not to be too obnoxious about the inflation level. We‘ve stopped games and forced QBs to inflate their football.
36. Cleats are allowed but must be rubber soled only. No metal baseball spikes allowed. Inspections will be made by the official prior to the game. Only an idiot would be so inconsiderate…oh yeah, that was the straw that broke the camel‘s back when we threw out a player from our league last year for wearing metal baseball cleats.
37. Field size: approximately 76 yards long (including end zones) and 30 yards wide, (2) 8–yard end zones; (2) 20–yard zones and (2) 10–yard red zones. Long and wide…never heard any complaints about that.
38. When flags fall off inadvertently, revert to a 1–hand touch between shoulders and knees. I also include a swipe at the flag/belt area. Defensive players shouldn‘t just stop and assume they are going to get a call. But its also the responsibility of the offense to prep their equipment before the start of play.
OBSCURE RULES. Rules you need to remember in crucial situations.
1. 10–second run off rule by the offense. If the offense commits the foul within the one minute warning, 10 seconds will be taken off the clock if the clock is live.
2. If the offense causes a 4th down offensive infraction at the end of the game – center holding, receiver push–off – the play will be ruled dead and the game over.
3. Don’t dive at a fumbled ball. If you are on defense, and its a snap its a penalty. If you make an obnoxious dive at a fumble after a ball carrier fumbles, you could get an unsportsmanlike penalty called on you.
We will continue to add to the Obscure Rules – rules that begin to clash when combining “football rules” and “flag-football rules”.