Gender-based flag football rules cause a stir for some MU students

Several of MizzouRec’s co-recreational flag football rules are in question, including one designating more points for a touchdown scored by a female than a male.
MU freshman Emma Moloney, who plays for team Mark Twain, throws a warm up pass before a co-rec football game on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Jared Fisch

MU freshman Morgan Kluge broke past her defender and raced free down the sideline. Wide open, she hauled in a nine-point touchdown reception to put Team Gateway up 22-6 in the MizzouRec co-recreational flag football league.

That’s not a typo: a nine-point touchdown.

The scene repeats itself often in the league, which competes every Thursday night at MU’s Stankowski Field. By rule, Kluge and her female teammates are granted more points than their male counterparts when they play a part in touchdown passes or receptions.

The MizzouRec flag football handbook states: “If a female player scores a touchdown, the point value is 9. If a female player throws a legal forward pass and a touchdown is scored by any A player, prior to change of team possession, the point value is 9.”

Freshman Holly Roustio joined the league this semester to get involved, but she said she was angered when she found out this rule existed.

“I felt belittled and degraded and I felt that my value as a woman was not being recognized,” Roustio said. “I felt as if I was a burden and an asset at the same time. I don’t feel like my achievements need to be overcompensated. They should be recognized equally as those of a man.”

The extra-points rule isn’t the only one some students have questioned. According to multiple referees, an “illegal male advancement” penalty constitutes any run play by someone who identifies as a male. In other words, only women can run the ball.

Male athletes in the league have also taken notice of the rules, including freshman Jake Fein, one of Roustio’s teammates.

“I feel like it’s degrading and it’s sending women the wrong message, that they are less of an athlete than men,” Fein said. “I like the rule about them requiring girls on the field because it is a co-op league. However, it is like degrading women, making them seem like their achievements are a miracle and an anomaly.”

The rule Fein is referring to exists to balance the quantity of men and women on each team in the league. It states: “The game shall be played between 2 teams of 8 players, 4 men and 4 women. Teams with 7 players shall be 4 men and 3 women or 4 women and 3 men. Six players, 3 men and 3 women, 4 men and 2 women, or 4 women and 2 men, are required to start the game and avoid a forfeit.”

MizzouRec associates prevented media access with referees at Stankowski Field, so referees did not provide their names, but one said the rules were recently changed. Last year, rules required every other play to have a woman involved. This was meant to encourage women to be more active participants in games.

Some players think the rules are a double-edged sword. Freshman Briggs Hall is one of those.

“I think a lot of the girl rules are fair and make a lot of sense,” Hall said. “The point rule is kind of a stretch. I don’t know if it should be that much higher of a point value [for touchdowns scored by females]. It’s like an extra three points, but I think it kind of levels the playing field a bit.”

When asked about the rule stating that only females can run the ball, Briggs said, “I don’t really like that rule at all because, you know, that’s kind of a part of the game of football.”

MU journalism professor Cynthia M. Frisby has studied gender representation in sports for years. She believes that sports are the “biggest culprit” of maintaining gender roles and stereotypes in society.

“We, in the United States, have sports that we consider to be masculine and/or feminine,” Frisby said. “And any sport it seemed like that dealt with aggression or contact was considered masculine.”

Frisby listed off boxing, wrestling, basketball, soccer and football as examples of sports that are “typically skewed more on the masculine side.” She said this stems from the idea of masculinity being so closely related to aggression, but that it may even date back to certain Biblical scriptures written centuries ago. There is a sociological and historical basis for these rules, Frisby said.

The idea is “that women are the weaker vessel and that a lot of times, I think that, the related scriptures around that are that [women] are not able to do all of the same things that men are able to do,” Frisby said.

However, Frisby did acknowledge there are some physical differences between the male and female sex, but she didn’t think they were significant when it comes to flag football.

The apparent problem is not just confined to MU. At least 30 major universities around the nation, including Arkansas, Clemson, Duke and Northwestern, have very similar rules in their co-recreational flag football handbooks. Few have batted an eye on a national scale over the rules MU students are taking exception to on a local level.

The majority of collegiate co-recreational flag football leagues get their rules from the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association. Its official rulebook contains many of these gender-based rules.

“You’ll probably find that the voice of the woman was missing,” Frisby said in reference to the creation of the rules.

Liz McCune, Associate Director for MU News Bureau, confirmed that MizzouRec’s rules are based off of NIRSA’s rulebook. The university released a statement on Oct. 23 when asked for comment regarding students’ complaints.

“The rules for our co-ed flag football games are the same ones used at universities across the country and established through the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association,” McCune said in the statement. “Ensuring that students are having a good experience is important to us — MizzouRec regularly surveys participants both formally and informally.”

McCune encourages those with concerns to contact senior associate director of MizzouRec Services and Facilities, Laura Salerno, by emailing her at salernolm@missouri.edu.

NIRSA Senior Director of Operations Mary Callender explained the history behind the rulebook that has influenced MU’s current scoring policy.

“Specifically regarding the flag and touch football co-recreational rules, the NIRSA flag and touch football rule book is currently in its 18th edition and was first published in 1983. During the first, second and third editions, the touchdown points awarded were the same for men, women and co-rec. The fourth edition (1989 and 1990) noted a change to ‘9 points awarded on a touchdown if a female scores the touchdown,’” Callender said in an email.

Callender rationalized the case for the addition of the rules.

“Research data collected at colleges and universities, which have experimented with the rule, showed that female players caught nearly 50 percent of the touchdown passes,” Callender said in the email.

She went on to add in the email that this rule change would bring the game closer to a “true co-recreational game.”

“The editor noted that the co-recreational rule changes were implemented to allow male and female players a near equal role in the contest’s outcome,” Callender said in the email.

Frisby believes that these rules make the male and female roles anything but equal.

“You set up that animosity between the two genders and we don’t want to have that,” Frisby said. “The purpose to me of being co-ed is to build a team that’s not based on bilateral gender differences.”

Regardless, universities are not required to use NIRSA’s rulebook.

“NIRSA recognizes the diversity of intramural programs nationwide and expects that some rules and formats may be neither appropriate nor feasible for every institution,” Callender said in the email. “NIRSA also recognizes the opinion that co-recreational rules are no longer necessary, and the game should be played ‘straight-up’ without any limitations. All colleges and universities are encouraged to select the most appropriate course of action for their individual programs.”

“MizzouRec is open to changing rules if there was a clear desire from students,” McCune said.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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