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Thursday, Dec 14, 2017
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  • Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Pro at flag football? You’ve got competition (a lot of it)

An ambitiously large flag football tournament – more than 1,000 teams nationally, competing for a $1 million grand prize – will stage some of its games in Lakewood Ranch next year, with as many as 256 teams competing at Premier Sports Campus on April 11-13.

The American Flag Football League, which saw former NFL players like Michael Vick play in an exhibition last year, is aiming for something much larger in 2018. The "U.S. Open of Football" will start in five locations – Florida, Arizona, California, Texas and Virginia – with entrants paying $99 each to play for teams of between 7 and 12 players each.

Those opening "scramble" single-elimination tournaments would pare the field from 1,024 teams to 256 – win those two games and you win back your entry fee and the right to play in a "national scramble" in Tulsa, Okla.

"Our event is amazing in terms of its scale," said AFFL founder Jeff Lewis. "We're going to spend the next couple of months looking in every nook and cranny of this country for everybody who is a great athlete and could be a great flag football player."

But are that many people interested enough in flag football – with the disposable income and schedule flexibility to book a flight to Oklahoma – to pull off the tournament as advertised? That weekend in Tulsa would only take the field to 64 teams, with more tournaments at as-yet-undisclosed locations from there.

"I don't have the slightest doubt that we'll have 256 teams (in the Florida event)," said Lewis, who said there will be a 50 percent military discount available. "This is a life experience, and I'm not sure that people have had too many experiences that are this exhilarating and this much fun. We're very confident we'll have a full field."

Logistically, it would be impressive to eliminate 192 teams in a single weekend – the format calls for a 60-minute game with a running clock except for the end of each half. Presuming a 90-minute window per game and taking full advantage of the complex's 22 football fields, that would still take nine hours for the opening round alone. Players from eliminated teams can join advancing teams as "free agents," though they cannot join teams they played against. "We don't want any collusion," Lewis said.

The tournament's site promises bigger payouts for teams that can continue to advance – teams that make the round of 64 and earn $5,000; make the round of 16 and win $10,000, with the final four teams each getting $25,000 and beyond. Former NFL stars like Vick, Chad Johnson and Marshall Faulk are among the players committed to serve as team captains on four "pro" teams that will compete, then later face the national champ for a $1 million prize in July. For more information, visit www.americanflag.football.

The Premier Sports Campus is hosting another unrelated flag football tournament in January – the U.S. Flag & Touch Football national championships will be held there Jan. 12-14, with as many as 450 teams competing in different subdivisions ranging from 4-on-4 to 9-on-9, with team entry fees starting at $275. For more information, visit usftl.com.

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