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IUPUI Campus Recreation's Matt Jones earns his stripes at NFL Flag Football National Championship

February 21, 2017

It's a painful fact for many that IUPUI doesn't have a football team, but that hasn't kept Campus Recreation's Matt Jones from going to the Super Bowl or the Pro Bowl. The assistant director of competitive sports has officiated at the NFL Flag Football National Championship, rubbing elbows with the best professional players in the country, each of the last two years.

USA Football, in partnership with the NFL, runs more than 1,000 flag football leagues for children ages 5 to 17 across the country. Each year, teams for kids between the ages of 9 and 14 in the leagues are whittled down to compete in eight regional tournaments in NFL cities. The best of the best finally convene for a national championship, the latest at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, site of the NFL Pro Bowl, Jan. 27 to 29.

Helping to officiate games for the final 64 youth squads was Jones. He was chosen from a pool of 270 officials nationwide based on his success with the Indianapolis regional tournament. It was his second selection for the championship weekend, having officiated in San Francisco, home of Super Bowl L, last season.

Over the course of a weekend, Jones wields the whistle for 12 to 15 games. His schedule in January even included an international exhibition match.

"The exhibition game I did on Saturday was between a Mexico team and a USA team. It was at halftime of the U18 North American USA Football Championships, so it was Team USA versus Team Canada," said Jones. "It was rather cool because you would never think of a team from Mexico playing American football. But now you start seeing more and more teams, and now the NFL is trying to push toward having games in Europe and in Mexico and trying to create this grassroots belief that 'American football is a great thing and we want to bring a team here.'

"They want to bring a team to Mexico, and they want to bring a team to London. Will that happen? I don't know, but there's potential. If you can get 13-year-old kids to believe, 'Hey, I can play football one day for this Mexico team or this London team,' great! That's how you're going to get that to happen."

Jones was the only IUPUI representative at the national championship, but he has not been the only Jaguar on the field for regional tournaments. He facilitated opportunities for four IUPUI students to officiate for NFL Flag Football last year and doubled that number for the latest season.

"The great thing about the Indianapolis regional is that we, as IUPUI, have the opportunity to take some of our current undergraduate and graduate flag football officials and use them as a means to help officiate the tournament," Jones said. "It's a great recruitment tool for us because I can say this is an extramural event where students can get paid outside of IUPUI, and it's a cool experience.

"We took seven or eight officials this year to the regional and, with the hopes of the tournament growing next year to more teams, there may be potential to have undergraduate students going with us to officiate at the national championships. Ultimately, what I want to see is one of my student officials get to the point where they're getting that recognition to be able to go to a national tournament and bring that back to IUPUI."

As an official for local high school tackle football as well, Jones is no stranger to wearing the stripes. But why would anyone want a job as thankless as calling a game?

"It's giving back because I grew up playing sports my entire life," said Jones. "I'm able to give back to something that made such a huge impact on me and have that impact on students and kids today, even if you're 8 or 9 years old and all the way up. I work with 18- to 25-year-old students here at IUPUI. We have that opportunity to make a positive impact. It may be miniscule, it may be bigger than we can fathom, but it's still having a positive impact on someone's life."

Campus Recreation, one of nine units within the Division of Student Affairs, equips the IUPUI campus community with opportunities that foster healthy lifestyles and success. It provides a variety of programming, including intramurals sports, group fitness classes and club sports for students, faculty and staff.

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