Useful Notes / Collegiate American Football Conferences
For the main page, see Collegiate American Football
Alignments listed are as of the current 2017 season.
Football Bowl Subdivision
The top level of NCAA Division I football, also known as FBS or occasionally by its former designation of "I-A" (pronounced "one-A"). The 10 conferences in FBS are the ones most casual football fans think of when they hear the term "college football".
- American Athletic Conference (The American) [Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Navy (football only), SMUnote , South Florida, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa, UCFnote ]: Known as the Big East Conference before July 2013. Had been one of the "power conferences" through the 2013 season, though not tied to a specific bowl; lost this status in 2014 and is now one of the "Group of Five", whose champion has to beat out the C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt champions for a single guaranteed spot in the "New Year's Six" bowl games. Before the original Big East Conference split in 2013 (see below), its football had been something of a laughing stock, with many fans suggesting it should be stripped of its "power conference" status. It was once highly regarded, but then the ACC stole three of its top teams, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. It rebounded somewhat, though no current member of the conference ever made the BCS title game. However, its future became uncertain in the early 2010s—West Virginia left for the Big 12 in 2012; Syracuse (a founding member) and Pittsburgh left for the ACC in 2013, as did non-football member Notre Dame; the next year, Louisville left for the ACC and Rutgers left for the Big Ten. The Big East/American responded by to the loss of those schools by inviting multiple other teams. Temple joined for football in 2012 and all other sports in 2013; Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF also joined in 2013; and East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa joined in 2014. Navy joined for football only in 2015, allowing the league to launch a football championship game.
- The Big East began life as a basketball conference (where eight more schools, among them Notre Dame, in addition to those listed here participate as well) and is more known for that sport rather than football. Notre Dame moved to the ACC in non-football sports in 2013, and the seven non-FBS schools also left at that time, buying the "Big East" name (it fits the basketball schools much better than the expanded football footprint), while the original Big East took on the name American Athletic Conference for the 2013 season and beyond.
- Wichita State became The American's first full but non-football member in 2017, giving the league 12 members on its non-football side to go along with its 12 football members. The arrival of the Shockers also boosted the league's profile in men's basketball.
- Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) [Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest]: One of the "Power Five", meaning they get an automatic bid to one of the major bowls, specifically the Orange Bowl (more on those below). Clemson has been the league's traditional football power, winning 16 of the league's titles as well as the national title in 2016. In the 1990s Florida State dominated this league winning the league championship (or a share of it) from 1992-2000 and again in 2002, 2003, and 2005. Virginia Tech, since joining the league in 2004, was the dominant team for several years, but a resurgent Florida State won three straight titles from 2012–14, and then Clemson took back its throne and is now on a three-year ACC title streak. Miami was one of the more traditional football powerhouses, producing quite a few NFL superstars, though it's periodically held down by cheating scandals and has had trouble replicating its former success ed ever since joining the conference. Duke, despite having won 7 league championships, was the Butt-Monkey of ACC football for most of the last 25 years, though they had a modest resurgence in The New '10s, even making the conference title game in 2013 only to get curbstomped by eventual national champion Florida State. Traditionally known as a southern conference, the inclusion of Boston College and University of Miami (which are over a thousand miles apart) slightly changed its character. Notre Dame is a member in all sports except football, joining in 2013 alongside Pitt and Syracuse; the Fighting Irish agreed to play five games each season against ACC teamsnote . In 2014, Louisville replaced charter member Maryland, which left for the...
- Big Ten (sometimes B1G) [Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin]: The name "Big Ten" is an Artifact Title - there have been 11 schools in the conference for awhile, and expanded to 12 in 2011 with the addition of Nebraska. After Penn State joined, the conference logo was redesigned to have a hidden "11" in the center. Obviously, it was changed yet again when Nebraska joined, though the number "12" is not hidden anywhere in the text this time. Instead, the number "10" is hidden in the logo (which is the source of the conference's "B1G" branding). Yet another "power conference", this one tied to the Rose Bowl. Until recently, it was an exclusively Midwestern conference but this ended in 1993 with the addition of Penn Statenote (and further waned in 2014 with the East Coast schools Rutgers and Maryland joining)note . There are plenty of historical powerhouses in the Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Penn State all have incredibly storied histories and have produced multiple national championships and tons of NFL greats. One notable person in the Big Ten is Penn State's late former head coach Joe Paterno, the longest-serving (over fifty years) and (once again) most-winning coach in NCAA Division I history, who was fired from the school during the 2011 season over failing to communicate with police during a university child-rape scandal by one of his former assistants. The NCAA later ordered Penn State's wins from 1998 through Paterno's firing stricken from the record books, costing JoePa over 100 wins... but those wins were restored in January 2015. The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is probably one of the ten largest in the country.note With the expansion to 12 teams, the Big Ten implemented divisional play for the first time in 2011. Unlike most conferences with 12 or more teams, which go with geographical division names, the Big Ten opted to name their divisions "Legends" and "Leaders"... a choice which (unsurprisingly) was almost universally ridiculed. However, with the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers, the conference scrapped "Legends" and "Leaders" in favor of "East" and "West", with an almost perfect geographic split on the basis of time zones, with teams on Central Time in the West and teams on Eastern Time in the East; the exception being the universities in Indiana, both of which are on Eastern (Purdue was sent to the West Division and Indiana to the East, in part because of rivalries, but mostly because Purdue has a bigger fanbase in the Chicago area).
- The Big Ten is also known for having very strong academic prowess across the board. They're not Ivy League (by definition, since the Ivy League is a separate athletic conference), but all its members (including Maryland and Rutgers) except Nebraska are members of the Association of American Universities (and Nebraska does have that academic caliber — it used to be an AAU member before the organization de-emphasized agriculture and didn't count its off-campus medical center). Additionally, they are all members of the Big Ten Academic Alliancenote , designed to facilitate sharing of academic resources among members. Until mid-2016, these 14 schools were joined in this by the University of Chicago — this was a holdover from when UChicago was a full member of the conference; it withdrew from the sports element in 1946, when its sports teams were rather crappy (they still are, and now compete in NCAA Division III, in which athletic scholarships are not allowed), and were replaced in the lineup by Michigan State (which was expanding and improving rapidly at the time, and funnily enough taking a fair number of Chicago grads to teach) in 1950. (Despite no longer being a BTAA member, Chicago still heavily collaborates academically with the Big Ten.)
- Big 12 [Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCUnote , Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia]: The name's now an Artifact Title - there are ten members nowadays. They're also a "Power Five" conference, tied to the Sugar Bowl (no, not that one).note There are also some very storied teams in this conference as well. The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry ranks right up there with Michigan-Ohio State. The Big 12 is also somewhat unique amongst major conferences in that it is actually a fairly recent mergernote between two older historic conferences: namely the Big Eight (consisting of the Midwestern schools) and several former members of the Southwest Conference (where the four Texas schools came from) after the latter's fragmentation and demise in the fallout from the SMU "Death Penalty". Because of this, the Big 12's teams had far less "loyalty" to each other than most other conferences and suffered from numerous internal tensions until things boiled over in 2011 when Nebraska and Colorado respectively left for the Big Ten and Pac-12. Missouri and Texas A&M then moved to the SEC the next year, but the conference (barely) survived by replacing them with TCU and (despite the geographical oddity) West Virginia. It remains to be seen if the Big 12 will recruit any additional schools to get back to 12 teams,note but for now they've averted the disintegration of the conference that once seemed inevitable. The Big 12 is also unusually insistent that their conference name not be written "Big Twelve" or "Big XII"... despite the official logo consisting primarily of a large "XII". Despite having a full round-robin regular season format and no divisions, they still hold a championship game.
- Conference USA (C-USA) [Charlottenote , FIUnote , Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Mississippi, UABnote , UTEPnote , UTSAnote , Western Kentucky]: One of the newer conferencesnote — they had been gaining some prestige as of late, throwing off the "SEC-Lite" nickname that came from the initially similar geographical footprint with the more prominent Southeastern Conference. However, they were raided by the then-Big East once that conference started losing members to other leagues in the early 2010s. Houston, Memphis, SMU, and UCF all left C-USA in 2013 for what would become The American. East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa made the same move in 2014, while Western Kentucky joined C-USA from the Sun Belt at that time. Old Dominion, a former FCS (see below) school, joined C-USA in 2013 and joined the conference's football side in 2014; it became a full FBS member in 2015. Also becoming a full FBS member at that time was Charlotte, which began football in 2013 in the FCSnote .
- UAB football returned in 2017 after having dropped the sport at the end of the 2014 season. Because C-USA requires all member schools to sponsor football, it was initially believed that UAB would be kicked out of the league at the end of the 2014–15 school year. The decision to drop football turned out to be driven at least as much by state politics as by finances, leading to a strong movement to bring the sport back (and an unsuccessful attempt to force out UAB's president). UAB relented, announcing that it would reinstate football in 2017, in turn leading C-USA to announce that it would keep UAB. Also, the NCAA announced that UAB would be reinstated immediately as an FBS member and be bowl-eligible in 2017. And then in what could only be called a CMOA, the Blazers proceeded to go 8–4 and earn a trip to the upcoming Bahamas Bowl. For a good overview of the controversy surrounding UAB's dropping of football, see this story.
- Mid-American Conference (MAC) [Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami-Ohio, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, Western Michigan]: Much like Conference USA, they haven't done too much of note. Like the Sun Belt, it's a conference that big-name teams look to for padding their schedule with an easy win or two. They're on a somewhat higher level than the Sun Belt, though, and 2012 was a breakout year for the MAC, with several impressive wins against Big Ten teams and conference champion Northern Illinois even playing in the Orange Bowl. They then followed it up in 2016 when Western Michigan was one of only two teams to make it through the regular season undefeated (WMU lost their bowl game, however, to Wisconsin). Incidentally, Eastern Michigan is one of only a handful of college teams with a non-green playing surface; theirs is gray. They're not the first or most famous example of this—see the next conference on our list for that one.
- UMass was effectively kicked out of the MAC football conference after the 2015 season. It was offered full membership, but declined.note
- Mountain West (MW) [Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii (football only), Nevadanote , New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLVnote , Utah State, Wyoming]: Formed in 1999 by a group of 8 disgruntled Western Athletic Conference schools unhappy with the arrangement of the WAC's "super-conference" alignment. It began the CFP era as arguably the most competitive "Group of Five" conference, though The American has more recently claimed that crown. Ironically, the MW has absorbed other former WAC schools during the realignment shakeups of the 2000s and 2010s (the most recent being San Jose State and Utah State, joining in 2013). The MW team most familiar to casual fans outside its region is Boise State, a 2011 arrival which gained a reputation in this century for taking down much more highly-regarded teams... and is also famous for its blue playing field.
- Pac-12 [Arizona, Arizona State, Californianote , Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USCnote , UCLAnote , Utah, Washington, Washington State]: Another "Power Five" league, this one consists of Western US schools and is also tied to the Rose Bowl. Several of these teams have incredibly storied histories, though the one most likely to be known by the casual fan right now is USC, which is well-known for both currently being one of the more dominant teams and for landing in hot water for allegedly paying players. Oregon has also grabbed a lot of attention in recent years for playing the best football in school historynote and perhaps even more so for their flashy uniforms that are different for each game.note Known as the Pac-10 until Utah and Colorado joined in 2011. Before that, they were the Pac-8 until Arizona and Arizona State joined in 1978, thus making the name a geographic Artifact Title. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 is well-known for being both an athletically competent and academically prestigious conference (with the 4 California schools regularly being ranked in the Top 25 universities in the country). It also refers to itself as the "Conference of Champions", stressing the strengths of its schools' athletics well beyond just football. Of particular note are UCLA, Stanford, and USC, all of which have over 100 national team championships.note
- Southeastern Conference (SEC) [Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSUnote , Ole Miss note , Mississippi Statenote , Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt]: Yet another "Power Five" league (the last of the five), this one with a decades-long tie to the Sugar Bowl. The premier conference of the American Deep South, a lot of these teams are historical powerhouses — Florida has been one of the most dominant teams of late, and Alabama won three national championships in four seasons from 2009 to 2012 plus another one in 2015, not to mention losing in the final seconds to Clemson in the 2016 title game. LSU and Auburn have also been quite dominant in recent years. Alabama-Auburn is considered one of the greatest rivalries in the sport, as is Georgia-Florida, whose Halloween weekend game is nicknamed "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party". The SEC was the first Division I conference to split into divisions ("East" and "West" in its case) and hold a conference championship game between the top teams of each division, becoming the Trope Codifier for all subsequent conferences to do so. This was implemented in 1992, after the additions of Arkansas and South Carolina made it impractical for all teams in the conference to play each other every year (doing so would have allowed only one non-conference game per season). Observers often consider this the strongest league, and it had held a monopoly on the national championship in recent years until Florida State came back from an 18-point deficit to beat Auburn in the 2013 title game. In the BCS era, SEC schools were 9-2 in the championship game; the other loss was due to a matchup of two SEC members. From the 2006 to 2012 seasons, every BCS champion was an SEC team. Its fans are not reluctant to point this out. At great length.note The conference gets a lot of games televised, especially on CBS, with whom it has an extraordinarily lucrative contract. Texas A&M and Missouri joined in 2012, bringing the conference to a massive 14 teams... which has the unfortunate side effect that SEC players can go their entire college career without ever facing some cross-division teams.note
- Sun Belt [Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Idaho (football only), Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State (football only), South Alabama, Texas State, Troy]: The conference has been around since 1976, but only started sponsoring football since 2001, making it the runt among the current FBS conferences. Most of these teams don't get winning records - and very few of their players go on to the pros. For several years, the main exception was Troy, which has gotten some decent players to the next level (DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora both played there). note More recently, Arkansas State won at least a share of the conference title 5 times in a 6-season stretch under four different head coaches,note and former FCS power Appalachian State has been dominant since its 2014 entry, winning a share of the Sun Belt title in 2016 and 2017. Fellow former FCS power Georgia Southern started strong, winning the conference title outright in 2014, but has since entered a Dork Age. If you've ever heard of any of these schools, it's because these are the teams typically scheduled to get slaughtered on the road to some of the traditional powerhouses (usually the geographically overlapping SEC). Or it's because Appalachian State went into Michigan in 2007 and beat the then-#5 Wolverines, back when it was still an FCS program. When a team from a power conference is scheduling their homecoming game, this is where they look. Western Kentucky left in 2014 to join C-USA; at the same time, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern joined from the Southern Conference. Also in 2014, Idaho and New Mexico State, which had been left stranded to become independents when the football side of the WAC disintegrated in 2012, became football-only members (in the early 2000s, Idaho had been a football-only member and New Mexico State an all-sports member). The conference has another school with an unusually-colored field—namely Coastal Carolina, with a teal field.
- The Sun Belt also has two non-football members in Little Rocknote and UT Arlington.
- In March 2016, the full member Sun Belt schools unanimously decided to drop Idaho and New Mexico State from its football membership after the 2017 season. A few months later, Idaho announced that it would return to FCS football in its current all-sports home of the Big Sky Conference, becoming the first school ever to voluntarily drop from FBS to FCS. New Mexico State, however, decided to remain in the FBS as an independent program.
- As for Coastal Carolina, it left the FCS Big South after 2015–16 to go up to FBS. After spending 2016 as an FCS independent and non-football Sun Belt member, the Chanticleers joined Sun Belt football in 2017. At the time Coastal was announced as a future member, their arrival would have allowed the conference to stage a conference championship game, but only if it didn't lose any football members (read: boot out Idaho and New Mexico State). However, in 2016, a Big 12 proposal to allow all FBS conferences to stage football championship games, even if they have fewer than 12 members, was approved by the commissioners of the FBS leagues. Subsequently, the conference unanimously voted to hold a conference title game starting in 2018 (the same year Coastal becomes bowl-eligible). In May 2017, the conference announced that the 10 football-playing schools will be divided into two divisions of five teams with the team ranked highest in the College Football Playoff rankings hosting the game; however, if no team ranks in the CFP rankings, then the conference will use a computer rankings formula similar to the former Bowl Championship Series.
- In addition to the above, four schools play as independents, not in a conference. In the past, many schools, especially along the east coast, were able to fill out strong schedules without the need for a conference, but that largely ended once TV money became the focus of major-college sports. All of these schools belong to conferences for other sports; three of them have special circumstances that minimize their need for a football conference.
- Army — The oldest of the three major academies that train officers for the US military.note Since the federal government funds all necessary academic operations, TV exposure and money are less of an issue for Army than for most other D-I schools. Also, being able to play a national schedule enables West Point to expose itself to potential cadets throughout the country. Army is a member of the Patriot League (see FCS section below) for (most) non-football sports.note
- BYUnote — The flagship school of the LDS Church, whose members are often called "Mormons", BYU only became a football independent in 2011. It had previously been a member of several Western-based conferences, most recently the WAC and then the MW. BYU left the MW largely over TV issues. The school has its own cable network, but the MW did not allow it to air any games. The problem for BYU was that it was getting only $2 million a year from the conference's own (now-defunct) cable network. With its built-in LDS following, BYU felt that it could make far more money as an independent. The school then placed most of its non-football sports in the West Coast Conference, a league that doesn't play football.note
- Notre Dame — The most famous remaining football independent, and arguably the best-known Catholic university in the country. With a national following built over decades of football success, it has a very lucrative TV contract with NBC for its home games. Until the 1990s, it had been independent in other sports as well, but eventually joined the original Big East in 1995. The Fighting Irish took a half-step away from football independence when they joined the ACC in 2013—while they nominally remain independent, they agreed to play five ACC teams each year, with rotating opponents so all other ACC members would play the Irish at least once every three years. In turn, the ACC gave Notre Dame access to its bowl games in seasons when the Irish don't make the College Football Playoff or its associated bowls. We should stop here and note that Notre Dame's schedule historically consisted primarily of old "rivalries" between it and its nearby Midwestern—which is to say Big Ten—neighbors. Trips to Michigan (which was often dominant at the same time as the Irish) and Michigan State (which is quite close) have historically been annual or near-annual occurrences. (Oddly, the Irish have not of late often played Northwestern, despite that being the closest major football school to them.)
- UMassnote — Unlike the other three independents, but like the aforementioned New Mexico State, UMass became one by default, being effectively kicked out of MAC football after the 2015 season. The Minutemen had been a quite successful FCS program, even winning a national title in 1998, but had little success after moving to FBS and MAC football starting in 2012. After four seasons, they left to an uncertain future, with no FBS conference in their region willing to take them in. Watch this space...
- Beginning in 2018, Liberty will tentatively join the FBS independent ranks. The Flames, rumored for years to be looking at an upgrade from FCS (and also lobbying heavily for an invite from the Sun Belt), pulled the trigger on the move in 2017. The NCAA gave Liberty a waiver from its transition rules, which normally require that a school have an invitation from an FBS conference before starting the transition. They will become full FBS members in 2019.
Football Championship Subdivision
The second level of Division I football, also known as FCS or its former designation of "I-AA" (pronounced "one-double-A"). Created in 1978 when the NCAA split Division I football into two groups, it's distinguished from FBS by fewer scholarshipsnote
, no minimum attendance requirementnote
and by also having an official NCAA championship. The four-team College Football Playoff in FBS, which started in 2014, is not operated by the NCAA.
- Big Sky Conference [Cal Poly (football only), Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, Southern Utah, UC Davis (football only), Weber State]: Formed in 1963, it's one of the better FCS conferences. Popular among Western schools seeking easy wins... but Oregon State might beg to differ, as Eastern Washington beat the Beavers when they were ranked in 2013 (one of the four times FCS teams have beaten ranked FBS schools). North Texas would definitely beg to differ, as the Mean Green ended up on the wrong end of a 66–7 shellacking by Portland State in 2015. At North Texas' homecoming.note note It's also known for having another oddly-colored field (see Eastern Michigan, Boise State, and Coastal Carolina), in this case Eastern Washington's red field, nicknamed "The Inferno".
- Idaho rejoined the Big Sky in 2014 (after an 18-year absence), but without its football team, which (as mentioned above) returned to the Sun Belt; however, after the Sun Belt decided to drop Idaho after 2017, the school decided to take up the Big Sky's standing invitation to return its football team to that league.
- North Dakota will leave the all-sports Big Sky Conference in 2018 to join the Summit League, which doesn't play football but is home to most of the school's traditional rivals. The Fighting Hawks remain in Big Sky football until 2020, when they'll join several of said rivals in the Missouri Valley Football Conference (below).
- Big South Conference [Charleston Southern, Gardner–Webb, Kennesaw State (football only), Liberty, Monmouth (football only), Presbyterian]: Began in 1983 as a non-football league, and did not sponsor football until 2002. Has usually had one or two good teams with a bunch of bottom-feeders, with some combination of football-only Stony Brook and full members Liberty and Coastal Carolina typically among the good teams. All three are now gone for good, at least in football. Stony Brook moved its football team to the CAA (below), Liberty is set to move to FBS in 2018 but will stay in the Big South in other sports (see also below), and Coastal Carolina left after the 2015–16 season to go up to FBS. The Chanticleers joined the Sun Belt Conference for non-football sports and played the first year of their transition as an FCS independent in 2016 before joining Sun Belt football for the 2017 season and beyond.
- Five full members of the conference (High Point, Longwood, Radford, UNC Asheville, and Winthrop) don't have football teams. In 2018, a sixth non-football member will join the conference, USC Upstate. Another full member, Campbell, currently plays in the Pioneer Football League (below), but...
- In an attempt to attract new football members, the Big South announced a football alliance with the non-football ASUN Conferencenote in 2016.Background Under its terms, any current member of either league that adds football, or upgrades from non-scholarship to scholarship football, will have a guaranteed football home in the Big South.note At the time of announcement, ASUN member Kennesaw State was already a Big South football member. This partnership bore its first fruit a few weeks later when Campbell announced that it would upgrade to scholarship football and add that sport to its full Big South membership in 2018. At the time, the only other members of either league with football were Jacksonville and Stetson, ASUN members that play non-scholarship football in the Pioneer League.
- The Big South's football future was further secured in December 2016, when the ASUN announced that North Alabama, a D-II football power, would upgrade to D-I and join the conference in 2018. Per the ASUN–Big South football partnership, the Lions will join Big South football in 2019.
- And just in time, too... as in February 2017, Liberty announced it would start its FBS transition. They played in the Big South in 2017, but weren't eligible for the FCS playoffs. Liberty and the Big South soon reached an agreement that when Liberty's FBS transition is complete in 2019, it will relinquish its full Big South membership, but will remain an associate member in the 17 non-football sports it now houses in the Big South. (Unless the Flames get into an FBS league by then, of course.)
- In November 2017, Hampton University announced that it would move from the MEAC to the Big South (along with the aforementioned non-football USC Upstate). It's not yet set whether they'll start Big South football in 2018 or 2019, however.
- And in the same week Hampton and USC Upstate were unveiled as future members, Presbyterian announced it would immediately transition to non-scholarship football, spending a year as an FCS independent in 2020 before joining the Pioneer League in 2021. The Blue Hose will remain in the Big South in other sports.
- Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) [Albany, Delaware, Elon, James Madison, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Richmond, Stony Brook, Towson, Villanova, William & Mary]: Created in 1979 as a basketball-only league and added other sports in 1985, but did not start sponsoring football until 2007. However, the football side of the conference can trace its history to the late 1930s through three other leagues. Historically one of the better FCS leagues. In 2010, James Madison defeated then-#13 Virginia Tech in the second win by an FCS team over a ranked FBS team. The same school ended North Dakota State's five-year reign as FCS champions in the 2016 semifinals along the way to the FCS crown.
- Most of the schools in CAA football are not members of the all-sports CAA (which is technically a separate entity). Only Delaware, Elon, James Madison, Towson, and W&M are members of both sides of the league. The all-sports CAA has five members without football teams (College of Charleston, Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern, and UNC Wilmington).
- Ivy League [Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Yale]: Although the athletic Ivy League considers 1954 as its founding date, the member schools had agreed on common policies and scheduling in football in 1945, and it claims the history of the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League, founded in 1901. Historically, it was the powerhouse of college football (with Princeton, Yale, and Harvard being especially good and Harvard-Yale serving as the Ur-Example of rivalry games)note , but the schools' collective decision to emphasize academics over athletics in the post-World War II era has made this only a relic of the past. The league has an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs, but chooses not to participate, citing academic concerns. Its members also limit themselves to 10 games each season instead of the 11 (or 12 in some years) allowed for FCS members. Most notably, the Ivies do not allow athletic scholarships.
- Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) [Bethune–Cookman, Delaware State, Florida A&M, Hampton, Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Savannah State, South Carolina State]: Formed in 1970, it is a conference of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Like the MAC and Sun Belt in FBS, has done little of note, and the colleges are often scheduled as easy wins. Savannah State, in particular, has been criticized for regularly agreeing to play in vastly one-sided games against power house schools, where they inevitably lose by over 70 or 80 points. Due to a distinct lack of success in the FCS playoffs, it decided in 2015 to not participate in the playoffs (for the second time in the FCS era), opting instead for a postseason game between its champion and the SWAC (below) champion (also for the second time). On a happier note, the MEAC was involved in the biggest point-spread upset in NCAA football history in 2017, when Howard won at UNLV as a 45-point underdog.
- Two full MEAC members, Coppin State and Maryland–Eastern Shore, don't play football.
- In April 2017, Savannah State announced that it would drop from Division I to Division II status in 2019.
- In November 2017, Hampton announced they would leave for the Big South.
- Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) [Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, Youngstown State]: One of two football-only leagues in FCS, with a history that is, to say the least, a Continuity Snarl. While the MVFC claims 1985 as its founding date, its history can be traced through two branches dating back as far as 1907, and involves four other conferences, one of them a women's sports league. Seriously. Nonetheless, it's at or near the top of the FCS pecking order, and its top teams are often competitive with the bottom half or so of FBS. North Dakota State won five straight FCS titles from 2011 to 2015, and has beaten an FBS team in each season since 2010—except in 2015, when the FBS caught a break by none of its members scheduling NDSU, and 2017, when the FBS apparently caught on to the trend and ducked the Bison again. The most recent, in 2016, was also the most recent FCS win over a ranked FBS team, with the Bison going into Iowa and taking the Hawkeyes down.
- As noted above, North Dakota will join the MVFC in 2020.
- Northeast Conference (NEC) [Bryant, Central Connecticut, Duquesne (football only), Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, Saint Francis-Pennsylvanianote , Wagner]: Formed in 1981, but did not sponsor football until 1996. In the lower tier of FCS, largely because it restricts football scholarships to less than two-thirds of the FCS maximum.
- Four of the NEC's 10 full members don't play football: Fairleigh Dickinson, LIU, Mount St. Mary's, and the aforementioned St. Francis Brooklyn.
- Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) [Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville Statenote , Murray State, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, UT Martin]: Founded in 1962, once a I-AA power but now in the middle of FCS, though Jacksonville State made the 2015 FCS title game. Popular among southern schools seeking an easy win.
- One full OVC member, Morehead State, plays football in the Pioneer League. Two other full members, Belmont and SIU Edwardsville, don't play football at all.
- Patriot League [Bucknell, Colgate, Fordham (football only), Georgetown (football only), Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh]: Founded in 1986 as the football-only Colonial League; became the Patriot League in 1990 when it added other sports. Basically an "Ivy League Lite"—its members are relatively smallnote , academically strong schools, though not quite at the Ivy level. The league was actually founded to give the Ivies a chance to fill out their football schedules with schools that shared their academic focus. The conference did not allow athletic scholarships at all until allowing them for basketball in 1996. Scholarships were extended to all non-football sports in 2001, but football scholarships were not allowed until the 2013 seasonnote , and Georgetown still doesn't award football scholarships. Unlike the Ivies, the Patriot League participates in the FCS postseason.
- Five more schools are full members, but don't play Patriot League football. Three (American, Boston Universitynote , and Loyola (Maryland)note ) have no football program, while Army and Navy play in FBS.
- Pioneer Football League (PFL) [Butler, Campbell, Davidson, Dayton, Drake, Jacksonvillenote , Marist, Morehead State, San Diego, Stetson, Valparaiso]: The other football-only league in FCS. In 1991, the NCAA passed a rule that required all Division I members to conduct all sports at the D-I level by 1993—previously, some smaller D-I schools chose to play football in Division III (which prohibits scholarships in all sports). In that same year, several D-I schools that wanted to continue football but did not want the expense of scholarships formed the league, which began play in 1993. All of its members are small private schools except Morehead State, a small public school.
- As noted above, Campbell will move its football program to its all-sports home of the Big South in 2018, while Presbyterian will join in 2021.
- Southern Conference (SoCon) [Chattanooga, The Citadel, East Tennessee State, Furman, Mercer, Samford, VMInote , Western Carolina, Wofford]: Founded in 1921, the SoCon is probably most notable for having spawned two of the current FBS power conferences, the SEC and ACC. It didn't drop to the I-AA level until 1982, four years after the Division I split. For many years, it was at the very top of the FCS ladder, but conference realignment took a major toll, with three members leaving in 2014. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, with nine FCS championships between them, left for FBS and the Sun Belt; Elon stayed in FCS, but left for the CAA. At the same time, Mercer and VMI (the latter a former member) joined for all sports including football, while East Tennessee State (also a former member) rejoined for non-football sports. ETSU resurrected its dormant football program in 2015, playing that season as an FCS independent before joining SoCon football in 2016. Of note, Appalachian State made history in 2007 when they upset a #5-ranked Michigan and became the first nontransitionalnote FCS team to defeat a ranked FBS team.
- Southland Conference (sometimes SLC) [Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas, Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, Lamar, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State, Sam Houston State, Southeastern Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin]: Founded in 1963 and one of the better FCS leagues. Added three more football members, all from Texas, for 2014 (all of which had joined the league for non-football sports in 2013)—Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist, and Incarnate Word.
- The SLC has two members without football teams, New Orleans and Texas A&M–Corpus Christi.
- And it boasts another oddly-colored football field in that of Central Arkansas, with purple and gray sections alternating every 5 yards.
- Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) [Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Arkansas–Pine Bluff, Grambling State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern, Texas Southern]: The oldest FCS conference, founded in 1920, and like the MEAC consists entirely of HBCUs. It has a longer-standing policy of not taking part in the FCS playoffs than its HBCU sister conference.
- No schools will be playing as FCS independents in 2017. The next school to play as an FCS independent will be North Alabama in 2018, the first year of its transition from Division II, before joining Big South football in 2019. As noted above, Presbyterian will play as an independent in 2020, the final season of its transition to non-scholarship football before joining the Pioneer League.