Useful Notes: Collegiate American Football Conferences
For the main page, see Collegiate American Football
Alignments listed are as of the upcoming 2015 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, 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 will become a member for football only in 2015, which will allow 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.
- 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 13 of the league's titles. 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 is now on a three-year title streak (2012–2014). Miami is one of the more traditional football powerhouses, producing quite a few NFL superstars, though it's periodically held down by cheating scandals. Duke, despite having won 7 league championships, has been the Butt Monkey of ACC football since 1989—although that changed in 2013, when Duke made the conference title game only to get curbstomped by eventual national champion Florida State (Duke would make a bowl game in 2014 as well). 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 [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. 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 State (and further waned in 2014 with the East Coast schools Rutgers and Maryland joining). 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 Committee on Institutional Cooperation, designed to facilitate sharing of academic resources among members. All 14 schools are joined in this by the University of Chicago — this is 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.
- 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".
- Conference USA (C-USA) [Charlottenote , FIUnote , Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Mississippi, 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 will become a full FBS member in 2015. Also becoming a full FBS member at that time is Charlotte, which began football in 2013 in the FCSnote .
- UABnote dropped football at the end of the 2014 season; since C-USA requires all member schools to sponsor football, they're now all but certain to be kicked out of the league at the end of the 2014–15 school year.
- Mid-American Conference (MAC) [Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Massachusetts (football only), 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 again Big Ten teams and conference champion Northern Illinois even playing in the Orange Bowl.
- UMass is being 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), Nevada, 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. Today, it is arguably the most competitive "Group of Five" conference, though ironically it has absorbed other former WAC schools during the realignment shake-ups of the 2000s and 2010s (the most recent being San Jose State and Utah State, joining in 2013).
- Pacific-12 (Pac-12) [Arizona, Arizona State, Californianote , Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USCnote , UCLA, 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, (which both have over 100 national team championships)note and USC (which is not far behind with 98).
- Southeastern Conference (SEC) [Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSUnote , Mississippi, Mississippi State, 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. LSU and Auburn have also been quite dominant in recent years. Alabama-Auburn is considered one of the greatest rivalries in the sport, as Georgia-Florida, whose Halloween weekend game is nicknamed "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party". The SEC was the first 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, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Idaho (football only), Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State (football only), South Alabama, Texas State, Troy]: The Butt Monkey among the current conferences. Most of these teams don't get winning records - and very few of their players go on to the pros. The exception is Troy, which has gotten some decent players to the next level (DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora both played there).note 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). 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 FCS 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 Sun Belt also has two non-football members in Arkansas-Little Rock and UT Arlington.
- In addition to the above, three 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 heart of major-college sports. Today's football independents, all of which belong to conferences for other sports, 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. 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.
- 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.)
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 scholarships 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 (the most recent of the three times FCS teams have beaten ranked FBS schools).
- 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.
- Big South Conference [Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, 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. One of the FCS bottom-feeders.
- Five full members of the conference don't have football teams. Another full member, Campbell, plays in the Pioneer Football League (below).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 FBS powerhouses, where they inevitably lose by over 70 or 80 points.
- Two full MEAC members, Coppin State and Maryland–Eastern Shore, don't play football.
- 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 is currently the four-time defending FCS champion, and has beaten an FBS team in each season since 2010. (The FBS catches a break in 2015; NDSU doesn't have an FBS school on its schedule that season.)
- 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.
- 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. Popular among southern schools seeking an easy win.
- One full OVC member, Morehead State, plays football in the Pioneer League. Two other full members 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 2012, 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 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.
- Southern Conference (SoCon) [Chattanooga, The Citadel, 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 SoCon member) rejoined for non-football sports. ETSU will resurrect its dormant football program in 2015, playing one 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 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 one member without a football team, namely New Orleans.
- 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. Unlike the MEAC, it does not participate in the FCS playoffs.