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Useful Notes / Collegiate American Football Conferences

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For the main page, see Collegiate American Football.

Alignments listed are as of the upcoming (fall) 2021 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, 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. Right now, Cincinnati and UCF are the league's highest-profile teams. The former has produced a few notable NFL players, among them Jason and Travis Kelce, and the latter went unbeaten in 2017 and lost out on a second straight unbeaten season in their 2018 bowl game. Although UConnnote  left in 2020 to join the reconfigured Big East (with football becoming an FBS independent), The American still has a conference title game despite neither having divisions nor a full round-robin conference schedule (they received special permission from the NCAA to keep their title 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.
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    • Wichita State became The American's first full but non-football member in 2017, which at that time gave 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 20 of the league's titles as well as the national title in 2016 and 2018. 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 six-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 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 teams.note . 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 oldest conference in college sports, having been founded as the Western Conference in 1896 with charter members Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin, then changing their name to the Big Nine three years later with the addition of Indiana and Iowa. The name "Big Ten", which they have used almost continuously from the time of Michigan's return in 1917 (Ohio State having joined during their absence)note , 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). Because of how long they've been together as a conference, their rivalries have a very traditional feel to them and a disproportionately high number of them have some sort of traveling trophy awarded to the winner. This even extends to relative newcomer Nebraska, though having joined during the age of social media, some of them seem a tad out of place.
    • 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), and its public members (i.e. all of them except Northwestern) are usually considered "Public Ivy" or very close to it (Michigan in particular is considered to be on a par with the actual Ivies in everything but social prestige and "old boy net" connections). 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.
    • In July 2021, it was reported that Big 12 mainstays Oklahoma and Texas had approached the SEC about potential membership. Both schools and the SEC refused comment, which pretty much everyone interpreted as non-denial denials. Soon after, it came out that the schools and the SEC had been in talks for close to a year. Should this move happen, it would almost certainly trigger a new round of conference realignment. Stay tuned.
  • Conference USA (C-USA) [Charlottenote , FIUnote , Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Missnote , 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 FCS.note  Right now, the league's two highest-profile teams are Florida Atlantic, thanks mostly to its former media-hound head coach Lane Kiffin (who's now taken his shtick to Ole Miss), and UAB, which reinstated football in 2017 after dropping the sport after the 2014 season,note  following it up with the program's four best seasons ever, including two conference titles. Also of note is that Old Dominion is one of three FBS schools that didn't play in the COVID-affected 2020 season, and the only non-independent team among them.
  • 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). To more devoted college football fans, the MAC is equally known as a land where anything can happen on any night of the week, with regular games between Tuesday and Thursday, leading to the #MACtion meme. 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. The MAC is the only Group of Five conference to hold its championship game at a neutral site, having played said game at Detroit's Ford Field since 2004.
    • UMass was effectively kicked out of the MAC football conference after the 2015 season. It was offered full membership, but declined.note 
    • Another interesting piece of trivia: Although the MAC had two changes in football-only membership during the early-2010s conference realignment cycle,note  it was the only FBS conference that did not gain or lose a core (i.e., all-sports) member during that time.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  To more devoted college football fans, however, the Pac-12 is best known as a land of chaos, where anybody can beat anybody at any given time, especially in night games—hence the famous #Pac12AfterDark meme. 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 has claimed six national titles in a little more than a decade (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2020) and lost to Clemson in the 2016 and 2018 title games, the former in the final seconds and the latter in convincing fashion. LSU and Auburn have also been quite dominant in recent years, with LSU winning the 2019 national title game over Clemson, and Georgia lost in overtime to Bama in the 2017 national title game. 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, Louisiananote , Louisiana-Monroe, 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 and the first two Sun Belt championship games in 2018 and 2019, beating Louisiana in both title games... and much like Arkansas State before them, immediately losing both championship game-winning coaches to higher-profile FBS jobs. Fellow former FCS power Georgia Southern also started strong, winning the conference title outright in their first FBS season in 2014, but had two off years in 2016 and 2017 before becoming resurgent again. And in 2020, Coastal Carolina, previously best known for its teal field, came out of nowhere to draw national attention with an unbeaten regular season, complete with locker-room celebrations right out of WWE. If you've ever heard of any of these schools (at least before Coastal's breakout season in 2020), 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)... only to find themselves stranded again when the Sun Belt bounced them from its football league after the 2017 season.
    • The Sun Belt also has two non-football members in Little Rocknote  and UT Arlington. Both schools have considered reviving their respective football programs in recent years. Little Rock's feasibility study in 2019 had recommended against doing so, at least for now.
    • Speaking of 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 became bowl-eligible). In May 2017, the conference announced that the 10 football-playing schools would be divided into two divisions of five teams; unlike other Sun Belt sports split into two divisions, South Alabama plays in the West Division rather than the East to balance the football divisions.
  • In addition to the above, seven schools planned to play as independents, not in a conference, in 2020. 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.) Right now, in addition to its ACC commitments, the Irish play Stanford, USC, and Navy every year—except in 2020, when COVID-19 scuttled all three games.note  2020 note 
    • UMassnote  — Unlike the above 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...
    • New Mexico State decided to stay in FBS as an independent after being kicked out of Sun Belt football in 2017. Though the Aggies entered independence off their first bowl appearance in over a half-century, they're still mostly in the shadow of New Mexico in their own state and even UTEP in their immediate region. They also chose not to play in 2020, though they pieced together a few games against FCS teams in spring 2021. NMSU may be back in an FBS conference in a few years, even if it doesn't switch leagues; its current all-sports home of the Western Athletic Conference is relaunching football in FCS in 2021, and is talking about upgrading to FBS by the end of the decade.
    • Liberty, a former Strawman U (Jim Jonestown variety) in Virginia, though far less legalistic since the passing of its founder Jerry Falwell (Sr.), also joined the FBS independent ranks in 2018. 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. The 2019 season was the Flames' first as full FBS members, with that season as well as the 2020 season ending in bowl wins. The second was an overtime upset of then-unbeaten national darling Coastal Carolina.note 
    • The newest FBS independent is UConn, mentioned above in the American Conference folder. The Huskies had enjoyed little success at the FBS level since moving from what was then I-AA in 2002, and their bread-and-butter sports of men's and women's basketball were being visibly hurt by being in the geographically far-flung American (the women weren't hurt on the court, but suffered from an utter lack of in-conference competition). In the end, basketball won out, with the Huskies rejoining several of their former conference rivals in the Big East in 2020. As it turned out, UConn became the first FBS school (of three) to cancel its 2020 football season due to COVID-19.note 

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 , less restrictions on new recruits,note  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. Any Division I non-football school which starts a new football program or a Division II program that transitions to Division I must start out in the FCS for at least two years.

FCS was even more disrupted by COVID-19 than FBS, with so many conferences opting out of the fall season that the NCAA canceled the playoffs. With most of these conferences announcing plans for spring seasons, the NCAA rescheduled the playoffs for spring 2021, though a few schools chose to play partial fall seasons.note  Additionally, due to the large number of conferences and teams that opted out, the playoffs were reduced from their normal 24 teams to 16.

  • Big Sky Conference [Cal Poly (football only), Eastern Washington, Idaho, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, 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 above, and Central Arkansas below), 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. The Vandals became the first team ever to voluntarily drop from FBS to FCS.
    • Southern Utah will leave the Big Sky in 2022 to join the WAC and its revived football league.
  • Big South Conference [Campbell, Charleston Southern, Gardner–Webb, Hampton, Kennesaw State (football only), Monmouth (football only), North Alabama (football only), North Carolina A&T, Robert Morris (football only)]: 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, but most of the "good teams" left during the various realignments of the 2010s (most notably the aforementioned Coastal Carolina and Liberty).
    • Six full members of the conference (High Point, Longwood, Radford, UNC Asheville, USCnote  Upstate, and Winthrop) don't have football teams. Another full member, Campbell, played in the Pioneer Football League (below) through the 2017 season, but...
    • In an attempt to attract new football members, the Big South announced a football alliance with the ASUN Conference in 2016.Background  Under its terms, any current member of either league that added football, or upgraded from non-scholarship to scholarship football, had 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, both ASUN members that played non-scholarship football in the Pioneer League. Jacksonville has since dropped football, while Stetson still plays.
    • 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 joined Big South football in 2019 after playing the 2018 season as an FCS independent.
    • 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 had reached an agreement that when Liberty's FBS transition was complete in 2019, it would relinquish its full Big South membership, but would remain an associate member in the 17 non-football sports it then housed in the Big South... but a few months later, it decided to move said sports to the ASUN effective in July 2018.
    • 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). After the remaining MEAC schools refused to play Hampton in 2018, the Pirates decided to play as an FCS independent in that season before joining Big South football in 2019.
    • And in the same week Hampton and USC Upstate were unveiled as future members, Presbyterian announced it would immediately transition to non-scholarship football, leave Big South football after the 2019 season, spend the 2020 season as an FCS independent, and join the Pioneer League in 2021. The Blue Hose remain in the Big South in other sports.
    • Robert Morris moved from the football-sponsoring Northeast Conference to the non-football Horizon League in 2020, and initially planned to play that season as an FCS independent before joining Big South football in the fall of 2021. After the Big South canceled its 2020 fall season due to COVID-19 and moved it to spring 2021, RMU was brought into the football league a few months ahead of schedule.
    • In July 2021, North Carolina A&T made the same move Hampton did in 2018 (MEAC to Big South).
    • The ASUN–Big South football partnership will presumably end with the launch of ASUN football, apparently set for 2022. At that time, Kennesaw State and North Alabama will move football to their full-time conference home.
  • 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. NDSU would get its revenge by beating JMU in the 2017 final, and also beat JMU in the 2019 title game.
    • 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) [Delaware State, Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, 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, was criticized for regularly agreeing to play in vastly one-sided games against powerhouse schools, where they inevitably lost by over 70 or 80 points... until it dropped back to Division II in 2019. Due to a distinct lack of success in the FCS playoffs, it decided in 2015 to not participate in the playoffsnote  (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 November 2017, Hampton announced they would leave for the Big South effective the following July. To say the least, the rest of the MEAC didn't take it well, with the entire conference effectively boycotting Hampton... though the boycott lasted only one season, as MEAC schools began scheduling the Pirates again in 2019.
    • As noted above, North Carolina A&T left in 2021 for the Big South. They may not get the Hampton treatment, since they let the MEAC know more than a year beforehand.
    • Not long after NC A&T announced its move, the MEAC's two Florida members, Bethune–Cookman and Florida A&M, announced they would also leave in 2021 for the other FCS HBCU conference, the SWAC. Needless to say, these most recent moves raised serious questions about the future of MEAC football. The league has reportedly had talks with at least two possible D-II upgraders; watch this space.
  • Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) [Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, North Dakota, 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 eight FCS titles in the 2010s (2011–2015, 2017–2019), went 6-for-6 against FBS teams in that decade, and had an FCS-record 39-game winning streak snapped in spring 2021. The last of these FBS wins, 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. NDSU's instate rival North Dakota became the newest MVFC member in 2020, reuniting the Fighting Hawks with most of their traditional football rivals.
  • Northeast Conference (NEC) [Bryant, Central Connecticut, Duquesne (football only), LIUnote , Merrimack, 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 a shade over two-thirds of the FCS maximum (45 instead of 63).
    • Three of the NEC's 10 full members don't play football: Fairleigh Dickinson, Mount St. Mary's, and the aforementioned St. Francis Brooklyn. Before the 2019–20 school year, those ranks also included LIU Brooklyn, but Long Island University merged the Brooklyn athletic program with the Division II LIU Post program (which did play football) into a single D-I LIU program. The football team that played as the LIU Post Pioneers in 2018 accordingly became the LIU Sharks.
    • Merrimack College joined the conference in all sports from Division II in 2019. As per the rules for transitioning between the divisions, they are ineligible for the playoffs until completing their transition in 2023. While technically an NEC football member, they didn't play a full NEC schedule in their first D-I season. Once they play a full NEC schedule, they'll be eligible for a conference title, but not the playoffs.
  • Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) [Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, 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 Statenote  made the 2015 FCS title game as an OVC member. 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.
    • Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State left the OVC in July 2021 for the ASUN Conference. With that league not planning to start football until 2022, both will play the fall 2021 football season in the WAC and then move to ASUN football.
  • 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, Davidson, Dayton, Drake, Marist, Morehead State, Presbyterian, St. Thomas, 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, Presbyterian joined in July 2021. They ultimately replaced Jacksonvillenote , which dropped football after the 2019 season. While technically independent in 2020–21, the Blue Hose nonetheless played a full Pioneer League slate that spring; they weren't eligible for the league title, but were eligible for individual awards.
    • Presbyterian isn't the only newcomer in 2021. St. Thomas of Minnesota,note  a Twin Cities school that was involuntarily kicked out of its D-III league for being too strong, quickly got an invite from the D-I non-football Summit League. With the Summit's backing, St. Thomas successfully obtained a waiver of an NCAA rule that would have effectively barred them from a direct move to D-I. The Tommies joined the Pioneer League for football, going through a five-year transition process instead of the four for transitions from D-II.note 
  • 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 non-transitionalnote  FCS team to defeat a ranked FBS team.
  • Southland Conference (sometimes SLC) [Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, McNeese State, Nicholls, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana]: Founded in 1963 and had one of the better FCS leagues before five schools left following the spring 2021 season. One of the departing schools, Sam Houston, won the FCS title on its way out.
    • The SLC has two members without football teams, New Orleans and Texas A&M–Corpus Christi.
    • In January 2021, the SLC became another league whose football future was up in the air. Four Texas schools, namely Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston, and Stephen F. Austin, announced they would leave for the WAC after the (fall) 2021 season. Central Arkansas also announced its departure for the ASUN effective at the end of the 2020–21 school year. The SLC kicked the "Texas Four" out of the conference effective in July 2021, meaning that the WAC will start football in the fall of 2021 instead of 2022. The WAC will also be UCA's football home in the fall 2021 season until the ASUN starts its football league in 2022.
  • Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) [Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Arkansas–Pine Bluff, Bethune–Cookman, Florida A&M, 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. Has used a East–West divisional setup since 1999, with the divisional winners playing in a championship game.
    • As noted above, Bethune–Cookman and Florida A&M joined in July 2021. Both were placed in the East Division, with Alcorn State switching to the West.
  • Western Athletic Conference (WAC): [Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas (football only), Dixie State, Eastern Kentucky (football only), Jacksonville State (football only), Lamar, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton]: Started in 1962 by six schools in the intermountain West, it flourished as a major conference until an ill-advised expansion in 1996 started two decades of turmoil. Eight schools left in 1999 to form the Mountain West Conference, and further instability eventually saw the WAC lose all but two of its football schools during the early-2010s realignment cycle, leading the conference to drop football after the 2012 season. The 2020 arrivals of Dixie Statenote  and Tarleton, both D-II upgraders with football, led to speculation that the WAC would eventually reinstate football at the FCS level. That speculation proved true in January 2021, when the league announced that five FCS schools would join the league as all-sports members in 2022 (four from the Southland and one from the Big Sky), at which time WAC football would return. When the Southland responded by kicking out its departing members, the WAC in turn brought the arrival of those schools, as well as the return of football, forward to July 2021. Southern Utah, however, will not join until the originally announced time of 2022; the Big Sky took the high road and let them stay for 2021. With Dixie and Tarleton not eligible for the FCS playoffs until completing their D-I transitions in 2024, the WAC would not have been eligible for an automatic playoff berth with its initial football membership, having only four of the six playoff-eligible schools needed. They solved the numbers problem for fall 2021 by bringing incoming ASUN members Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State in as football members for that season only in what's officially called the "ASUN–WAC (or WAC–ASUN) Challenge". However, the automatic bid is in the hands of the NCAA, which has to approve an amendment to its bylaws to accommodate the new alliance. While these three schools will move to ASUN football in 2022, Southern Utah's arrival will give the WAC five playoff-eligible schools, and the conference is actively seeking at least one more playoff-eligible member by 2022. The conference is widely rumored to be planning a return to FBS by 2030.
    • The WAC currently has five non-football members in California Baptist, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Seattle, and UTRGV. In 2022, Chicago State will leave the WAC, and Southern Utah will join. UTRGV has announced it will start an FCS football program no later than 2024. Another WAC member, New Mexico State, currently plays as an FBS independent.
    • And, for the fall 2021 season only, it boasts another oddly-colored football field in that of Central Arkansas, with purple and gray sections alternating every 5 yards.
  • ASUN Conference, effective 2022 [Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, North Alabama, with at least one other school TBA]: Founded as the Trans America Athletic Conference in 1978, changed its name to the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2001, and adopted the ASUN branding in 2016. Throughout its history, its members have been mainly in the southeastern quadrant of the country. It has never sponsored football, though as noted above it has had a football alliance with the Big South. In late 2020, it was widely rumored that the ASUN would launch an FCS football league once it got enough members to qualify for an autobid. With the impending arrival of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State as full members in July 2021, it announced it would launch a football league (and now technically sponsors football)—although it did not officially announce when conference competition would begin. The most likely date is 2022, which (1) coincides with North Alabama completing its D-I transition and becoming playoff-eligible and (2) gives the conference time to attract one or more FCS members, whether for all sports or football only.
    • The ASUN has seven members that won't be part of the football league; no school will be required to add football or change its football status. Bellarmine, Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Lipscomb, and North Florida don't play football. Stetson plays non-scholarship football in the Pioneer League. Liberty is an FBS independent.
  • There will be no true independents in the fall 2021 season, with the Pioneer League and the WAC taking in all of the 2020–21 independents. However, while Dixie State and Tarleton will play in the WAC football league, their games won't count in conference standings.

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