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FBS Conferences (ACC) (B1G) (B12) (SEC) | FCS and Miscellaneous Teams (Ivy League)

As described on the Collegiate American Football main page, there are a lot of different conferences and programs in college football, the number and organization of which is apt to shift around from season to season. On any given Saturday in the fall, most of the major broadcast and sports networks on American television will feature matchups of these schools, often littered with references to 150+ years of history that the casual viewer might find confusing. These teams are also frequently featured, referenced, and parodied in other American media. This page lays out the alignments of college football conferences as of the upcoming 2024 season and provides a description of their more prominent programs.

Football Bowl Subdivision

See Football Bowl Subdivision.

Football Championship Subdivision

The second level of D-I football, also known as FCS or its former designation of "I-AA" (pronounced "one-double-A"). It was created in 1978 when the NCAA split D-I football into two groups. In that first year, I-AA had five conferences (Big Sky, Ohio Valley, MEAC, SWAC, Yankee) and eight independent schools, for a total of 43 teams. Over the next few years, more independent teams and one conference (Mid-Continent, now the non-football Summit League but also an early forerunner of the modern MVFC) were added. Membership numbers ballooned in 1982 when the NCAA set stringent criteria for I-A membership based on home game attendancenote  and relegated around 30 I-A schools to the I-AA level. Any D-I non-football school which starts a new football program or a D-II program that transitions to D-I must start out in the FCS for at least two years.

FCS is distinguished from FBS by a shorter regular season of 11 games instead of 12note , fewer football scholarships,note , and (effective in 2027–28) lower requirements for overall athletic funding.note  Before 2023, other distinctions were fewer restrictions on new recruitsnote  and no minimum attendance requirement.note  It is also distinguished by having an official NCAA championship. (The FBS College Football Playoff is not operated by the NCAA.)

FCS conferences can be broadly divided into three groups: the majority contain the rank-and-file FCS schools, the Division I members who try to operate a fully-funded program within the NCAA FCS guidelines and compete for a slot in the playoffs. There are also the non-or-reduced scholarship conferences (Ivy, Northeast, Patriot, Pioneer) who operate their programs on a smaller scale and try to focus more on academics, with the Ivy League not participating in postseason play at all. And there are the two conferences (MEAC, SWAC) made up of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which have always had a unique set of traditions, especially the "classics", a set of games played at large neutral site stadiums in major cities like Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas, that have a bowl-like atmosphere and are typically the highest-attended FCS games in any given season.

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
Current schools: Cal Poly (football only), Eastern Washington, Idaho, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, UC Davis (football only), Weber State
Current commissioner: Tom Wistroll
Reigning champion: Montana

Formed in 1963, the Big Sky Conference is one of the better FCS conferences. Popular among Western schools seeking easy wins, though two of its teams have delivered upsets over ranked FBS programs (Eastern Washington against Oregon State in 2013, Montana against Washington in 2021). The Medal of Dishonor in this respect would however go to North Texas, which ended up on the wrong end of a 66–7 shellacking by Portland State in 2015. At the Mean Green's homecoming.note  It's also known for having another oddly-colored field, in this case Eastern Washington's red field, nicknamed "The Inferno". Idaho State's ICCU Domenote  (originally the Minidome and later Holt Arena) is the oldest on-campus domed stadium in America, built in 1970. Two other conference teams play in domes: Idaho (the Kibbie Dome,* built in 1975) and Northern Arizona (the Walkup Skydome, built in 1977, not because of extreme heat, as you might guess, but because of the cold temperatures and heavy snow in the mountain city of Flagstaff). NAU's stadium, at 6,980 feet, has the highest elevation of any in FCS, and is second only to Wyoming in all of D-I. Montana State has won national championships at the NAIA (1956)note , D-II (1976), and FCS (1984) levels, making it the only team to win titles in three different classifications.

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 without extenuating circumstances.note  Southern Utah left the Big Sky in 2022 to join the WAC and its revived football league (and become part of the United Athletic Conference in 2023).

With Kennesaw State having left the FCS ranks for CUSA in 2024, the Big Sky is home to the two largest football-sponsoring schools outside FBS—UC Davis has about 32,000 undergraduates and Sacramento State has about 28,000.note 

    Big South–OVC Football Association
Current schools: Big South: Charleston Southern, Gardner–Webb; OVC: Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, UT Martin, Western Illinois
Current commissioner: Big South: Sherika Montgomery; OVC: Beth DeBauche
Reigning champions: Gardner–Webb and UT Martin (co-champions); Gardner–Webb received the alliance's automatic playoff bid

The Big South–OVC Football Association was created in 2023 as a football-only alliance between the Big South Conference and Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). This alliance is following the model that the ASUN and WAC used in 2021 and 2022 before merging for football in 2023 (see the United Athletic Conference below), with both leagues playing full in-conference schedules plus a partially interlocking set of inter-conference games and sharing a single automatic playoff berth.

The Big South began in 1983 as a non-football league and did not sponsor the sport until 2002. Comprised initially of schools from throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, it 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, USC 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. With defections since 2014 of its biggest football schools, the Big South was in danger of losing its status as an FCS conference, as 6 members are needed for a league to maintain its automatic playoff berth. 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  It has held on since then, regularly swapping members to meet minimum requirements for operation. However, with the ASUN starting football in 2022 (taking two Big South football members with it) and Hampton moving on to the CAA, the Big South was put on the clock to restore its football membership to the "magic number" of 6... and its task got harder when North Carolina A&T announced it would move to CAA Football in 2023 (with the rest of its sports joining in 2022). However, it was able to lure Bryant as a new football-only member in time for the 2022 season. Still later, Campbell announced that it too would leave for both sides of the CAA in 2023, Bryant announced it would join CAA Football in 2024, and Robert Morris announced that it would return to NEC football in 2024.

The other side of the alliance, the OVC, was founded in 1948. It was once a I-AA power but has since receded to the middle of FCS, though Jacksonville State (the one in Alabama, and now in FBS) made the 2015 FCS title game as an OVC member. They are popular among southern schools seeking an easy win. Tennessee State was the only Division I HBCU school not in either the MEAC or SWAC, before Hampton and North Carolina A&T decided to leave the MEAC. TSU made history in 2023 as Notre Dame's first-ever FCS opponent.note 

One full OVC member, Morehead State, plays football in the Pioneer League. Three other full members don't play football at all, namely Little Rock, SIU Edwardsville, and Southern Indiana.

The OVC has gone through significant churn in the current decade. Founding OVC member Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State left in 2021 for the ASUN Conference, playing the season as de facto members of the new WAC football league before the ASUN started its own league in 2022. In July, another founding member, Murray State, left for the Missouri Valley Conference (not to be confused with the MVFC above), with non-football member Belmont joining them in this move, and Austin Peay left for the ASUN. Murray State, however, did keep football in the OVC for the 2022 season while it sought to join the MVFC, eventually being accepted into that league for 2023.

Three new members arrived in 2022, although only one of them plays football. Little Rock, a non-football Sun Belt member for over 30 years, saw the writing on the wall with the SBC's coming football expansion and moved to the OVC. Two D-II upgraders, football-sponsoring Lindenwood (out of the St. Louis area) and non-football Southern Indiana, also arrived. While all this was going on, the OVC and the Southland Conference, another league that experienced major membership losses, announced a football scheduling alliance for 2022 and 2023... but then the OVC and Big South announced their more comprehensive football alliance. In 2024, the alliance adds Western Illinois, which became a full OVC member in 2023. WIU is probably most notable for its nickname of Leathernecks—which does come from the Marines, with permission.note 

Given that Charleston Southern and Gardner–Webb are the Big South's only representatives in the alliance in 2024, it's possible that the alliance may end up evolving back to OVC football... stay tuned.

    CAA Football (aka Coastal Athletic Association)
Current schools: Albany, Bryant, Campbell, Delaware, Elon, Hampton, Maine, Monmouth, New Hampshire, North Carolina A&T, Rhode Island, Richmond, Stony Brook, Towson, Villanova (football only), William & Mary
Departing schools: Delaware, Richmond (2025)
Current commissioner: Joe D'Antonio
Reigning champions: Albany, Richmond, and Villanova (co-champions); Villanova received the automatic playoff bid

CAA Football is the football arm of the Coastal Athletic Association (or just CAA). Legally, CAA Football and the all-sports CAA are separate entities, but both share the same administration.note  The all-sports CAA was created in 1979 as the basketball-only ECACnote  South. It added other sports in 1985 and became the Colonial Athletic Association, but did not start sponsoring football until 2007. However, CAA Football can trace its history to the late 1930s through three other leagues,note  including the Yankee Conference, one of the charter members of I-AA in 1978, though it's been the division's Revolving Door Band. Of the 1978 Yankee Conference teams, only Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island remain. Historically, it has been 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 on the way to the FCS crown. (NDSU got its revenge by beating JMU in the 2017 and 2019 title games.) A decent chunk of the schools in CAA Football are not members of the all-sports CAA. As of 2023, when the CAA adopted its current name, only Campbell, Delaware, Elon, Hampton, Monmouth, North Carolina A&T, Stony Brook, Towson, and W&M are members of both sides. The all-sports CAA has five members without football teams (College of Charleston, Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern, and UNC Wilmington).

Depending on definitions, CAA Football member Villanova (otherwise a Big East member) has a claim to the most NCAA D-I team titles of any FCS school, with 21 in all,note  though Yale has a separate claim to this honor.note  The CAA suffered a significant blow in the 2021 realignment saga when James Madison, which had spent the last 20 years openly seeking an FBS move, was announced as a future member of the Sun Belt Conference. While JMU initially planned to join the Sun Belt in 2023, the move was pushed forward to 2022 after the all-sports CAA chose to enforce a provision in its bylaws stating that any school that announces its departure can be banned from the conference's postseason tournaments.* The CAA reloaded shortly thereafter, bringing football member Stony Brook into the all-sports league and also poaching Campbell, Hampton, Monmouth, and North Carolina A&T for both sides of the league and Bryant for football only to expand its football membership to 13 effective in 2022, 15 in 2023, and 16 in 2024. (A&T joined the all-sports CAA in 2022 but didn't join for football until 2023.) The 16-team lineup will last only one season, as Delaware starts a transition to FBS in 2024 and joins Conference USA in 2025, while Richmond moves football to the Patriot League in 2025.

    Ivy League
Current schools: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Yale
Current commissioner: Robin Harrisnote 
Reigning champions: Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale (co-champions)

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,note  and it claims the history of the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League, founded in 1901, and the near-century of football played by its schools prior to the formal organization of the League. Historically, the Ivies were 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 a relic of the past. Princeton lays claim to 28 national championships, more than any other school by a considerable margin, but the last they won was in 1950. The league remained classified as a major conference until the NCAA's 1982 re-realignment of D-I. Yale actually met the attendance requirement to remain in I-A but voluntarily reclassified to keep the league intact.

One artifact of the Ivies' former glory is that they have some of the oldest and largest stadiums in FCS. Only Columbia and Dartmouth have stadiums that seat less than 20,000, with the Yale Bowl (at just over 61,000 seats) being the largest on-campus stadium outside of FBS. Penn's Franklin Field (built in 1895) and Harvard Stadium (built in 1903) were among the first large college stadiums (the former having also served for many years as the NFL Eagles' stadium), and the Yale Bowl (built in 1914) is where the term "bowl" originated in its football sense. Only Columbia's Wien Stadium and Princeton Stadium were built after 1925, respectively opening in 1984 and 1998.

While it has an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs, the Ivy League chooses not to participate, citing academic concerns (the last Ivy team to play any postseason game was Columbia, who staged a stunning upset of Stanford in the 1933 Rose Bowl). 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, though student-athletes are eligible for the same financial assistance based on need as the rest of the student body (which, at schools that charge upwards of $50,000 in tuition, is usually necessary). Some outside observers feel that financial aid to athletes amounts to scholarships under a different name.

    Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)
Current schools: Delaware State, Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, South Carolina State
Current commissioner: Sonja Stills
Reigning champions: Howard and North Carolina Central (co-champions); Howard received the Celebration Bowl berth

Formed in 1970, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) is a conference of HBCU institutions. Like the MAC and Sun Belt in FBS, its 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 before dropping back to D-II in 2019. Due to a distinct lack of success in the FCS playoffs (no national championshipsnote  and just 5 playoff wins total), it decided in 2015 to vacate its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs (for the second time in the FCS era), opting instead to send its champion to the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta to play the SWAC (below) champion (the MEAC and SWAC champs had previously squared off in the Heritage Bowl from 1991-99). A non-champion is still eligible for an at-large playoff invitation if the selection committee deems them worthy, and North Carolina A&T in 2017 and North Carolina Central in 2023 have received one. On a happier note, the MEAC was involved in the biggest point-spread upset in NCAA football history in 2017, which happened, appropriately enough, in Las Vegas, when Howard, a 45-point underdog, beat UNLV 43–40.

Two full MEAC members, Coppin State and Maryland Eastern Shore, don't play football. Since 2017, five football schools have left the conference—Hampton for the Big South in 2018; Savannah State for D-II in 2019 (after having only upgraded from D-II in 2010); and three schools in 2021, with Bethune–Cookman and Florida A&M leaving for the SWAC and North Carolina A&T for the Big South. Needless to say, these moves raised serious questions about the future of MEAC football. Reportedly they've had talks with some possible D-II upgraders.note  Howard had all-sport membership offers from the CAA and NEC in 2022, but turned both conferences down, while Chicago State, a non-football school* then without a conference, offered itself up as a member but got voted down by the league's chancellors, and eventually joined the NEC for 2024 and beyond.note  Also in 2022 the MEAC announced an agreement with the NEC to place MEAC schools as associate NEC members in three sports (baseball and men's and women's golf) that the MEAC doesn't sponsor, leading to speculation that it might be the first step toward a full merger of the leagues; watch this space.

    Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC)
Current schools: Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Murray State, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Youngstown State
Departing schools: Missouri State (2025)
Current commissioner: Patty Viverito
Reigning champion: South Dakota State

Another football-only league, the Missouri Valley Football Conference (or MVFC) has 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 being the now non-football Missouri Valley Conference (note the missing word!) and another being a women's sports league. 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 (with one in particular standing out; see below). The FCS championship game has twice been an all-MVFC affair, making it the only conference to pull off that feat (involving North Dakota State both times, with the Bison beating Illinois State in 2014 and losing to South Dakota State in 2022).

Though the MVFC and MVC are separate entities, they share a very close relationship. The two leagues have six members (for now) in common*, and along with the Pioneer Football League (see below), which includes two other MVC members*, operate out of the same office complex in St. Louis. The four Dakotas schools are members of the now non-football Summit League, another one of the precursor leagues alluded to in the previous paragraph. Murray State, which joined the MVC in 2022, played the 2022 football season in its previous all-sports home of the Ohio Valley Conference before joining the MVFC in 2023.

The MVFC is home to the other four FCS schools that play in domes, namely Northern Iowa (the UNI-Dome, pronounced "uni-dome"), North Dakota (the Alerus Center), North Dakota State (the Fargodome), and South Dakota (the DakotaDome). South Dakota has a similar stadium setup to that of ACC member Boston College; USD's domed stadium and basketball arena are physically attached, and some luxury boxes allow their occupants a full view of events at each venue.

The latest membership change was announced in 2023, when Western Illinois left the Summit League for the OVC, playing one last season in the MVFC before joining the Big South–OVC alliance in 2024. The next change comes in 2025 with Missouri State leaving for FBS and Conference USA.

North Dakota State Bison
Location: Fargo, ND
School Established: 1890note 
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1894-1921),note  NCC (1922-2003),note  Great West (2004-07), MVFC (2008-)
Overall Win Record: 777–379–34 (.667)note 
Bowl Record: 5-1 (.833)note 
Playoff Record: 35-13 (.729) in D-II; 43–5 (.896) in FCS
Colors: Green and yellow
Stadium: Fargodome (19,000 capacity)
Current Head Coach: Tim Polasek
Notable Historic Coaches: Gil Dobie
Notable Historic Players: Gus Bradley, Carson Wentz, Trey Lance
National Championships: 17 (8 D-II - 1965, 1968-69, 1983, 1985-86, 1988, 1990; 9 FCS - 2011–15, 2017–19, 2021)
Conference Championships: 37 (26 NCC - 1925, 1932, 1935, 1964-70, 1972-74, 1976-77, 1981-86, 1988, 1990-92, 1994; 1 Great West - 2006; 10 MVFC - 2011-19, 2021)

North Dakota State University is one of the most decorated programs in college sports. In simple terms, the Bison have won more national championships (17) than any other team on any level of college football, starting on the Division II level. They've had just three losing seasons in the last 50 years, and were the team of The '80s in D-II, playing in six championship games, winning four of them. Moving to the FCS in 2004, they established themselves as a power right away, then became utterly dominant since the 2010s. From 2011-19, the Bison won eight FCS titles, the same number of games they lost in that time span. In that era, NDSU produced two Top 5-drafted QBs (Carson Wentz and Trey Lance), went 6-for-6 against FBS teams (including one over ranked Iowa in 2016), and had an FCS-record 39-game winning streak that wasn't snapped until spring 2021. That performance resulted in the program being ranked at one point as high as #27 in the country, higher than any non-FBS team.

While fans and observers have speculated for years whether the school would be able to make the jump to the FBS and continue to compete at a high level, NDSU has refrained from doing so, mainly for financial reasons. Its tiny and remote home marketnote  presents a tremendous obstacle for making money as it is, and the added travel, scholarship, and facilities cost of the FBS could bankrupt the school (especially if the team's performance ever plateaued). Instead, the program seems mostly content to continue to dominate its local competition and let its win record serve as its main recruiting tool.

    Northeast Conference (NEC)
Current schools: Central Connecticut, Duquesne (football only), LIU, Mercyhurst, Robert Morris (football only), Saint Francis,note  Stonehill, Wagner
Current commissioner: Noreen Morris
Reigning champion: Duquesne

Formed in 1981, the Northeast Conference (or NEC) did not sponsor football until 1996. It is 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). As of the 2023 season, the only full NEC members that don't play football are Fairleigh Dickinsonnote  and Le Moyne (see below). Chicago State joins this group in 2024, though as noted in the MEAC folder it is exploring adding FCS football. Until fairly recently, those ranks included three other schools: LIU Brooklyn, Mount St. Mary's, and St. Francis Brooklyn.note  First, Long Island University merged the Brooklyn athletic program with the D-II LIU Post program (which did play football) into a single D-I LIU program effective in 2019–20. The football team that played as the LIU Post Pioneers in 2018 accordingly became the LIU Sharks. As for Mount St. Mary's, it left the NEC in 2022 for another non-football league, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. St. Francis Brooklyn shut down its entire athletic program at the end of the 2022–23 school year, and the conference quickly replaced them with Le Moyne, a longtime D-II Jesuit school in suburban Syracuse, New York, whose signature sport is lacrosse. Merrimack and Sacred Heart announced their departure for the MAAC effective in 2024, and both chose to become FCS independents for at least 2024. The NEC shored up its football numbers for 2024 by bringing back Robert Morris, which had been in NEC football from its start in 1996 until leaving after the 2019 season, as a football associate, and picking up another D-II upgrader, Mercyhurst from Pennsylvania (they're already D-I in hockey, having moved up in 1999).note 

The 2023 season was the first in which Merrimack, which joined the conference in all sports from D-II in 2019, was eligible for the FCS playoffs. Stonehill, which made the same move in 2022, is ineligible until 2026, while Mercyhurst will be ineligible until 2028. Stonehill replaced Bryant, which left for the non-football America East Conference in 2022 and parked football in the Big South, thereby becoming part of the Big South–OVC football alliance in 2023 (and moving from there to CAA Football in 2024). As alluded to above, Chicago State (non-football), Mercyhurst (all sports), and Robert Morris (football plus men's lacrosse) are effectively replacing Merrimack and Sacred Heart.

    Patriot League
Current schools: Bucknell, Colgate, Fordham (football only), Georgetown (football only), Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehighnote 
Arriving schools: Richmond (football only, 2025)
Current commissioner: Jennifer Heppel
Reigning champions: Holy Cross and Lafayette (co-champions); Lafayette received the automatic playoff bid

Founded in 1986 as the football-only Colonial League, it 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 permitting them for basketball in 1996 (allegedly to keep Holy Cross from jumping ship). Scholarships were extended to all non-football sports in 2001, but football scholarships were not allowed until 2013note , and Georgetown still doesn't award football scholarships. Unlike the Ivies, the Patriot League participates in the FCS postseason. The league has only reached the championship game once: Colgate in 2003. They lost 40–0 to Delaware.note  It's also home to the most-played and longest continuous rivalry in all of college football, namely Lafayette–Lehigh. The Leopards and Mountain Hawks played their 159th game in 2023, and have played at least once in each season since 1897.note  The PL will add a new football member in 2025 when Richmond, which will remain a member of the non-football Atlantic 10 Conference, joins from CAA Football (it's already a PL member in women's golf, a sport the A-10 doesn't sponsor).

Five more schools are full members but don't play Patriot League football. Army and Navy play in the FBS, while American University (dropped football in 1941), Boston Universitynote  (dropped it in 1997) and Loyola University Maryland (dropped it in 1933) no longer field football teams.

    Pioneer Football League (PFL)
Current schools: Butler, Davidson, Dayton, Drake, Marist, Morehead State, Presbyterian, St. Thomas, San Diego, Stetson, Valparaiso
Current commissioner: Greg Walter
Reigning champion: Drake

The Pioneer Football League (PFL) is another football-only league in FCS. It began in 1993 and exists entirely because of a 1991 NCAA rule change. Before then, some schools that were D-I for the majority of their sports were allowed to play football in D-II or III. Typically this route was chosen by smaller schools or schools whose athletic focus was outside of football (typically basketball). D-III was an especially attractive football option, since a school didn't need to spend money on football scholarships, but this immediately opened up the possibility of some Loophole Abuse: schools could recruit a player for football, then award him a scholarship in another sport. Dayton, a school with a deep basketball tradition, competed in D-III football and became a powerhouse at that level, making five D-III championship games from 1980-91 and winning two of them (1980, 1989). The 1987 D-III championship game paired two D-I schools playing in D-III, Dayton and Wagner (Wagner won 19-3). The perception that slumming big boys were dominating D-III football (and accusations about the scholarship issue mentioned above, which the schools denied was happening) angered the D-III schools, and they got the NCAA to require all D-I members to conduct all sports at their own level by 1993 (this is usually called "the Dayton rule"). Many schools forced up to D-I in 1993 wanted to keep running their program the same as they had in D-II or D-III, without additional scholarship expenses, so they banded together to form the league.note  All Pioneer members are small private schools except Morehead State, a small public school that elected to de-emphasize football. We're not kidding about the "small" part. The largest school, St. Thomas, has barely over 10,000 total students, with only a little more than 6,000 being undergraduates; most have undergraduate enrollments less than 5,000, and the PFL is home to the smallest D-I school (including the non-football schools!) in Presbyterian, with barely over 1,000 undergrads. As noted in the MVFC folder, the PFL operates out of the same St. Louis office complex that also hosts the MVFC and the non-football Missouri Valley Conference.

The latest arrivals came in 2021, specifically the aforementioned Presbyterian and St. Thomas of Minnesota. Presbyterian effectively replaced Jacksonville (FL), which dropped football after 2019. 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. As for St. Thomas, the Twin Cities school was involuntarily kicked out of its D-III league for being too strong in multiple sports, and soon 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 used for moves from D-II.note 

    Southern Conference (SoCon
Current schools: Chattanooga, The Citadel, East Tennessee State, Furman, Mercer, Samford, VMInote , Western Carolina, Wofford
Current commissioner: Michael Cross
Reigning champion: Furman

Founded in 1921, the Southern Conference (or simply SoCon) is probably most notable for having spawned two of the current FBS power conferences, the SEC and ACC. The conference remained at the major college level until 1982, when all of its schools were relegated to I-AA by the NCAA. 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. The SoCon has only one non-football member, UNC Greensboro.

    Southland Conference (SLC)
Current schools: Houston Christian*, Incarnate Word, Lamar, McNeese*, Nicholls*, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana, Texas A&M–Commerce*
Arriving schools: UTRGV* (2025)
Current commissioner: Chris Grant
Reigning champion: Nicholls

Founded in 1963, the Southland Conference (or SLC) was a strong lower level conference in its early years (then-league member Louisiana Tech won the initial NCAA D-II championship in 1973), before moving to the major college level in 1975. The Independence Bowl began in 1976 as a postseason home for the Southland's champion. In 1982, the league moved to I-AA after most of its members failed to meet the requirements for I-A membership (McNeese did meet the requirements but voluntarily reclassified with the rest of the conference). Long considered one of the top FCS leagues, five schools left following the spring 2021 season. One of the departing schools, Sam Houston, won the FCS title on its way out. Another one of the departing schools, Lamar, decided that its destination of the WAC wasn't as good of a fit as it thought; it originally planned to return to the SLC in 2023, but wound up returning for 2022. More recently, UTRGV, which had announced that it would add football in 2025 (after a practice season in 2024) as a member of the United Athletic Conference (see below), changed its plans, joining the SLC as a full member in 2024 with football to follow the next year.

The SLC has two full non-football members in New Orleans and Texas A&M–Corpus Christi, with UTRGV becoming a third for 2024–25 only. It added D-II upgrader Texas A&M–Commerce in 2022, and its football future was further secured when Incarnate Word, which had announced a move to the Western Athletic Conference and its newly reestablished football league, backed out of that move and stayed in the SLC. As noted above, the SLC and OVC entered into a scheduling partnership, though it didn't keep the OVC from announcing its plans to merge its football league with that of the Big South. The SLC had announced plans to adopt a new name in the near future, but took a half-step away from them, unveiling a new logo in 2023 but keeping its name.

    Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC)
Current schools: 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
Current commissioner: Charles McClelland
Reigning champion: Florida A&M

The oldest FCS conference, the Southwestern Athletic Conference (or SWAC) was founded in 1920. Like the MEAC, it consists entirely of HBCUs, and most of the HBCUs that casual fans are aware of (Grambling, Jackson State, Alcorn State, Prairie View) are in this conference. It was the first HBCU conference to play at the major college level, when it upgraded as a group in 1977, the year before D-I was split into I-A and I-AA (and they went I-AA). It's used an East–West divisional setup since 1999, with the divisional winners playing in a championship game. It has a longer-standing policy of not sending its champion to the FCS playoffs than its HBCU sister conference, effectively giving it up in The '90s, though, as with the MEAC, a non-champion is still eligible for an at-large bid (and Florida A&M received one in 2021). There are three reasons why the SWAC rejects an automatic bid: three conference schools have tradition-steeped (and lucrative) rivalry games on Thanksgiving weekend that conflict with the first round of the playoffs*; the SWAC championship game and the Celebration Bowl are big moneymakers; and the SWAC is winless in 20 playoff games (Florida A&M's playoff wins predate their conference membership). The SWAC is the home of the first college football HC to win 400 games (Grambling's Eddie Robinson) and the longest losing streak in the sport's history (Prairie View A&M's 80-game skid from 1989-98).

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.* Florida A&M is the only HBCU to win an FCS national championship (the initial 1978 I-AA title).

    United Athletic Conference (UAC)
Current schools: Abilene Christian, Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin,* Tarleton*, Utah Tech*, West Georgia
Current commissioners: Jeff Bacon & Brian Thorntonnote 
Reigning champion: Austin Peay

The United Athletic Conference is the newest FCS conference, created in December 2022 by the announcement that the ASUN Conference (or Atlantic Sun) and Western Athletic Conference (WAC) would merge their football leagues. The league used the placeholder name of "ASUN–WAC Football Conference" before unveiling its new name in April 2023. The ASUN initially contributed Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and North Alabama, with the WAC contributing schools from Texas and Utah, namely Abilene Christian, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton, and Utah Tech. Due to scheduling commitments, the UAC played only a 6-game schedule in 2023. It was set to move to a full round-robin in 2024, but that was before D-II upgrader West Georgia was announced as joining in that season.note  It would have added another member when UTRGV (a WAC member through 2023–24) added football in 2025, but that school will leave for the Southland Conference in 2024. While media reports indicated that the new football conference planned to move en masse to FBS in the near future, neither conference mentioned an FBS move. In any event, stay tuned.

The ASUN was founded as the Trans America Athletic Conference in 1978, changed its name to the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2001, adopted the ASUN branding in 2016, and went back to "Atlantic Sun" in 2023 (though it still uses "ASUN" as its abbreviation). Regardless of brand name, the conference did not begin football competition until 2022. For a few years, the ASUN had a football alliance with the Big South, but replaced it in 2021 with an alliance with the WAC that eventually became the UAC.

As of the 2024 season, seven ASUN members aren't in the UAC; for now, no member of either partner conference is required to add football or change its football status. Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Lipscomb, North Florida, and D-II upgrader Queensnote  don't play football at all. Stetson plays non-scholarship football in the Pioneer League. Bellarmine added football in 2022 but plays sprint football, a variant played under standard college rules but with an upper limit of 178 lb (81 kg) for player weight. The next school to join the ASUN, West Georgia, does sponsor (full-sized) football and thus will become a UAC member, reuniting with its former D-II Gulf South Conference mates Central Arkansas and North Alabama.

As for the WAC, it started in 1962 with six schools in the intermountain West and over time expanded and flourished as a major conference until an ill-advised expansion to 16 members 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 FBS conference to drop football after the 2012 season, then reinstate it in the FCS level in 2021 after the 2020 arrivals of Tarleton and Utah Tech (then Dixie State), both D-II upgraders with football. Five FCS schools joined the league as all-sports members in 2022 (four Southland members out of Texas and one from the Big Sky), at which time WAC football returned. When the Southland responded by kicking out its departing members (the so-called "Texas Four"), the WAC in turn pushed the arrival of those schools, as well as the return of football, forward to 2021. They solved the numbers problem for playoff qualification by bringing incoming ASUN members Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State in as football members, originally intended for that season only, in what was officially called the "ASUN–WAC (or WAC–ASUN) Challenge". However, they only got their automatic bid after successfully lobbying the NCAA for a rules change that accommodated the new alliance. With Sam Houston starting an FBS transition in 2022 ahead of its 2023 departure for CUSA, dropping the WAC to 5 playoff-eligible schools, the WAC and ASUN renewed that alliance for 2022. The WAC's playoff-eligible lineup dropped to 4 when Incarnate Word, which had planned to join from the SLC, backed out of that move and stayed put, and then to 3 when Lamar pushed its planned 2023 return to the SLC forward a year. All this led the ASUN and WAC to formally merge their football leagues.

The WAC currently has five non-football members in California Baptist, Grand Canyon, Seattle, UTRGV, and Utah Valley, but Grand Canyon and Seattle will leave in 2025 for another non-football league, the West Coast Conference. While Chicago State left the WAC in 2022, the conference welcomed two schools at that time. Southern Utah is a full member with football, while UT Arlington (which had been in the WAC for one year in the 2010s) returned as a non-football member. As noted above, UTRGV is now set to leave for the Southland Conference.

The UAC boasts another oddly-colored football field in that of Central Arkansas, with purple and gray sections alternating every 5 yards.

FCS Independents

There will be two FCS independents in the 2024 season—Merrimack and Sacred Heart, both of which left the NEC for the non-football MAAC. The only FCS indy in 2023, Kennesaw State, joins Conference USA for 2024 and beyond. Delaware and Missouri State will play one final FCS season without playoff eligibility, respectively in CAA Football and the MVFC, before following KSU to CUSA in 2025.

Notable Defunct Programs

    Chicago Maroons 

Chicago Maroons
Location: Chicago, IL
School Established: 1890
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1892-95), Big Ten (1896-1939), D-III Ind. (1969-72), Midwest Collegiate Athletic Conferencenote  (1976–87), University Athletic Associationnote  (1988–2016), Southern Athletic Association (2015–16), Midwest Conference (2017–)
Overall Win Record: 416–368–34 (.529)
Bowl Record: N/A
Colors: Maroon and white
Stadium: New Stagg Field (capacity 1,650)note 
Current Head Coach: Todd Gilchrist
Notable Historic Coaches: Amos Alonzo Stagg, Clark Shaughnessy
Notable Historic Players: Clarence Herschberger, Herbert "Fritz" Crisler, Jay Berwanger
National Championships: 2 (1905, 1913)
Conference Championships: 12 (7 Big 10, 5 UAA)

The University of Chicago is easily the most successful football program to no longer play at the Division 1 level. A founding member of the Big Ten Conference in 1896 under legendary head coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (who coached there for 41 years), they were considered the first "western" school to be capable of competing with the elites of the Ivy League around the turn of the 20th century. They had the first All-American to come from a non-Ivy League school (Clarence Herschberger), won national titles in 1905 and 1913, and had the first ever Heisman Trophy winner (Jay Berwanger) in 1935.

The end of the line for Chicago as a football power came when Robert Maynard Hutchins became the university's president in 1929. Hutchins believed that universities should be squarely focused on classical education, and had disdain for things he regarded as distractions to pure academics, like vocational majors, activities, fraternities and sororities, and especially athletics. Hutchins forced Stagg to retire against his will, then squeezed the football program by eliminating athletic scholarships, refusing to establish a physical education major, and forcing the team to forego spring practices by changing the academic calendar. After years of struggle under this de-emphasis of athletics, the school finally dropped its football team entirely following the 1939 season, clearing the way for their now-vacant stadium to be used as the site for the world's first ever artificial nuclear reactor. Chicago was the most successful defunct program in NCAA football history... for about 22 years. In 1963, the university brought football back first as a club sport, then as a D-III program. They've never come close to their heights of the early 20th century, but did have a run of success in the University Athletic Association conference in the '90s-'00s including five conference titles.

    Carlisle Indian School 

Carlise Indian School
Location: Carlisle, PA
School Established: 1879
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1893-1917)
Overall Win Record: 173–92–13 (.646)
Bowl Record: N/A
Colors: Red, white, and gold
Stadium: Indian Field/Parade Grounds at Carlisle Barracks (no permanent seating)
Current Head Coach: N/A
Notable Historic Coaches: Glen "Pop" Warner, George Washington Woodruff, Bemus Pearce
Notable Historic Players: Bemus Pearce, Hawley Pearce, Jim Thorpe
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: N/A

The United States Indian Industrial School, often shortened to its hometown of "Carlisle Indian School", was one of many Native American "boarding schools" established in the country around that time for the purpose of assimilating natives into American society. Based out of the then-decommissioned Carlisle Barracks, the Carlisle Indians football program established in 1893 and quickly became one of the top football programs in the country, regularly competing with (and often defeating) the elites of the Ivy Leagues as well as the US Military Acadamy (now the Army Black Knights, who Carlisle famously routed in 1912 with Dwight D. Eisenhower on the field).

They found some initial success, but they didn't reach true dominance until the arrival of innovative head coach Glen "Pop" Warner in 1899. Led by six future hall of famers including all-world athlete Jim Thorpenote , Carlisle was labeled "the most dynamic" football team of the early 20th century, inventing and popularizing a number of "trick" plays that have since become mainstream (the fake handoff, the "hidden ball" play on kick returns, etc.) while relying more on speed and quickness than most other elite programs who prized power and physicality.

They were also known for their willingness to travel to distant away games, much moreso than the other "powerhouse" schools of the northeast in that era. They traveled as far south as Georgia, west as San Francisco, and even played in Canada (1912 against a team of Canadian all-stars, trouncing them 49-7). They played another "Indian School" (Haskell from Lawrence, KSnote ) in 1904 in St. Louis following that year's Summer Olympics during the St. Louis World's Fair. Their 1906 trip to Vanderbilt, where they lost 4-0, is often seen as putting southern football on the map. Meanwhile, their upset of heavily favored Harvard in 1911 is considered among the biggest upsets in the sport's history.

Unfortunately, the Native Americans at the school faced unpleasant and outright racist conditions. Their native languages, customs, and dress were banned while they were forced into "militaristic regimentation" and there were accounts of native women being forced to marry white men. A 1914 congressional investigation addressed the conditions and found that athletics played an outsized role at the school, leading to the dismissal of Pop Warner (ironically one of the biggest supporters of the students at the school). When the US entered World War I in 1917, the Carlisle Barracks were reestablished by the Federal War Department and the school permanently closed.

Still, the school's football legacy lives on. Their overall winning percentage of .646 is the best by any defunct program in college football history (and for comparison, would rank 13th among current FBS programs). They likewise have the most All-Americans (17) and Hall of Famers (6) by any defunct team.