|1981 NCAA Division I-AA season|
|Duration||August – November 1981|
|Duration||December 5–19, 1981|
|Championship date||December 19, 1981|
|Championship site||Memorial Stadium|
Wichita Falls, TX
|Champion||Idaho State Bengals|
|Division I-AA football season|
The 1981 NCAA Division I-AA football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, began in August 1981 and concluded with the Division I-AA championship game on December 19 at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls, Texas. The Idaho State Bengals won their only I-AA championship, defeating the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in the Pioneer Bowl, 34−23.
Conference changes and new programs
- Prior to the 1981 season, the Mid-Continent Conference was shifted from Division II to Division I-AA; its four members, Eastern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, and Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), all made the transition.
- After the 1981 season, three conferences, and all of their members, were shifted from Division I-A to Division I-AA: the Ivy League, the Southern Conference, and the Southland Conference
|School||1980 Conference||1981 Conference|
|Portland State||I-AA Independent||D-II Independent|
|Tennessee State||I-A Independent||I-AA Independent|
|Youngstown State||Mid-Continent (D-II)||Ohio Valley (I-AA)|
Big Sky Conference – Idaho State
After holding four-team playoffs after the first three I-AA seasons, the NCAA increased the bracket size to eight this postseason. It grew to twelve in 1982 and sixteen in 1986. The eight-team field was determined via automatic bids to five conference champions (Idaho State, South Carolina State, Eastern Kentucky, Jackson State, and Rhode Island), a bid to the top-ranked independent team (Tennessee State), and two at-large bids (Boise State and Delaware).
NCAA Division I-AA Playoff bracket
Wichita Falls, TX
|3||South Carolina State||12|
|3||South Carolina State*||26*|
* Next to team name denotes host institution
* Next to score denotes overtime
- "1981 NCAA Division I Football Championship" (PDF). NCAA. NCAA.org. p. 14. Retrieved December 21, 2013.
- "Bengals win I-AA crown". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. December 20, 1981. p. 6D.
- "Bengals ride like the wind". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. December 20, 1981. p. 2D.
- Cooper, Barry (May 1, 1981). "MEAC gets berth in I-AA football playoffs". Tallahassee Democrat. p. 23. Retrieved February 9, 2019 – via newspapers.com.
- "NCAA sets playoffs for I-AA teams". Fort Lauderdale News. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. UPI. November 29, 1981. p. 29. Retrieved February 9, 2019 – via newspapers.com.