|Current season, competition or edition:
2017 NCAA Division I FBS football season
|No. of teams||129 (+1 transitional)|
The NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, is the top level of college football in the United States. The FBS is the most competitive subdivision of NCAA Division I, which itself consists of the largest and most competitive schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). As of the current 2017 college football season, there are 10 conferences and 130 schools in FBS. Despite the popularity of the professional National Football League, college football is very popular throughout much of the United States, and the top schools generate tens of millions of dollars in yearly revenue. Top FBS teams draw tens of thousands of fans to games, and the ten largest American stadiums by capacity all host FBS teams. College athletes are not paid, but colleges are allowed to provide players with non-monetary compensation such as athletic scholarships that provide for tuition, housing, and books.
The FBS is the highest level of college football in the United States, and FBS players make up the vast majority of the players picked in the NFL Draft. For every sport but football, the NCAA divides schools into three major divisions: NCAA Division I, NCAA Division II, and NCAA Division III. However, in football, Division I is further divided into two sub-divisions: the Bowl Subdivision, abbreviated as the FBS, and the Championship Subdivision, abbreviated as the FCS. Divisions are themselves further divided up into conferences, which are groupings of schools that play each other in contention for a conference championship. The FBS currently has ten conferences, which are often divided into the "Power Five conferences" and the less prominent "Group of Five."
Although FCS programs can draw thousands of fans per game, many FCS schools attempt to join the FBS in hopes of increased revenue, corporate sponsorship, alumni donations, prestige, and national exposure. However, FBS programs also face increased expenses in regards to staff salaries, facility improvements, and scholarships. The athletic departments of many FBS schools lose money every year, and these athletic departments must rely on subsidies from the rest of the university. The 2014 decision by UAB (an FBS program) to discontinue the football program generated national headlines, and other FBS programs have also considered discontinuing their football program. In many states, the highest-paid public employee is the head coach of an FBS team. FBS schools are limited to a total of 85 football players receiving financial assistance. Nearly all FBS schools that are not on NCAA probation give 85 full scholarships.
In order to retain FBS membership, schools must meet several requirements. FBS schools must have an average home attendance of at least 15,000 (over a rolling two-year period). An FBS school must sponsor a minimum of 16 varsity intercollegiate teams (including football), with at least six men's or coeducational teams and at least eight all-female teams. Across all sports, each FBS school must offer at least 200 athletic scholarships (or spend at least $4 million on athletic scholarships) per year, and FBS football teams must provide at least 90% of the maximum number of football scholarships (which is currently 85).
Schedule and bowl games
The FBS season begins in August or September with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and ends in January with the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Most FBS teams play 12 regular season games per year, with eight or nine of those games coming against conference opponents. As of the 2016 season, all conferences except for the Big 12 and Sun Belt Conferences hold a conference championship game; the Big 12 will reinstate its championship game in 2017, and the Sun Belt will hold its first championship game in 2018. Between conference games, non-conference games, a conference championship game, and one bowl game, a top FBS team could play 14 games in a season. A team that plays in the national championship game could play up to 15 games, as any team playing in the national championship must first win a playoff semifinal bowl game. The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and teams that play at Hawaii get a special exemption and are allowed to play a thirteenth regular season game in order to defray travel costs, so an FBS team that plays 13 regular season games, a conference championship game, a semifinal bowl game, and in the national championship game could theoretically play 16 games in a season.
For non-conference regular season games, FBS teams are free to schedule match-ups against any other FBS team, regardless of conference. A small number of FBS teams are independent, and have total control over their own schedule. Non-conference games are scheduled by mutual agreement and often involve "home and homes" (where teams alternate as hosts) and long-established rivalries. A 2014 study found that teams from the stronger conferences frequently play non-conference games against teams from the weaker conferences or, occasionally, against FCS teams. FBS teams are free to schedule up to forty percent of their games against FCS teams, but FBS teams can only use one win per season against an FCS team for the purposes of bowl eligibility. Additionally, the FCS opponent must have averaged at least 90% of the FCS limit of 63 scholarship equivalents over a rolling two-year period.[a] An FBS team must schedule a total of five home games per year; for the purposes of scheduling, a "home game" must take place at a venue in which the team plays 50% of its "home games", although a team is allowed to count one neutral-site game against an FBS team toward the "home game" requirement. FBS-FCS games, known as "money games," are often home games for the FBS team, and victories by FCS teams are usually considered to be upsets. FCS teams receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for their participation in these games.
The Football Bowl Subdivision gets its name from the bowl games that many FBS teams play at the end of the year, although other college divisions also have their own bowl games. FBS bowl games are played at the end of the season in December or January, and collectively generate over $400 million per year as of 2012. For the 2016–17 bowl season, there are 41 bowl games. In order to be bowl eligible, an FBS team must have a winning record. In certain cases, 5-7 and 6-7 teams can also be selected to bowls, usually to fill bowl vacancies.
|Year||Bowls||Teams in bowls|
Many bowls have an established conference tie-in; for example, the Russell Athletic Bowl provides a match-up between teams from ACC and the Big 12. A small number of long-established bowls played a major role in the Bowl Championship Series, which was used to select the national champion until 2015, and these bowls continue to play a major role in the College Football Playoff. Under the playoff, there are six major bowls, with automatic bids going to the conference champions of the Power Five conferences and the top-ranked member of the "Group of Five." Two of these bowls serve as semi-final games to the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Conferences receive millions of dollars for each school that appears in the playoff, and appearances in other bowls are also quite lucrative. In addition to the regular bowls, some post-season bowls, such as the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, match up teams of all-stars and NFL Draft entrants.
College football has been played for over one hundred years, but the game and the organizational structure of college football have evolved significantly during that time. The first college football game was played in 1869, but the game continued to develop during the late 19th and early 20th century. During this period, Walter Camp pioneered the concept of a line of scrimmage, the system of downs, and the College Football All-America Team. The 1902 Rose Bowl was the first bowl game in college football history, and the event began to be held annually starting with the 1916 Rose Bowl. In the 1930s, other bowl games came into existence, including the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl Classic, and the Orange Bowl. The 1906 college football season was the first season played under the IAAUS (which would later change its name to the NCAA) and the first season in which the forward pass was legal. The IAAUS had formed after President Theodore Roosevelt, responding to several deaths that had occurred during football games, requested that colleges find ways to make football a safer sport. In 1935, the Heisman Trophy was presented for the first time; the award is generally considered to be college football's most prestigious individual award. In 1965, the NCAA voted to allow the platoon system, in which different players played on offense and defense; teams had previously experimented with the concept in the 1940s. In 1968, the NCAA began allowing freshmen to compete in games; freshmen had previously been required to take a redshirt year. In 1975, after a growth of "grants-in-aid" (scholarships given for athletic rather than academic or need-based reasons), the NCAA voted to limit the number of athletic scholarships each school could offer. In 1968, the NCAA required all teams to identify as members of either the University Division (for larger schools) or the College Division (for smaller schools), and in 1973, the NCAA divided into three divisions. At the urging of several larger schools seeking increased autonomy and commonality, Division I-A was formed prior to the 1978 season; the remaining teams in Division I formed the Football Championship Subdivision or FCS (then known as Division I-AA). In 1981, members of the College Football Association attempted to create a fourth division consisting solely of the most competitive schools, but this effort was defeated. In the 1992 season, the SEC split into divisions and played the first FBS conference championship game. The Big 12 and Western Athletic Conference did the same for the 1996 season, and most conferences eventually adopted divisions and championship games.
The NCAA does not officially award an FBS football championship, but several teams have claimed national championships. Other organizations have also sought to rank the teams and crown a national champion. The Dickinson System and other methods were formed in the early 20th century to select the best team in the country, and the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll began rankings teams in the middle of the 20th century. In many seasons, selectors such as the AP and the Coaches Poll designated different teams as national champions. Often, more than one team would finish undefeated, as the top teams were not guaranteed to play each other during the regular season or in bowl games. In 1992, five major conferences established the Bowl Coalition in order to determine the FBS champion. In 1998, the two remaining major conferences joined with the other five conferences to form the Bowl Championship Series. The BCS used a rankings system to match up the top two teams in the BCS National Championship Game. However, even the BCS era saw split national championships, as in 2003 the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll selected different national champions. The College Football Playoff, with a four-team field, replaced the BCS starting with the 2014 season.
The FBS on television
College football was first broadcast on radio in 1921, and first broadcast on television in 1939. Television became profitable for both schools and the NCAA, which tightly controlled the airing of games in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The NCAA as limited each football team to six television appearances over a two-year period. The 1984 Supreme Court case NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma granted television rights to individual schools as opposed to the NCAA and allowed teams to televise all of their games. After a period during which FBS schools negotiated collectively under the College Football Association, Notre Dame's 1991 television contract ushered in an era in which schools and conferences negotiate their own television contracts. This new era of television led to several waves of conference realignment. FBS games continue to be a major draw on television, as over 26 million people watched the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.
National networks such as CBS, ABC, NBC, several ESPN networks, several Fox networks have all covered the FBS, as have several regional and local networks. As conferences negotiate their own television deals, each conference is affiliated with a network that airs its home games. In the mid-2000s, college and conferences began to create their own television networks; such networks include the Big Ten Network, BYUtv, the Longhorn Network, and the Pac-12 Network. In 2012, college football games drew over 400 million viewers.
Teams and conferences
The Big Ten (then popularly known as the Western Conference) was founded in 1896, after which several other schools joined together to form conferences, including the Pacific Coast Conference, the MVIAA, the Southwest Conference, the Southern Conference, the Mountain States Conference (also known as the Skyline Conference), and the Border Conference. In 1928, six schools seceded from the MVIAA to form the Big Six Conference, which later expanded to the Big Eight in 1957; the remaining schools formed the Missouri Valley Conference. In 1932, several Southern schools formed the SEC after breaking away from the Southern Conference, and in 1953 several more schools seceded from the Southern Conference to form the ACC. In 1946, several Midwestern schools formed the MAC. Several elite Northeastern schools had formed the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League in 1901, and its members signed the Ivy Group Agreement, which governed football competition between the signatories, in 1945; the Ivy League was formally founded in 1954, when the agreement was extended to cover all sports. In 1959, the Pacific Coast Conference dissolved, and most of its former members formed the new Athletic Association of Western Universities, which became the Pac-8 when more former PCC members joined. In 1962, several schools from the Mountain States Conference and the Border Conference formed the Western Athletic Conference. In 1969, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (PCAA), later known as the Big West Conference, was formed by several Division II California schools that sought to join Division I.
Division I separated into Division I-A (the predecessor to the FBS) and I-AA (predecessor of the FCS) prior to the 1978 season. At that time, there were several independent I-A schools and twelve Division I-A conferences: the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Big 10, Pacific-10 (Pac-10), Big 8, Southwest Conference (SWC), Western Athletic Conference (WAC), PCAA (which later changed its name to the Big West), Missouri Valley Conference, Southern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Mid-American Conference (MAC), and the Ivy League. The Ivy League and the Southern Conference left for Division I-AA prior to the 1982 season, while the Missouri Valley Conference stopped sponsoring football prior to the 1985 season. In 1991, the Big East recruited several independents and began sponsoring football, becoming a major conference. In 1996, Conference USA (C-USA), formed the previous year by the merger of the non-football Metro and Great Midwest Conferences, also began sponsoring football. That same year, the Southwest Conference dissolved, and four of its former members joined with the Big 8 to form the Big 12 Conference. In 1999, eight schools broke away from the WAC to form the Mountain West Conference (MW). Prior to the 2000 season, the Big West stopped sponsoring football. The Sun Belt Conference began sponsoring football in 2001. After periods of conference realignment in 2005 and the early 2010s that saw the expansion of the ACC, Big 10, SEC, and Pac-10 (which changed its name to the Pac-12), the WAC reorganized as a non-football conference and the Big East split into the American Athletic Conference and a new non-football conference that retained the Big East name.
Most of the 130 FBS schools are members of an FBS conference, but there are also a small number of independent schools. Since the Western Athletic Conference discontinued football sponsorship prior to the 2013 season, there have been ten conferences in the FBS. All of the FBS conferences have between ten and fourteen members, although independent Notre Dame has a scheduling agreement with the fourteen-member ACC. The ten conferences are split into two groups for the purposes of the College Football Playoff. The "Power Five conferences" consist of most of the largest and most well-known college athletic programs in the country. A school from one of the Power Five conferences won every BCS National Championship Game (which operated from 1999 to 2014), and has won every College Football Playoff National Championship. The remaining five conferences are known as the "Group of Five." Any conference with at least 12 football teams may split its teams into two divisions, and only the Big 12 Conference and the Sun Belt Conference do not use divisions. As of the 2016 season, all conferences except for the Big 12 and Sun Belt hold a championship game that determines the conference champion. The Big 12 will reinstate its championship game in 2017, and the Sun Belt will hold its first championship game in 2018.
|American Athletic Conference||The American||1979[e]||12 [f]||21||Providence, Rhode Island|
|Atlantic Coast Conference **||ACC||1953||14 [g]||26||Greensboro, North Carolina|
|Big 12 Conference **||Big 12||1996||10||21||Irving, Texas|
|Big Ten Conference **||Big Ten, B1G||1896||14||28||Rosemont, Illinois|
|Conference USA||C-USA||1995[h]||14 [i]||19||Irving, Texas|
|Division I FBS Independents[j]||4[k]|
|Mid-American Conference||MAC||1946||12||23||Cleveland, Ohio|
|Mountain West Conference||MW (official)
|1999||12[l]||19||Colorado Springs, Colorado|
|Pac-12 Conference **||Pac-12||1915[m]||12||24||Walnut Creek, California|
|Southeastern Conference **||SEC||1932||14||20||Birmingham, Alabama|
|Sun Belt Conference||Sun Belt||1976||12[n]||18||New Orleans, Louisiana|
- This means that games against teams in the Ivy League, which prohibits athletic scholarships; the Northeast Conference, which limits its football members to 40 scholarship equivalents per year; and Georgetown, which chose to keep football as a non-scholarship sport after its football home of the Patriot League began allowing football scholarships in 2013; cannot be counted toward bowl eligibility. The same also applied to games against other Patriot League teams before the 2017 season, the first in which Patriot League teams have been able to meet the 90% requirement. Although the conference's transition to scholarship football was completed in 2016, with up to 60 scholarship equivalents allowed, members had been restricted to 45 equivalents in 2015.
- Includes the College Football Playoff National Championship, which involves the winners of two semifinal bowl games.
- Based on 80 teams qualifying for bowl games.
- Includes numbers for the Big East in 1993 and 2003.
- The conference was founded in 1979 as the original Big East Conference. It renamed itself the American Athletic Conference following a 2013 split along football lines. The non-FBS schools of the original conference left to form a new conference that purchased the Big East name, while the FBS schools continued to operate under the old Big East's charter and structure. The American also inherited the old Big East's Bowl Championship Series berth for the 2013 season, the last for the BCS.
- Navy is a football-only member, and Wichita State is a full member that does not sponsor football.
- Notre Dame is a full member except in football, in which it remains independent. It has committed to play five games each season against ACC opponents, and to play each other ACC member at least once every three years.
- The conference was founded in 1995, with football competition starting in 1996.
- With the 2017 return of the UAB football program after a two-season absence, all 14 full conference members sponsor football.
- Note that "Independents" is not a conference; it is simply a designation used for schools whose football programs do not play in any conference. All of these schools have conference memberships for other sports.
- 6 independents in 2018 with addition of Liberty and New Mexico State.
- Since 2012, Hawaii has been a football-only associate member, with most of its remaining teams in the non-football Big West Conference.
- The charter of the Pac-12 dates only to the formation of the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU) in 1959. However, the Pac-12 claims the history of the Pacific Coast Conference, which was founded in 1915 and began competition in 1916, as its own. Of the nine members of the PCC at the time of its demise in June 1959, only Idaho never joined the Pac-12. The PCC's berth in the Rose Bowl passed to the AAWU.
- Ten Sun Belt Conference full member schools sponsor football, while Idaho and New Mexico State are football-only members. Little Rock and UT Arlington are full members that do not sponsor football.
- Idaho and New Mexico State will leave Sun Belt football after the 2017 season. Idaho has announced it will downgrade to FCS football and add football to its all-sports membership in the Big Sky Conference. New Mexico State will tentatively return to independent status.
Teams transitioning to the FBS
Coastal Carolina University joined the Sun Belt Conference on July 1, 2016 after playing in the FCS Big South Conference, beginning a two-year transition to FBS status. The Chanticleers will play a full Sun Belt football schedule in 2017 and become bowl eligible in 2018.
Liberty University began the FBS transition process on July 1, 2017. The NCAA granted the school a waiver from its normal transition rules that require an invitation from an FBS conference before beginning the transition. The Flames will play in the Big South in 2017 but will not be eligible for the FCS playoffs. For 2018 and beyond, the Flames will become an FBS independent, barring the school joining an FBS conference in the interim. The school will presumably remain a Big South member in other sports until it receives an invitation to an FBS conference.
The FBS has experienced several realignments since its formation in 1978, with many teams changing conferences, dropping out of the FBS, or moving up from the FCS. In 1982, the size of the division was cut considerably, and the Southern Conference and the Ivy League were demoted to the FCS. In 1985, the Missouri Valley Conference stopped sponsoring football. In the 1980s and 1990s, several independents joined conferences, dropped football, or joined the FCS. In the 1996 NCAA conference realignment, the Southwest Conference dissolved, and four Texas teams from that conference joined with the Big 8 schools to form the Big 12 Conference. The Western Athletic Conference expanded to sixteen members, but half of the schools left in 1999 to form the Mountain West Conference. Conference USA (C-USA) formed from a merger of the Metro Conference and the Great Midwest Conference, two conferences which had not sponsored football. The Big West stopped sponsoring football after the 2000 season, and was essentially replaced by the Sun Belt Conference, which added former Big West members and began sponsoring football in 2001. In the mid-2000s, the Big East added former basketball-only member Connecticut, while Temple left the conference (before eventually returning in 2013). During another phase of realignment in 2005, three schools jumped from the Big East to the ACC. The Big East responded by adding schools from Conference USA.
College football underwent another major conference realignment in the first half of the 2010s. Members of the Big East left the conference to join the Big 12 and ACC. The Big 12 lost members to the SEC, the Pac-12, and the Big Ten, while the Big Ten also gained one former ACC member. The remaining members of the Big East split into two conferences: the American Athletic Conference ("The American") and a new conference that assumed the Big East name but does not sponsor football. The American added several schools from C-USA, but lost one school each to the ACC and Big Ten after its first season. In turn, C-USA added FCS schools and schools from the Sun Belt Conference. The Sun Belt Conference replenished its membership by adding FCS schools and schools from the Western Athletic Conference. The Mountain West lost schools to the Big 12, Pac-12 and the FBS independent ranks, and added several schools from the WAC. After several defections, the WAC dropped its sponsorship of football.
The latest realignment cycle also affected the FBS independent ranks. BYU left the MW in 2011 for football independence and the non-football West Coast Conference. In 2013, Idaho and New Mexico State, the last two football-sponsoring schools in the WAC, became FBS independents, but would return to their former football home of the Sun Belt Conference as football-only members the following year. Also in 2013, Notre Dame became a full but non-football member of the ACC, entering into a scheduling agreement with that conference that calls for the Fighting Irish football team to play five games each season against ACC schools, and to play each other ACC school at least once every three years. Finally, in 2015, Navy became a football-only member of The American, ending more than a century of football independence.
Realignment has continued to this day, though at a considerably lower level. The 2016 season saw FCS Coastal Carolina join the Sun Belt Conference for non-football sports while beginning a transition to FBS football; the football team joined the Sun Belt in 2017. That season is also the last for Idaho and New Mexico State as Sun Belt football members. After 2017, New Mexico State will return to independent status, while Idaho will downgrade to FCS football—becoming the first program ever to voluntarily do so—and add football to its all-sports membership in the Big Sky Conference. Also in 2016, UMass went independent after turning down an offer of full membership in the Mid-American Conference.
Several awards are given each year to players and coaches in the FBS. Although all college football players are eligible for many of these awards (such as the Heisman Trophy), FBS players usually win these awards, and other awards (such as the Walter Payton Award) exist to honor players in other divisions and the FCS. In addition to the national awards listed below, FBS conferences also have their own awards, and several organizations release a yearly College Football All-America Team. In 1951, the National Football Foundation established the College Football Hall of Fame. Notable individual awards include:
- Best/most valuable player: Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Archie Griffin Award, AP Player of the Year, SN Player of the Year
- Defensive player of the year: Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lott Trophy
- Position awards: Dave Rimington Trophy (Center), Davey O'Brien Award and Manning Award (Quarterback), Dick Butkus Award (Linebacker), Doak Walker Award (Running back), Fred Biletnikoff Award (Wide receiver), Jim Thorpe Award (Defensive back), John Mackey Award (Tight end), Lombardi Award (Lineman/linebacker), Lou Groza Award (Placekicker), Outland Trophy (Interior lineman), Ray Guy Award (Punter), Ted Hendricks Award (Defensive end), Jet Award (Return Specialist)
- Non-positional playing awards: Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player), Burlsworth Trophy (top player who began his college career as a walk-on)
- Coaching awards:
- Other awards: William V. Campbell Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy, Rudy Award, Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, Walter Camp Man of the Year, Theodore Roosevelt Award
The NCAA does not officially name a national champion, but several other organizations name national champions and all conferences participate in the College Football Playoff in order to determine a champion. The winner of the College Football Playoff receives the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy. The AP awards the AP National Championship Trophy, while the American Football Coaches Association awards the AFCA National Championship Trophy. The AFCA trophy was previously awarded to the winner of the BCS National Championship Game (a predecessor of the College Football Playoff National Championship game), which operated from 1999 to 2014. The Football Writers Association of America awards the Grantland Rice Trophy, and the National Football Foundation awards the MacArthur Bowl. Since the disputed end of the 2003 season, the various organizations have been able to agree on a single national champion.
Maps of teams
Schools that have transitioned to the FBS
- NCAA Men's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision alignment history
- List of NCAA Division I non-football programs
- List of NCAA Division I FBS football stadiums
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