FCS Changes for the 2021 Season

A new season is nearly upon us and with the merry-go-round that is college athletics, that also means plenty of changes at the FCS level. Let’s take a look at what’s new for 2021 in the FCS. If you want a simple summary, please click here to go to the table at the end of the article.

A New Conference… or Two

If you haven’t heard yet, there is a new conference at the FCS level for the 2021 season. The Western Athletic Conference decided to bring back football and will join the FCS. The WAC was previously an FBS conference from 1962 through the 2012 season. The WAC raided the Southland Conference for new members but more on that in a bit.

Another conference decided to start sponsoring football with the ASUN also announcing at roughly the same time as the WAC. The ASUN will begin as an FCS conference in 2022 with several new members from the Southland and Ohio Valley Conferences. Why is it important to mention the ASUN’s future arrival? We’re glad you asked.

The 2021 season will feature a unique setup of WAC and ASUN teams competing in one conference. To make sure that all the teams had the opportunity to compete for an FCS Playoff automatic qualifier, the two conferences opted to combine forces. Had they not, there was a chance that neither conference would have an AQ into the FCS Playoffs and teams from both conferences would only be eligible via the at-large route.

Let’s give a table to summarize what we will see in the 2021 and 2022 seasons for the WAC and ASUN conferences in terms of membership. Please note that this only applies to football.

Team2021 Conference2022 ConferenceFull Membership Conference
Abilene ChristianWACWACWAC
Central ArkansasWACASUNASUN
Eastern KentuckyWACASUNASUN
Jacksonville StateWACASUNASUN
Sam Houston StateWACWACWAC
Stephen F. AustinWACWACWAC
Tarleton StateWACWACWAC
Southern UtahBig SkyWACBig Sky (until 2022)

Teams Shuffling Around

Five teams moved out of the Southland after the 2020-21 season leaving the conference with just 6 programs in football for the 2021 season. Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin all joined the WAC. The fifth team that left the Southland was Central Arkansas, which moved to the ASUN in all sports except football as noted above. The WAC will officially welcome Dixie State and Tarleton State as those two had spent the 2020 season as FCS independents.

Two teams left Ohio Valley Conference – Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State – and also joined the ASUN. They will also be football-only members of the WAC for 2021.

The MEAC was hit hard with losses as North Carolina A&T announced a move to the Big South early in 2020. This loss was compounded when the duo of Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M decided to move to the SWAC. Like the Southland, the MEAC will have just 6 football members for the 2021 season.

The Pioneer Football League has two new schools for the 2021 season with the arrivals of Presbyterian and St. Thomas (MN). Presbyterian officially joins this season though they did play a spring schedule last season as part of an agreement with the PFL. The Blue Hose are a member of the Big South in sports other than football. St. Thomas makes the leap from Division III to Division I this season after getting approval from the NCAA with the Tommies residing in the Summit League for non-football sports.


Five teams are ineligible for the 2021 FCS Playoffs due to transitions into Division I. Merrimack is ineligible for both the NEC title and FCS Playoffs for the 2021 season. The quartet of Dixie State (WAC), North Alabama (Big South), St. Thomas (PFL), and Tarleton State (WAC) are also ineligible for the FCS Playoffs.

Future Changes

It’s worth noting some changes in the pipeline that will happen beyond the 2021 season. The first change is that of Dixie State’s name. The latest proposal has Utah Tech University as the school’s new name, which will need approval from Utah’s state legislature.

We also know a few future conference changes that will be in effect for the 2022 season. The duo of Kennesaw State and North Alabama will leave the Big South to become members of the ASUN in football. Both schools are currently members of the ASUN in other sports.

Southern Utah will leave the Big Sky after this season and join the WAC for the 2022 season. They may or may not be joined in the WAC by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in the 2024 season. The Vaqueros are reportedly aiming to have a football program started by 2023 and they will join the WAC the following season.


Below are some nice graphics courtesy of College Sports Logos and a table summarizing all the changes that we mentioned above.

TeamPrevious ConferenceNew ConferenceFirst Season
in New Conference
Abilene ChristianSouthlandWAC2021
Central ArkansasSouthlandASUN
WAC - Football Only
2021WAC for 2021 season only
Dixie State (Pending Name Change)FCS IndependentWAC2021Ineligible for FCS Playoffs until 2024
Eastern KentuckyOhio ValleyASUN
WAC - Football Only
2021WAC for 2021 season only
Florida A&MMEACSWAC2021
Jacksonville StateOhio ValleyASUN
WAC - Football Only
2021WAC for 2021 season only
Kennesaw StateBig SouthASUN2022
MerrimackN/AN/AN/AIneligible for FCS Playoffs until 2023
North AlabamaBig SouthASUN2022Ineligible for FCS Playoffs until 2022
North Carolina A&TMEACBig South2021
PresbyterianFCS IndependentPioneer Football League2021
Sam Houston StateSouthlandWAC2021
Southern UtahBig SkyWAC2022
St. Thomas (MN)MIAC (D-III)Pioneer Football League2021Ineligible for FCS Playoffs until 2026
Stephen F. AustinSouthlandWAC2021
Tarleton StateFCS IndependentsWAC2021Ineligible for FCS Playoffs until 2024
UT-Rio Grande ValleyWACWAC2024Rumored to be starting a football program

Photo courtesy of the University of St. Thomas Athletics.

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