A Classification Conundrum: Changes to the Historical FCS Versus FBS Database

With the 2022 FCS season approaching, we begin looking at changes and how they might affect our FCS versus FBS database. In 2022, the FCS will have several changes but none more impactful than Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State beginning the move to the FBS along with James Madison, which has already left for the Sun Belt. Warning: You are about to enter nerdy territory as we dig into a topic that is meaningless in the grand scheme but of importance to those who want transparency in how we determined our historical FCS-FBS matchup database.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Why is this an issue?

JSU and SHSU will both officially be considered FCS Independents in 2022 even though they will play a full conference schedule (ASUN for JSU and WAC for SHSU). However, they will have an advantage no other FCS teams have with additional scholarship players as they look towards the 2023 season. It really puts both teams in a Schrödinger’s Classification. They’re “too good” to be an FCS team due to higher scholarship limits but “not good enough” to be an FBS team in 2022 because they’ve had exactly one offseason to start the transition to the FBS.

How does this affect the FCS versus FBS matchup?

There are numerous ways to interpret this type of transition but the focus will be specifically on three methods. There’s the literal/strict interpretation: JSU and SHSU are technically FBS programs as they are in the first year of the transition. This means any games they play against FCS opponents should be considered an FCS-FBS matchup. We’ve applied this strict interpretation before with Florida A&M in 2004 when the Rattlers tried moving to the FBS but they retreated back to the FCS after just one season.

To make this even more confusing, both Fear The FCS and the NCAA have used this interpretation for teams moving from Division 2 to the FCS level. As an example, in 2022, Lindenwood, Stonehill, and Texas A&M-Commerce are all moving up from Division 2 into the FCS. All three will be considered FCS teams starting in 2022 for the purposes of the FCS-FBS database even though they will technically not be fully eligible until the 2026 FCS season.

The second way to interpret these moves is more relaxed. In this case, only games against the teams in the FBS for the 2022 season would be considered an FCS-FBS matchup. For Jacksonville State, they have a road game at Tulsa while Sam Houston State will play at Texas A&M. This seems to make the most sense if we apply the subjective “spirit” of the FCS-FBS matchup.

The third way to interpret this in terms of the FCS-FBS matchup is just to ignore them altogether. The transitioning teams are in this weird ether of being neither a full FBS member nor a full FCS member. If SHSU were to win at TAMU, would it really seem like the best option is to pretend like the game didn’t happen for FCS-FBS matchup history purposes? No, that would feel exactly like the type of FCS over FBS win we’d celebrate.

2004 and 2013 FCS to FBS Transitions

The issue that JSU and SHSU pose for 2022 is that the database here is potentially in conflict depending on how we treat them. In 2004, three teams were moving up to FBS: Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International. Fear The FCS has those 3 teams classified as FBS teams since all three had a mixed schedule comprised of roughly 50% FBS opponents and 50% FCS opponents. The same is true for Old Dominion 2013 as they moved up from the FCS, however, we never put ODU in the database for the 2013 season even though they played 7 FCS teams (there’s no reason they’re not in the 2013 season other than they were simply missed).

This is one of the issues with keeping a database over a large time period such as 1978 to the present. With the NCAA, the rules are constantly changing and the rules for transitioning between divisions and subdivisions have only recently emerged with a set process. Is it fair to consider FAMU, FAU, FIU, and ODU as FBS simply because they had more difficult schedules? The same isn’t true for JSU and SHSU but both teams will have more scholarships available than the other FCS teams, which was also true in 2004 and 2013. For the 10 FCS opponents that JSU and SHSU face in 2022, does it seem in the spirit to consider them true FCS versus FBS matchups?

No, it doesn’t and that means that 2004 and 2013 will also have to be adjusted.

In retrospect, we should have only considered FBS opponents for those transitioning teams. Below is how we recorded those seasons (versus what they have been with this interpretation). Games against other transitioning teams are not counted in these records, which applies to FAMU, FAU, and FIU as they all played each other in 2004.

FAMU 2004: 4 games, 2-2 record as FBS (4 games, 0-4 as FCS)

FAU 2004: 3 games, 3-0 record as FBS (6 games, 3-3 as FCS)

FIU 2004: 5 games, 2-3 record as FBS (3 games, 0-3 as FCS)

ODU 2013: No record, (5 games, 1-4 record as FCS)

The database will increase by 6 games as a result of the changes mentioned above. None of this is earth-shattering or changing the course of history but we wanted to be transparent in how we reached this decision because there’s a very high likelihood this will occur again in the future. For 2022, we have decided to consider Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State as FCS teams for the two matchups against Tulsa and Texas A&M, respectively.

Additional Changes

After some additional discussions on Reddit regarding the 2004 and 2013 changes, fellow FCS followers asked about other transitions. One of them was the 1983 Eastern Washington season, which was technically a Division 2 program at the time. After providing several links, it became clear that EWU was in fact a D2 member that season. We had the 1983 EWU win over Long Beach State as an FCS-FBS upset but that has now been changed.

Another transition that came up was the 2007 Western Kentucky move to the FBS. Like the 2004, 2013, and 2022 seasons, WKU had a mix of FBS and FCS opponents and was considered an FCS Independent for the 2007 campaign. We have changed the WKU records to only reflect games against FBS teams (Florida, Middle Tennessee, Bowling Green, Ball State, Troy, and North Texas).

After reviewing the other FCS to FBS transitions in the past, we also changed South Florida in 2000 and Troy in 2001 to FCS teams for those respective seasons. Both schools had a roughly 50-50 mix of FBS and FCS schools in the transition year before becoming full I-A (FBS) members the next season.

Below is a list of all the record changes as a result of reclassification changes made for the 1983, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2013 seasons.

Overall FBS-FCS Records

All-time FBS-FCS records: Went from 3,216 games to 3,224. Wins increased from 475 to 478 and losses increased from 2,725 to 2,730.

Old Record (W-L-T): 475-2725-16 (3,216 games)

New Record (W-L-T): 478-2730-16 (3,224 games)

FBS Team Record Changes

TeamOld RecordNew Record
Ball State25-1126-11
Bowling Green16-217-2
East Carolina29-330-3
Florida A&M2-20-0
Florida Atlantic10-07-0
Florida International10-68-3
Long Beach State8-58-4
Miami (FL)24-125-1
Middle Tennessee13-415-6
Mississippi State24-124-2
New Mexico State23-1125-11
North Carolina26-127-1
North Texas15-416-6
South Florida31-125-1
Southern Miss28-329-3
Virginia Tech34-235-2
Western Kentucky13-48-4

FCS Team Record Changes

TeamOld RecordNew Record
Austin Peay1-311-30
Cal State Northridge3-93-8
Eastern Kentucky6-366-35
Eastern Washington11-2710-27
Florida A&M1-231-27
Florida Atlantic1-44-7
Florida International0-20-5
Georgia Southern2-201-20
Illinois State8-398-38
Indiana State11-5911-58
Jacksonville State7-237-21
James Madison7-287-27
Morehead State2-32-2
North Carolina Central0-130-12
Northern Colorado0-140-13
Old Dominion0-01-4
Savannah State0-150-14
South Florida0-11-5
Southern Utah3-293-28
Stephen F. Austin2-272-26
Tennessee State4-84-7
Texas State4-204-19
Western Kentucky2-252-29
Youngstown State20-33-120-32-1

Conference Record Changes

TeamSubdivisionOld RecordNew Record
Big 10FBS132-8133-8
Big 12FBS201-20203-20
Big EastFBS91-593-5
Big WestFBS112-61112-60
FBS IndependentsFBS466-132-9445-129-9
Sun BeltFBS107-29116-34
WAC (FBS)FBS127-10127-11
Atlantic 10FCS38-109-238-108-2
FCS IndepdendentsFCS87-245-695-262-6
Great WestFCS9-339-32
Pioneer Football LeagueFCS0-50-4
Southern ConferenceFCS36-340-235-339-2

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