FCS Changes for the 2024 Season

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated as of Thursday, June 6 to include the release of the NCAA APR scores in which 7 FCS teams will have practice reductions.

The 2024 FCS season is a few months away from kickoff and there are numerous changes to go along with it. As we have done with the 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 seasons, below is a list of all the changes for the 2024 season and beyond. There’s a summarized list at the end of the article if you prefer not to get knee-deep in the weeds. Let’s begin by looking at which schools are moving in, out, or within the FCS for the 2024 season. Please note, that this article is subject to change given the current realignment cycle and the NCAA’s ongoing legal battles.

Schools Shuffling Around in 2024

One team is leaving the FCS in 2024: Kennesaw State has joined Conference USA after spending the 2023 season as an FCS independent. The Owls programs began in 2015 and they made 4 FCS Playoff appearances in short order. KSU was previously a member of the ASUN.

Speaking of the ASUN, they added West Georgia as a full member from the Division II Gulf South Conference. The ASUN football teams are under the United Athletic Conference banner alongside the football programs from the Western Athletic Conference. West Georgia will play in the UAC but is ineligible for the FCS Playoffs until the 2028 season as part of the four-year reclassification process from Division II to Division I.

Mercyhurst University is also making the D-II to D-I transition. The Lakers will leave the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) to join the Northeast Conference beginning with the 2024-24 academic year. Mercyhurst will not be eligible for the FCS Playoffs until the 2028 season. The NEC is also bringing back Robert Morris as a football-only member with the Colonials leaving the Big South-OVC Football Association to help offset the losses of Merrimack and Sacred Heart to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Merrimack and Sacred Heart will play as FCS independents in 2024 but a football home for 2025 and beyond has not been revealed yet.

There are a few additional moves between FCS conferences to note. Bryant is joining the Coastal Athletic Association in 2024 after previously being part of the Big South-OVC Football Association. Western Illinois is joining the Big South-OVC Football Association following nearly three decades in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and its predecessor, the Gateway Conference. Also moving in 2024 is Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks left the Southland Conference to join the WAC in 2021 but after three seasons in the WAC and United Athletic Conference, SFA is returning to the Southland.

Coaching Changes and APR Penalties

It was a busy offseason for coaching changes at the FCS level with 31 new head coaches being brought in by FCS programs, including West Georgia’s hiring of Joel Taylor as they prepare to move up to the FCS. A full list of the coaching carousel with accompanying articles for each change can be found here.

The NCAA released its Academic Progress Rates (APR) in early June 2024 and it was not good news for every program. Seven FCS programs – Alabama A&MBethune-CookmanMississippi Valley StateMissouri StateTennessee StateUtah Tech, and Western Illinois – will have a 4-hour practice reduction as a result of unsatisfactory APR scores. While the NCAA is not currently implementing postseason penalties, that may change in the future as the COVID-19 impact become less of a factor in the NCAA’s view.

Patriot League Allows Maximum Scholarships to be Offered

The Patriot League will begin allowing its members to offer the maximum of 63 scholarships effective with the 2024 season. The change is buried within the Patriot League’s Bylaws at the top of page 37 and was decided by the Patriot League’s Council in December 2022. It is a small change as the Patriot League had already increased its scholarship limit to 60 by the mid-2010s. Interestingly, the Patriot League removed the 90-player maximum in 2023-24 as noted on page 103.

2024 FCS Playoff News

The NCAA will alter the FCS Playoff format a bit in 2024 with the seeding of 16 teams instead of 8. The change will provide a bit of transparency into the selection process although some factors will continue to be subjective, particularly for the teams at the bottom of the seeding list and the always controversial first four teams out of the playoffs. In addition, the 2025 FCS National Championship game (for the 2024 season) will be moved to Monday evening and shown on ESPN. The 2024 season’s final game will be played on Monday, January 6, 2025, with an exact kickoff time to be announced later.

After completing the four-year reclassification process, Tarleton State and Utah Tech will be eligible for the FCS playoffs in 2024. Both teams compete in the United Athletic Conference, which is in its second season and was slated to feature an 8-game schedule in 2024. However, the pending departure of Stephen F. Austin to Southland is likely to cause the original plans to be altered. Delaware and Missouri State – the two FCS-to-FBS changes in 2025 – will not be eligible for the FCS Playoffs in 2024 with this season being considered the first year of the two-year reclassification process.

Future Changes and Other Developments

FCS teams will be allowed to play a 12-game schedule for the 2024 and 2025 seasons thanks to a calendar quirk. Typically, FCS schools are limited to 11 games but there are 14 Saturdays on the 2024 and 2025 calendar, which makes it permissible to have 12 games according to the NCAA’s 17.11.6.1 bylaw.

Delaware is leaving the FCS after the 2024 season to join the FBS and Conference USA as will Missouri State. The Bears and Blue Hens will become the latest FCS programs to leave the FCS and use C-USA as its foot into the proverbial FBS door. Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State in 2023 along with Kennesaw State this year all joined C-USA after numerous successful FCS seasons.

Richmond will make a football-only move from the CAA to the Patriot League beginning in 2025. The Spiders will keep its other sports in the Atlantic 10, which is the school’s primary conference.

On the field, there are a few things to note. UT Rio Grande Valley is joining the Southland Conference beginning with the 2024-25 academic year and its football team will take the field for the first time in 2025. The Vaqueros will be eligible for the FCS Playoffs immediately. The addition of UTRGV pushes the Southland football-playing membership count to 10 with one of those programs considered a reclassifying member (Texas A&M-Commerce).

Chicago State is set to add a football team provided the school reaches its fundraising goals. The Cougars have set a $4 million fundraising goal as the bar to begin an FCS football program and the school has set an expedited timeline of 2025 as the first season if everything goes as planned. Chicago State is joining the NEC as a full member in all other sports in 2024.

Xavier will not be adding football in the near future. The school announced it was considering the sport in June 2023 but decided against the addition in October 2023 to prioritize campus projects. On the upside, Xavier gave the impression football will be added in the future although the exact timing depends on resolving potential issues related to a new football team.

In October 2023, the NCAA changed the fee for teams reclassifying from the FCS to the FBS. The fee went from $5,000 to $5 million with immediate effect and the minimum annual scholarship requirement went from $4 million to $6 million. This won’t stop teams from leaving the FCS but it might slow it down for those teams that were previously unsure if they wanted to make the financial commitment. So far, Delaware and Missouri State are the only schools that have announced a move to the FBS since the application fee change.

The NCAA also has two additional items that impact the FCS and a third item that could reshape the entire subdivision. First, the NCAA has changed its policy to allow unlimited transfers for athletes in good academic standing and schools can help athletes facilitate NIL deals. The final item was the agreement reached between ESPN and the NCAA in which ESPN will keep the broadcast rights to the NCAA Championships through the 2031-32 academic year with the FCS national championship being televised on ABC. In April 2024, the NCAA announced that the 2025 title game game (for the 2024 season) would be televised by ESPN on Monday, January 6, 2025.

Finally, there is a settlement between the NCAA, the Power 5 conferences, and the plaintiffs in three lawsuits. The settlement outlines several structural changes to how the NCAA is governed but the timeline of when these changes will actually be implemented depends on the legal process playing out. Conferences outside the Power 5 are on the hook for damages from a settlement process they did not participate in. One of the proposed changes is limiting the roster sizes for FBS teams to 85 players although there are also talks of raising that number to 90 or 95 or allowing a non-scholarship practice squad. One possible theoretical positive is that a lower limit may lead to more quality players starting in the FCS. There are a lot of details to be ironed out with the settlement to understand the full scope of its impact on the FCS and college athletics as a whole.

Summary

Below is a table summarizing all the moves discussed above for 2024 and beyond. We also included the teams that are ineligible for the FCS playoffs for future reference.

TeamPrevious ConferenceNew ConferenceEffective SeasonNotes
FCS PlayoffsN/AN/A202416 Teams will be seeded
BryantBig South-OVCCAA2024
Kennesaw StateASUN / FCS IndependentC-USA (FBS)2024
MercyhurstPSAC (D-II)NEC2024Eligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2028
MerrimackNECFCS Independent2024
Patriot LeagueN/AN/A2024Can now offer up to 63 scholarships
Robert MorrisBig South-OVCNEC2024
Sacred HeartNECFCS Independent2024
Stephen F. AustinUACSouthland2024
Tarleton StateUACUAC2024Eligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2024
Utah TechUACUAC2024Eligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2024
West GeorgiaGulf South (D-II)UAC (ASUN)2024Eligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2028
Western IllinoisMVFCBig South-OVC2024
DelawareCAAC-USA (FBS)2025Ineligible for FCS Playoffs in 2024
Missouri StateMVFCC-USA (FBS)2025Ineligible for FCS Playoffs in 2024
RichmondCAAPatriot League2025
UT-Rio Grande ValleyN/ASouthland2025Starting Football Program; Eligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2025
Chicago StateN/AN/ATBD?May Add Football Program
LindenwoodOVCOVCN/AEligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2026
St. Thomas (MN)PioneerPioneerN/AEligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2026
StonehillNECNECN/AEligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2026
Texas A&M-CommerceSouthlandSouthlandN/AEligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2026
XavierN/AN/AN/ANot Adding Football

Photo Credit to the University of West Georgia Athletics

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.