FCS History

What is the FCS?

In short, it is considered the second level of college football. For the longer story…

In 1978, the NCAA split the Division I football programs in two. In a stroke of originality, the NCAA named the two Division I-A and Division I-AA. Those names remained until 2006 when the NCAA decided to rename them FBS and FCS.

FBS = Football Bowl Subdivision

FCS = Football Championship Subdivision

There are requirement differences to be part of the FBS. As of October 2023, FBS programs need to sponsor 16 athletic teams and offer $6 million in athletic scholarships with a minimum of 210 scholarships. The FBS has a maximum of 85 scholarships allocated to its football team and at least 90% of the funding must be provided over a two-year rolling period. The NCAA removed the home attendance requirement of 15,000 over a continuous two-year period in October 2023.

For the FCS, the requirements are not as stringent with FCS programs only allowed to provide a maximum of 63 full scholarships. This also allows for partial scholarships to be given as long as they total up to 63 full scholarships. FCS teams do not have home attendance requirements and the FBS no longer does as of October 2023 when the NCAA revised the FBS requirements. Two FCS conferences – the Ivy League and Pioneer Football League – do not offer scholarships to players while the Northeast Conference and Patriot League have members that offer fewer than 63 scholarships.

Are there any other differences?

The FCS has a 24-team single-elimination playoff each season to determine its national champion while the FBS has a 4-team playoff and an expanded 12-team playoff beginning in 2024. The key here is the NCAA organizes the FCS Playoff, however, they do not organize the FBS Playoff and therefore do not officially recognize the FBS Playoff champions. (They “delegate” that task to what they refer to as “major selectors” from page 112 of the 2022 FBS Records). The FBS also has a plethora of bowl games, hence the “Bowl Subdivision” designation. The FCS currently has one bowl game: the Celebration Bowl between the MEAC and SWAC champions that helps determine the Historical Black College and Universities National Champion.

Current FCS teams typically need an invitation from an FBS conference in order to join the FBS. However, Liberty’s transition in 2018 proved that a waiver may be granted in some circumstances although the October 2023 requirements were put in place to stem the flow of teams into the FCS. Liberty joined Conference USA in 2023.

Oh, so this is the place where I see teams compete to play in the yearly Dakota Invitational?

Since 2011… pretty much. There’s no denying the incredible dominance of the North Dakota State Bison in the last decade or so. While South Dakota State is now taking up the Bison’smantle with three straight FCS title game appearances as of 2023, the FCS is a great source of talent and football. Current FBS teams Appalachian State, Boise State, Georgia Southern, Louisiana Monroe, Marshall, Massachusetts, Sam Houston State, and Western Kentucky all previously cut their teeth at the FCS level and captured a national championship before making the jump.

There is also the FCS over FBS upset that has become more common and a wonderful talking point on social media. FCS teams are not pushovers and the name on the jersey does not have to say, “North Dakota State” or “Bison”. As of the 2022 NFL season, nearly 200 FCS players made a roster in the NFL, which isn’t bad for a division that gets only a fraction of the media attention as the FBS.

I’m interested in learning more. What other information should I know?

Other random tidbits to keep in mind: Not all conferences participate in the FCS playoffs. The Ivy League abstains from the FCS playoffs citing “academic concerns” while the MEAC and SWAC Champions also abstain in order to play in the Celebration Bowl. Any MEAC or SWAC team that is selected for an at-large berth to the FCS playoffs is allowed to participate.

FCS playoffs typically commence on Thanksgiving weekend to give us all even more to feast on. The FCS Championship is currently played in January in Frisco, Texas and is scheduled to remain there through 2025

The FCS currently has 128 teams from 15 conferences with all of them listed below. A complete list of teams and conferences, including links to each program and conference website can be found here. There are also separate pages featuring additional information on former FCS teams and previous FCS conferences.

ConferenceNumber of Teams
Big Sky Conference12
Big South-OVC Football Association9
Coastal Athletic Association16
FCS Independents2
Ivy League8
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference6
Missouri Valley Football Conference11
Northeast Conference8
Patriot League7
Pioneer Football League11
Southern Conference9
Southland Conference9
Southwestern Athletic Conference12
United Athletic Conference9

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