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 in order to be part of the FBS. Schools must have home attendance of at least 15,000 over a continuous two-year period and sponsor 16 athletic teams. $4 million or 200 scholarships must be provided by each FBS school with a maximum of 85 allocated to the football program. Of those 85 scholarships, at least 90% of the funding must be provided over a two-year rolling period.
For the FCS, the requirements are not as stringent. For starters, FCS programs are 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. Two FCS conferences, the Ivy League and Pioneer Football League, do not offer scholarships to players.
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. 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 117 of the 2019 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.
Teams have typically required an invitation from a conference in order to join the FBS. However, Liberty’s transition in 2018 proved that a waiver may be granted. Liberty currently participates as an independent though they could join a conference in the future if offered a spot.
Oh, so this is the place where I see teams compete to play in the yearly North Dakota State Invitational?
Since 2011… pretty much. There’s no denying the incredible dominance of the Bison the last decade, but the FCS is a great source of talent and football. Current FBS teams Appalachian State, Boise State, Georgia Southern, Louisiana Monroe, Marshall, Massachusetts, 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 2020 NFL season there are over 140 FCS players on a roster while in 2019 more than 150 FCS players were on a roster. Not 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?
The FCS currently has 127 teams from 13 conferences. As of 2020, three teams are classified as an independent: Dixie State, Presbyterian, Robert Morris, and Tarleton State. Dixie State and Tarleton State are moving up from Division II, a process that will take four years to complete.
Presbyterian’s final season in the Big South was in 2019, they will be an independent in 2020, and they will compete in the Pioneer Football League starting in 2021. Robert Morris announced a move from the Northeast Conference to the Big South starting in 2021. The Colonials were scheduled play as an independent in 2020.
|Conference||# of Teams|
|Missouri Valley Football||11|
|Pioneer Football League||9|
A complete list of teams and conferences, including links to each program and conference website, can be found here.
Other random tidbits to keep in mind: Not all conferences participate in the FCS playoffs. The Ivy League, MEAC, and SWAC all abstain from the playoffs. The MEAC and SWAC champions both face off in the Celebration Bowl. If an at-large team from either conference is chosen for the playoffs, then that team can 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.