The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sponsors one of the most lucrative college sports in the United States. NCAA Football system mirrors the three divisions followed by the rest of the NCAA with one exception. At the NCAA Football Division 1 level, there are two subdivisions; the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The NCAA FBS is aptly named for the postseason “bowl” structure, while the FCS plays a more traditional championship bracket. The FBS consists of larger teams, with more scholarships available to players.
NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision
The FBS features a substantial number of bowl games in which any team of .500 is eligible to play in. Most of the bowls have contractual tie-ins based on Conferences, however, with the creation of the College Football Playoff (CFP), it will act as de facto semifinals. The CFP Playoffs rotate between the Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl. Each year, two of the six will act as semifinal games in each year. The winner of the semifinal games will advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship game. For the 2019-2020 season, the College Football Playoff Semifinal games are the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl.
Rankings are released each week throughout the season as well as a pre-season and post-season rankings. Two polls make up the top-25 rankings until halfway through the season when the first College Football Playoff Ranking is released. The Associated Press (AP) Top-25 and the Coaches Poll are the primary entities that make up the poll rankings until week 6 when the Playoff Ranking is released. The AP poll is made up of members of the media, while the Coaches rankings reflected the coaches. The College Football Playoff Committee is made up of head coaches (current and former), Athletics Directors, professors, an All-American, and a former Chief of Staff. The previous renditions held former-Secretary Condoleeza Rice among other well-respected members of the sport; the current and former members can be found on the CPF Selection Committee page.
NCAA Football Division 1 Bowl Subdivision Conferences
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC): The ACC is based in Providence, Rhode Island has traditionally been on the Atlantic Coast. However, its reach has recently grown to include Louisville and Notre Dame. The ACC with its recent additions in the largest Conference with 15 member schools.
Big 10 Conference: The Big Ten (or B1G) contains schools centered around the Great Lakes and the Northeast. Despite the name, however, it is home to 14 member schools and is based in Rosemont, Illinois.
Big 12 Conference: The Big 12 is based in Irving, Texas and has traditionally held teams from the Midwest, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas. Unlike the Big Ten, the Big 12 is home to only ten member schools.
PAC 12 Conference: The PAC-12 is based in Walnut Creek, California and has grown from the Pacific Coast Conference into the Pacific-8, to the Pacific-10, and now the PAC-12 with the additions of Rocky Mountain schools, Utah and Colorado. The PAC-12 is home to 12 member schools.
Southeastern Conference (SEC): The SEC is based in Birmingham, Alabama and has membership from the Southeast, although it recently grew to include the University of Missouri. The SEC is home to 14 members schools and has traditionally been one of the powerhouses in NCAA Football.
“Group of Five”
American Athletic Conference (AAC): The American Athletic Conference is what remains of the old Big East Conference. Former members purchased the Big East rights, but they do not sponsor football. Although, both the Big East and the American Athletic Conference claim the 1979 founding date, as well as the Conference’s history up until the split. The American Athletic Conference is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island.
Conference USA (C-USA): Conference USA was established in 1995 as the result of two former conferences, the Metro and the Great Midwest. The conference’s future was put into doubt during conference realignments (originally in 2005-2006, but then again in 2013-2015). In 2005-2006, the changes saw Conference USA lose several member schools, but several new members offset them. From 2013-2015, Conference USA lost several member schools to the American Athletic Conference. The merger resulted in Conference USA being headquartered in Irving, Texas.
Mid-American Conference (MAC): The majority of the Mid-American Conference (9 of 12) schools are in Ohio or Michigan. The remaining three schools are in Illinois, Indiana, and New York. Unlike most conferences, the MAC has remained relatively stable throughout its history. The MAC was founded in 1946 and is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.
Mountain West Conference (MWC): The Mountain West Conference had seven of eight founding members who had been long-time Western Athletic Conference (WAC) schools. However, the schools agreed to break away and form their own Conference. The Mountain West encountered serious fallout from Conference realignment at the beginning of the decade (2010). Although it would add a traditional powerhouse in Boise State, it would lose Utah, BYU, and TCU within roughly four months. The MWC considered a football-only merger with Conference USA, but after discussions with the NCAA, the idea was abandoned. The Mountain West Conference was established in 1999 and is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Sun Belt Conference (Sun Belt): The Sun Belt Conference is dispersed in the Southeastern United States, from Texas to Coastal Carolina. The Sun Belt has had substantial upheaval since its founding in 1976. At one point the Conference stretched as far west as Utah and New Mexico, however, the schools from both states have since departed. Recently (in 2013), one of the founding members of the Sun Belt Conference, Georgia State, announced that it would transition from the FCS to the FBS. This Conference would add four additional members from the FCS ranks including; Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, and Texas State. In addition, the Conference will be joined this season by Central Arkansas. The Conference is headquartered in New Orleans, Louisianna.
NCAA Football Division 1 Championship Subdivision (FCS)
The FCS Subdivision of NCAA Football plays a Championship bracket to determine the overall winner. NCAA FCS programs are limited to only 63 players (compared to the 85 that FBS programs are allowed). The FCS season concludes with a single-elimination tournament which is sanctioned by the NCAA. As of 2018, the field was expanded to 24 teams. They consist of 10 automatically qualifying conference champions and 14 at-large selections. The FCS National Championship game is held in early January at Toyota Stadium (since 2010) in Frisco, Texas.
Automatic Qualifying schools
Big Sky Conference (Big Sky):
Big South Conference (Big South):
Colonial Athletic Association (CAA):
Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC):
Northeast Conference (NEC):
Ohio Valley Conference (OVC):
Patriot League (Patriot):
Pioneer Football League (PFL):
Southern Conference (SoCon):
Southland Conference (SLC):
To date, there are three conferences that despite having postseason eligibility have chosen to abstain from postseason festivities. The three conferences that abstain from the postseason are:
Ivy League (Ivy League):
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC):
Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC):
FCS schools going FBS
Since 2014, several formerly successful FCS programs have opted to transition to FBS programs, these include:
- Appalachian State
- Coast Carolina
- Georgia Southern
- Old Dominion