Division I (NCAA)
Main logo used by the NCAA in Divisions I, II, and III.

NCAA Division I (D-I) is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States. D-I schools include the major collegiate athletic powers, with larger budgets, more elaborate facilities and more athletic scholarships than Divisions II and III as well as many smaller schools committed to the highest level of intercollegiate competition.

This level was once called the University Division of the NCAA, in contrast to the lower level College Division; these terms were replaced with numeric divisions in 1973. The University Division was renamed Division I, while the College Division was split in two; the College Division members that offered scholarships or wanted to compete against those who did became Division II, while those who did not want to offer scholarships became Division III.[1]

For the 2014-15 school year, Division I contained 345 of the NCAA's 1,066 member institutions, with 125 in FBS, 125 in FCS, and 95 non-football schools, with six additional schools in transition from Division II to Division I.[2][3] There was a moratorium on any additional movement up to D-I until 2012, after which any school that wants to move to D-I must be accepted for membership by a conference and show the NCAA it has the financial ability to support a D-I program.

D-I schools

Schools must field teams in at least seven sports for men and seven for women or six for men and eight for women, with at least two team sports for each gender.[4] Division I schools must meet minimum financial aid awards for their athletics program, and there are maximum financial aid awards for each sport that a Division I school cannot exceed. Several other NCAA sanctioned minimums and differences that distinguish Division I from Divisions II and III.[4] Each playing season has to be represented by each gender as well. There are contest and participant minimums for each sport, as well as scheduling criteria. For sports other than football and basketball, Division I schools must play 100 percent of the minimum number of contests against Division I opponents--anything over the minimum number of games has to be 50 percent Division I. Men's and women's basketball teams have to play all but two games against Division I teams; for men, they must play one-third of all their contests in the home arena.[5]

In addition to the schools that compete fully as D-I institutions, the NCAA allows D-II and D-III schools to classify one men's and one women's sport (other than football or basketball) as a D-I sport, as long as they sponsored those sports before the latest rules change in 2011.[6] Also, Division II schools are eligible to compete for Division I national championships in sports that do not have a Division II national championship, and in those sports may also operate under D-I rules and scholarship limits.[7]


For football only, Division I was further subdivided in 1978 into Division I-A (the principal football schools), Division I-AA (the other schools with football teams), and Division I (those schools not sponsoring football).[8][9] In 2006, Division I-A and I-AA were renamed "Football Bowl Subdivision" (FBS) and "Football Championship Subdivision" (FCS), respectively.

FBS teams are allowed a maximum of 85 players receiving athletically-based aid per year, with each player allowed to receive up to a full scholarship. FCS teams have the same 85-player limit as FBS teams, but are only allowed to give aid equivalent to 63 full scholarships. FCS teams are allowed to award partial scholarships, a practice technically allowed but essentially never used at the FBS level.

FBS teams also have to meet minimum game attendance requirements (average 15,000 people in actual or paid attendance per home game), while FCS teams do not need to meet minimum attendance requirements.

Another difference is post season play. Since 1978, FCS teams have played in the NCAA Division I Football Championship, a playoff tournament to determine a NCAA-sanctioned national champion. Meanwhile, the FBS teams play in bowl games, where various polls rank the number one team after the conclusion of the bowl games. Starting with the 2014 postseason, a four-team playoff called the College Football Playoff, replaced the previous one-game championship format. Even so, Division I FBS football is still the only NCAA sport in which a yearly champion is not determined by an NCAA-sanctioned championship event.


Division I athletic programs generated $8.7 billion in revenue in the 2009-2010 academic year. Men's teams provided 55%, women's teams 15%, and 30% was not categorized by sex or sport. Football and men's basketball are usually a university's only profitable sports,[10] and are called "revenue sports".[11] The BYU Cougars, for example, in 2009 had revenue of $41 million and expenses of $35 million, resulting in a profit of $5.5 million or about 16% margin. Football (60% of revenue, 53% profit margin) and men's basketball (15% of revenue, 8% profit margin) were profitable; women's basketball (less than 3% of revenue) and all other sports were unprofitable.[12] From 2008 to 2012, 205 varsity teams were dropped in NCAA Division I - 72 for women and 133 for men, with men's tennis, gymnastics and wrestling hit particularly hard.[13]

In the Football Bowl Subdivision (130 schools in 2017), between 50 and 60 percent of football and men's basketball programs generated positive revenues (above program expenses).[14] However, in the Football Championship Subdivision (124 schools in 2017), only four percent of football and five percent of men's basketball programs generated positive revenues.[15]

In 2012, 2% of athletic budgets were spent on equipment, uniforms and supplies for male athletes at NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision school, with the median spending per-school at $742,000.[16]

In 2014, the NCAA and the student athletes debated whether student athletes should be paid. Student athletes felt their hard work, hours spent on their sport, and the money their sport brings in justify their payment.[] In April, the NCAA approved students-athletes getting free unlimited meals and snacks. The NCAA stated "The adoption of the meals legislation finished a conversation that began in the Awards, Benefits, Expenses and Financial Aid Cabinet. Members have worked to find appropriate ways to ensure student-athletes get the nutrition they need without jeopardizing Pell Grants or other federal aid received by the neediest student-athletes. With their vote, members of the council said they believe loosening NCAA rules on what and when food can be provided from athletics departments is the best way to address the issue." [17]


Men's team sports

Number Sport Teams[18] Conferences Scholarships
per team
Season Most Championships
1 Football 130 FBS
124 FCS
10 FBS
13 FCS
85 FBS
63.0 FCS
Fall Disputed
2 Basketball 351 32 13 Winter UCLA (11)
3 Baseball 299 31 11.7 Spring USC (12)
4 Soccer 205 24 9.9 Fall Saint Louis (10)
5 Ice hockey 60 6 18.0 Winter Michigan (9)
6 Lacrosse 70 10 12.6 Spring Syracuse (10)
7 Volleyball 43 4 4.5 Spring UCLA (19)
8 Water polo 22 4 4.5 Fall California (13)

Sports are ranked according to total possible scholarships (number of teams x number of scholarships per team). Scholarship numbers for head-count sports are indicated without a decimal point. Numbers for equivalency sports are indicated with a decimal point, with a trailing zero if needed.


  • Football -- D-I football programs are divided into FBS and FCS. The 130 FBS programs can award financial aid to as many as 85 players, with each player able to receive up to a full scholarship. The 124 FCS programs (125 in 2018) can award up to the equivalent of 63 full scholarships, divided among no more than 85 individuals. Some FCS conferences restrict scholarships to a lower level or prohibit scholarships altogether.
  • Soccer -- The Big 12 and the SEC are the only two major traditional D-I conferences that do not sponsor soccer. Several other D-I conferences also do not sponsor the sport--the Big Sky, MEAC, Mountain West, Ohio Valley, Southland, and SWAC.
  • Ice Hockey -- Almost all D-I ice hockey programs are in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, or the Colorado Front Range. Only one D-I all-sports conference, the Big Ten, sponsors a men's hockey league. All other conferences operate as hockey-specific leagues. Of the 59 D-I hockey schools, 22 are otherwise classified as either D-II or D-III; D-II has an insufficient number of schools to sponsor a separate divisional championship, and the D-III schools were "grandfathered" in to D-I.
  • Lacrosse -- The vast majority of D-I lacrosse programs are from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. There are only two D-I programs west of the Mississippi, both on the Colorado Front Range (Air Force and Denver). Utah will become the third D-I program west of the Mississippi when it elevates its club team to varsity status for 2018-19.
  • Volleyball -- The only traditional D-I conference to sponsor men's volleyball is the Big West, which began sponsoring the sport in the 2017-18 school year. Of the other three major men's volleyball conferences (defined here as conferences that include full D-I members), two are volleyball-specific leagues. In addition to the D-I schools, 23 D-II schools compete in D-I volleyball.
  • Water Polo -- The number of D-I schools sponsoring men's water polo has declined from 35 in 1987/88 to 22 in 2010/11.[19] No school outside of California has ever made the finals of the championship, and all champions since 1998 have come from one of the four California based Pac-12 schools.

Men's individual sports

The following table lists the men's individual DI sports with at least 1,000 participating athletes. Sports are ranked by number of athletes.

No. Sport Teams (2015)[20] Teams (1982)[21] Change Athletes[22] Season
1 Track (outdoor) 278 230 +48 11,067 Spring
2 Track (indoor) 257 209 +48 10,174 Winter
3 Cross country 311 256 +56 4,845 Fall
4 Swimming & diving 134 181 -47 3,839 Winter
5 Golf 297 263 +34 2,947 Spring
6 Tennis 258 267 -9 2,678 Spring
7 Wrestling 76 146 -70 2,520 Winter

DI college wrestling has lost almost half of its programs since 1982.[23]

Women's team sports

No. Sport Teams[24] Confe­rences Scholarships
per team
Season Most Championships
1 Basketball 349 32 15 Winter Connecticut (11)
2 Soccer 333 31 14.0 Fall North Carolina (21)
3 Volleyball 334 32 12* Fall Penn State, Stanford (7)
4 Softball 295 32 12.0 Spring UCLA (11)
5 Rowing 88 12 20.0 Spring Brown (7)
6 Lacrosse 112 13 12.0 Spring Maryland (12)
7 Field Hockey 78 10 12.0 Fall Old Dominion (9)
8 Ice Hockey 35 4 18.0 Winter Minnesota (6)
9 Beach Volleyball 47 5 6.0* Spring USC (2)
10 Water Polo 34 6 8.0 Spring UCLA (7)


  • As in the men's table above, sports are ranked in order of total possible scholarships. Numbers for head-count sports are indicated without a decimal point; those for equivalency sports are indicated with a decimal point, with a trailing zero if needed.
  • Women's soccer is the fastest growing NCAA D-I women's team sport over a prolonged period, increasing from 22 teams in 1981/82 to 315 teams in 2010/11.[25] However, in recent years, the fastest-growing has been beach volleyball, which went from 14 Division I teams in 2011-12 to 55 in 2016-17.
  • + = In the 2016-17 school year, rugby is classified by the NCAA as an "emerging sport" for women. Beach volleyball, which had previously been an "emerging sport" under the name of "sand volleyball",[26] became an official NCAA championship sport in 2015-16.[27]
  • * = The number of scholarships are partially linked for (indoor) volleyball and beach volleyball. Schools that field both indoor and beach volleyball teams are allowed 6.0 full scholarship equivalents specifically for beach volleyball as of 2016-17, with the further limitations that (1) no player receiving aid for beach volleyball can be on the indoor volleyball roster and (2) a maximum of 14 individuals can receive aid in beach volleyball. If a school fields only a beach volleyball team, it is allowed 8.0 full scholarship equivalents for that sport, also distributed among no more than 14 individuals.

Women's individual sports

The following table lists the women's individual DI sports with at least 1,000 participating athletes. Sports are ranked by number of athletes.

No. Sport Teams (2015)[28] Teams (1982)[29] Change Athletes[30] Season
1 Track (outdoor) 329 180 +149 13,075 Spring
2 Track (indoor) 319 127 +192 12,816 Winter
3 Cross country 342 183 +159 6,031 Fall
4 Swimming & diving 195 161 +34 5,393 Winter
5 Golf 259 83 +176 2,170 Spring
6 Tennis 318 246 +72 2,912 Spring
7 Gymnastics 61 99 -38 1,085 Winter

Broadcasting and revenue

NCAA Division I schools have broadcasting contracts that showcase their more popular sports -- typically football and men's basketball -- on network television and in basic cable channels. These contracts can be quite lucrative, particularly for DI schools from the biggest conferences. For example, the Big Ten conference in 2016 entered into contracts with Fox and ESPN that pay the conference $2.64 billion over six years.

The NCAA also holds certain TV contracts. For example, the NCAA's contract to show the men's basketball championship tournament (widely known as March Madness) is currently under a 14-year deal with CBS and Turner that runs from 2010 to 2024 and pays $11 billion.

For the 2014-15 fiscal year, the conferences that earned the most revenues (and that distributed the most revenues to each of their member schools) were:

  1. SEC -- $527 million (dispersed $33 million to each of its member schools)
  2. Big 10 -- $449 million (dispersed $32 million each)
  3. Pac 12 -- $439 million (dispersed $25 million each)
  4. ACC -- $403 million (dispersed $26 million each)
  5. Big 12 -- $268 million (dispersed $23 million each)

U.S. college sports sports TV rights
Sports rights Sport National TV contract Total Revenues
(Per Year)
NCAA March Madness Basketball CBS, Turner $8.8bn ($1.1bn)
NCAA College Football Playoff Football ESPN $5.6bn ($470m)
Pac-12 Conference All Fox, ESPN $3.0bn ($250m)
Big Ten Conference (Big Ten/B1G) All Fox, ESPN $2.6bn ($440m) [31]
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) All $3.6bn ($240m)
Big 12 Conference All Fox, ESPN $2.6bn ($200m)
Southeastern Conference (SEC) All CBS $0.8bn ($55m)
American Athletic Conference All $910m ($130m)
Mountain West Conference All CBS, ESPN $116m ($18m) [32]
Mid America Conference (MAC) All ESPN $100m ($8m) [33]

Scholarship limits by sport

The NCAA has limits on the total financial aid each Division I member may award in each sport that the school sponsors. It divides sports that are sponsored into two types for purposes of scholarship limitations:

  • "Head-count" sports, in which the NCAA limits the total number of individuals that can receive athletic scholarships, but allows each player to receive up to a full scholarship.
  • "Equivalency" sports, in which the NCAA limits the total financial aid that a school can offer in a given sport to the equivalent of a set number of full scholarships. Roster limitations may or may not apply, depending on the sport.

The term "counter" is also key to this concept. The NCAA defines a "counter" as "an individual who is receiving institutional financial aid that is countable against the aid limitations in a sport."[34]

The number of scholarships that Division I members may award in each sport is listed below. In this table, scholarship numbers for head-count sports are indicated without a decimal point; for equivalency sports, they are listed with a decimal point, with a trailing zero if required.

  1. ^ This total is also subject to the following restrictions:
    • The number of total counters is limited to 27.[35]
    • Each counter must receive "athletically related and other countable financial aid" equal to at least 25% of a full scholarship.[36] Most institutional and governmental non-athletic aid falls in the "countable" category;[37] an official NCAA rules interpretation also allows schools to count aid that would otherwise be exempt by NCAA rule (such as purely academic awards) toward the 25% limit, as long as it also is included in the calculations for the team equivalency limit.[38] The 25% rule does not apply to baseball schools that offer only need-based aid (such as Ivy League members).[39] A second exception to the 25% rule, added in 2012, is for players in their final year of athletic eligibility who have not previously received athletically related aid in baseball at any college.[40]
  2. ^ This total is for schools that also sponsor women's indoor volleyball.[43] If a school does not sponsor women's indoor volleyball, it is allowed 8.0 equivalents for beach volleyball.[44] For all schools, the maximum number of counters in beach volleyball is 14.[43][44]
  3. ^ If a school sponsors men's cross-country but does not sponsor either indoor or outdoor track and field for men, it is allowed 5.0 scholarship equivalents for that sport.[47]
  4. ^ If a school sponsors women's cross-country but does not sponsor either indoor or outdoor track and field for women, it is allowed 6.0 scholarship equivalents for that sport.[47]
  5. ^ FBS programs are also limited to 25 new counters per school year.[48]
  6. ^ FCS programs are also limited to 85 total counters per school year.[49] Effective with the recruiting cycle for the 2018-19 school year, the previous limit of 30 new counters per year for FCS programs has been removed.[50]
  7. ^ The number of total counters is limited to 30.[52]
  8. ^ The NCAA Division I Manual does not include any scholarship limitations for women's ice hockey. These limitations are instead found in the Division II Manual.[53] Note also that the Division II Manual does not include any limit on total counters for any sport, including women's ice hockey.
  9. ^ The NCAA classifies rifle as a men's sport, despite the fact that competitions are fully coeducational. Of the 33 NCAA rifle schools (23 in Division I, 4 in Division II, and 6 in Division III), 22 field a single coed/mixed team. Six schools (five in Division I and one in Division III) field women-only teams. Schools are also allowed to field any combination of men's, women's, and mixed teams. Currently, one D-I school and one D-III school field separate men's and women's teams; one D-I school and one D-II school field a women-only team plus a mixed team; and one D-I school (VMI) fields all three types of teams. The scholarship limits are per school, not per team.
  10. ^ The NCAA adopted triathlon as its newest "emerging sport" for women effective with the 2014-15 school year, with an initial limit of 3.5 scholarship equivalents. The total number of equivalents reached its final value of 6.5 in 2017-18.[45]

Rules for multi-sport athletes

The NCAA also has rules specifying the sport in which multi-sport athletes are to be counted, with the basic rules being:[54]

  • Anyone who participates in football is counted in that sport, even if he does not receive financial aid from the football program. An exception exists for players at non-scholarship FCS programs who receive aid in another sport.[55]
  • Participants in basketball are counted in that sport, unless they also play football.
  • Participants in men's ice hockey are counted in that sport, unless they also play football or basketball.
  • Participants in both men's swimming and diving and men's water polo are counted in swimming and diving, unless they count in football or basketball.
  • Participants in women's (indoor) volleyball are counted in that sport unless they also play basketball.
  • All other multi-sport athletes are counted in whichever sport the school chooses.

Football subdivisions

Subdivisions in Division I exist only in football.[56][57] In all other sports, all Division I conferences are equivalent. The subdivisions were recently given names to reflect the differing levels of football play in them.

The method by which the NCAA determines whether a school is Bowl or Championship subdivision is first by attendance numbers and then by scholarships.[58] For attendance reporting methods, the NCAA allows schools to report either total tickets sold or the number of persons in attendance at the games. They require a minimum average of 15,000 people in attendance every other year.[58] These numbers get posted to the NCAA statistics website for football each year. With the new rules starting in the 2006 season, the number of Bowl Subdivision schools could drop in the future if those schools are not able to pull in enough fans into the games. Additionally, 14 FCS schools had enough attendance to be moved up in 2012.[59] Under current NCAA rules, these schools must have an invitation from an FBS conference in order to move to FBS. Three of them--Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Old Dominion--began FBS transitions in 2013. All had the required FBS conference invitations, with Old Dominion joining Conference USA in 2013, and Appalachian State and Georgia Southern joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The difference in the postseasons in each of the subdivisions grant the FCS an advantage to have the best record in college football history, 17-0, while the FBS only allows a 15-0 record.

Football Bowl Subdivision

Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, is the top level of college football. Schools in Division I FBS compete in post-season bowl games, with the champions of five conferences, along with the highest-ranked champion of the other five conferences, receiving automatic bids to the access bowls.

FBS schools are limited to a total of 85 football players receiving financial assistance.[60] For competitive reasons, a student receiving partial scholarship counts fully against the total of 85. Nearly all FBS schools that are not on NCAA probation give 85 full scholarships.

As of the current 2017 season, there are 129 full members of Division I FBS, with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) reinstating a football program that it had dropped after the 2014 season. Two schools, Coastal Carolina University and Liberty University, are at varying stages of the FBS transition process. Coastal began its transition in 2016, when it joined the Sun Belt Conference for non-football sports; in that season, Coastal was classified as an FCS independent, but was ineligible for the FCS playoffs. Coastal joins Sun Belt football for the 2017 season and will be counted as an FBS member for scheduling purposes, but full FBS membership and bowl eligibility will not come until 2018.[61] Liberty, currently a member of the Big South Conference, began its transition in 2017; it remains in the Big South that season, but is ineligible for the FCS playoffs. The NCAA granted Liberty a waiver from its normal FCS-to-FBS transition rules requiring that a school have an invitation from an FBS conference to begin the transition, meaning that Liberty will become an FBS independent for scheduling purposes in 2018 and a full FBS member in 2019.[62]

Since the 2016 season, all FBS conferences have been allowed to conduct a championship game that does not count against the limit of 12 regular-season contests. Under the current rules, such a game can be held either (1) between the winners of each of two divisions, with each team having played a full round-robin schedule within its division, or (2) between the conference's top two teams after a full round-robin conference schedule.[63] Previously, "exempt" championship games could only be held by between the divisional winners of conferences that had at least 12 football teams and split into divisions.[64][65] The prize is normally a specific bowl game bid for which the conference has a tie-in.

Some conferences have numbers in their names but this often has no relation to the number of member institutions in the conference. The Big Ten Conference did not formally adopt the "Big Ten" name until 1987, but unofficially used that name when it had 10 members from 1917 to 1946, and again from 1949 forward. However, it has continued to use the name even after it expanded to 11 members with the addition of Penn State in 1990, 12 with the addition of Nebraska in 2011, and 14 with the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. The Big 12 Conference was established in 1996 with 12 members, but continues to use that name even after a number of departures and a few replacements left the conference with 10 members. On the other hand, the Pac-12 Conference has used names (official or unofficial) that have reflected the number of members since its current charter was established in 1959. The conference unofficially used "Big Five" (1959-62), "Big Six" (1962-64), and "Pacific-8" (1964-68) before officially adopting the "Pacific-8" name. The name duly changed to "Pacific-10" in 1978 with the addition of Arizona and Arizona State, and "Pac-12" (instead of "Pacific-12") in 2011 when Colorado and Utah joined. Conferences also tend to ignore their regional names when adding new schools. For example, the Pac-8/10/12 retained its "Pacific" moniker even though its four newest members (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah) are located in the inland West, and the original Big East kept its name even after adding schools (either in all sports or for football only) located in areas traditionally considered to be in the Midwest (Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette, Notre Dame), Upper South (Louisville, Memphis) and Southwest (Houston, SMU). The non-football conference that assumed the Big East name when the original Big East split in 2013 is another example of this phenomenon, as half of its 10 inaugural schools (Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Marquette, Xavier) are traditionally regarded as being Midwestern.


(** "Big Five" or "Power Five" conferences with guaranteed berths in the "access bowls" associated with the College Football Playoff)

  1. ^ The conference was founded in 1979 as the original Big East Conference. It renamed itself the American Athletic Conference following a 2013 split along football lines. The non-FBS schools of the original conference left to form a new conference that purchased the Big East name, while the FBS schools continued to operate under the old Big East's charter and structure. The American also inherited the old Big East's Bowl Championship Series berth for the 2013 season, the last for the BCS.
  2. ^ 11 of the 12 full members sponsor football, with Wichita State as the only non-football member.
  3. ^ In addition to the full members, three schools have single-sport associate membership, with two more set to become associates in the near future:
  4. ^ 22 sports in 2018 with addition of women's lacrosse.
  5. ^ Notre Dame is a full member except in football, in which it remains independent. It has committed to play five games each season against ACC opponents, and to play each other ACC member at least once every three years.
  6. ^ In addition to the full members, two schools have affiliate membership:
    • Johns Hopkins, otherwise a Division III member, is an affiliate in both men's and women's lacrosse, sports in which the school fields Division I teams.
    • Notre Dame is a men's hockey affiliate.
  7. ^ In addition to the full members, the Big 12 has 12 members that participate in only one sport:
  8. ^ The conference was founded in 1995, with football competition starting in 1996.
  9. ^ In addition to the 14 full members, Conference USA features three schools that play men's soccer in the conference: Kentucky, New Mexico, and South Carolina.
  10. ^ Note that "Independents" is not a conference; it is simply a designation used for schools whose football programs do not play in any conference. All of these schools have conference memberships for other sports.
  11. ^ 6 independents in 2018 with addition of Liberty and New Mexico State.
  12. ^ In addition to the 12 full members, the Mid-American Conference features nine members which only participate in one sport each, one of which will join in a second sport in 2018, plus one other school that competes in two sports.
  13. ^ Since 2012, Hawai?i has been a football-only associate member, with most of its remaining teams in the non-football Big West Conference.
  14. ^ In addition to the 11 full members and football affiliate Hawai?i, Colorado College, a Division III school with a Division I men's ice hockey team, plays Division I women's soccer in the MW.
  15. ^ The charter of the Pac-12 dates only to the formation of the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU) in 1959. However, the Pac-12 claims the history of the Pacific Coast Conference, which was founded in 1915 and began competition in 1916, as its own. Of the nine members of the PCC at the time of its demise in June 1959, only Idaho never joined the Pac-12. The PCC's berth in the Rose Bowl passed to the AAWU.
  16. ^ The Pac-12 also includes several associate members which compete in one or two sports in the conference. San Diego State plays men's soccer. Cal State Bakersfield and Cal Poly compete in wrestling. Cal Poly also participates in men's swimming and diving, which the NCAA considers a single sport. UC Santa Barbara only competes in men's swimming and diving.
  17. ^ Ten Sun Belt Conference members currently sponsor football, with Little Rock and UT Arlington as members that do not play football at all. Idaho and New Mexico State are football-only members.
    • Idaho and New Mexico State will leave Sun Belt football after the 2017 season. Idaho has announced it will downgrade to FCS football and add football to its all-sports membership in the Big Sky Conference. New Mexico State tentatively plans to return to FBS independence.
  18. ^ In addition to the full members and football-only affiliates, two other schools--Hartwick (a Division III school with Division I programs in men's soccer and women's water polo) and Howard--are affiliates in men's soccer.

Football Championship Subdivision

The Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as Division I-AA, determines its national champion through a 24-team, single-elimination tournament.[66] With the expansion of the tournament field in 2013 from 20 teams to 24, the champions of 11 conferences receive automatic bids, with 13 "at-large" spots; and the top 8 teams receive first-round byes. A team must have at least seven wins to be eligible for an at-large spot.[67][68]

The tournament traditionally begins on Thanksgiving weekend in late November, and during the era of the 16-team field ran for four weeks, ending with the championship game in mid-December. Since 2010, the tournament has run for four weeks (for seeds 9-24) to determine the two finalists, who play for the FCS national title in early January in Frisco, Texas, the scheduled host through the 2019 season. For thirteen seasons, the title game was played in Chattanooga, Tennessee, (1997-2009), preceded by five seasons in Huntington, West Virginia, where host Marshall advanced to the title game in four of the five years.[69]

When I-AA was formed 39 years ago in 1978,[8] the playoffs included just four teams for its first three seasons, doubling to eight teams for one season in 1981.[70] From 1982 to 1985, I-AA had a 12-team tournament, with each of the top four seeds receiving a first-round bye and a home game in the quarterfinals.[71] The I-AA playoffs went to 16 teams in 1986, and the FCS playoffs expanded to 20 teams starting in 2010 and to 24 in 2013. After 28 seasons, the "I-AA" was dropped by the NCAA eleven years ago in 2006, although it is still informally and commonly used.


The Football Championship Subdivision includes several conferences which do not participate in the eponymous post-season championship tournament.

The Ivy League was reclassified to I-AA (FCS) following the 1981 season,[72] and plays a strict ten-game schedule. Although it qualifies for an automatic bid, the Ivy League has not played any postseason games at all since 1956, citing academic concerns.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) has its own championship game in mid-December between the champions of its East and West divisions. Also, three of its member schools traditionally do not finish their regular seasons until Thanksgiving weekend. Grambling State and Southern play each other in the Bayou Classic, and Alabama State plays Tuskegee (of Division II) in the Turkey Day Classic. SWAC teams are eligible to accept at-large bids if their schedule is not in conflict. The last SWAC team to participate in the I-AA playoffs was Jackson State in 1997; the SWAC never achieved success in the tournament, going winless in 19 games in twenty years (1978-97). It had greater success outside the conference while in Division II and the preceding College Division.

From 2006 through 2009, the Pioneer Football League and Northeast Conference champions played in the Gridiron Classic. If a league champion was invited to the national championship playoff as an at-large bid (something the Pioneer league, at least, never received), the second-place team would play in the Gridiron Classic. That game was scrapped after the 2009 season when its four-year contract ran out; this coincided with the NCAA's announcement that the Northeast Conference would get an automatic bid to the tournament starting in 2010. The Big South Conference also received an automatic bid in the same season. The Pioneer Football League earned an automatic bid beginning in 2013.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) began abstaining from the playoffs with the 2015 season. Like the SWAC, its members are eligible for at-large bids, and the two conferences have faced off in the Celebration Bowl as an alternative postseason game since the 2015 season.

Schools in a transition period after joining the FCS from a lower division (or from the NAIA) are also ineligible for the playoffs.


Division I FCS schools are currently restricted to giving financial assistance amounting to 63 full scholarships. As FCS football is an "equivalency" sport (as opposed to the "head-count" status of FBS football), Championship Subdivision schools may divide their allotment into partial scholarships. However, FCS schools may only have 85 players receiving any sort of athletic financial aid for football--the same numeric limit as FBS schools. Because of competitive forces, however, a substantial number of players in Championship Subdivision programs are on full scholarships. Another difference is that FCS schools no longer have a limit on the number of new players that can be provided with financial aid in a given season, while FBS schools are limited to 25 such additions per season. Finally, FCS schools are limited to 95 individuals participating in preseason practices, as opposed to 105 at FBS schools (the three service academies that play FBS football are exempt from preseason practice player limits by NCAA rule).

A few Championship Subdivision conferences are composed of schools that offer no athletic scholarships at all, most notably the Ivy League and the Pioneer Football League (PFL), a football-only conference. The Ivy League allows no athletic scholarships at all, while the PFL consists of schools that offer scholarships in other sports but choose not to take on the expense of a scholarship football program. The Northeast Conference also sponsored non-scholarship football, but began offering a maximum of 30 full scholarship equivalents in 2006, which grew to 40 in 2011 after a later vote of the league's school presidents and athletic directors. The Patriot League only began awarding football scholarships in the 2013 season, with the first scholarships awarded only to incoming freshmen. Before the conference began its transition to scholarship football, athletes receiving scholarships in other sports were ineligible to play football for member schools. Since the completion of the transition with the 2016 season, member schools have been allowed up to 60 full scholarship equivalents.[73]


Conference Nickname Founded Full Members Sports Headquarters FCS Tournament Bid
Big Sky Conference Big Sky 1963 12[a][b] 16 Ogden, Utah Automatic
Big South Conference Big South 1983 10[c] 18 Charlotte, North Carolina Automatic
Colonial Athletic Association CAA 1983[d] 10[e][f] 21 Richmond, Virginia Automatic
Division I FCS Independents[g] 0[h]
Ivy League Ivy League 1954[i] 8 33 Princeton, New Jersey Automatic - (Abstains)
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference MEAC 1970 13[j][k] 15 Norfolk, Virginia Abstains
Missouri Valley Football Conference MVFC 1985[l] 10 [m] 1 St. Louis, Missouri Automatic
Northeast Conference NEC 1981 10 [n][o] 22 Somerset, New Jersey Automatic
Ohio Valley Conference OVC 1948 12[p] 17 Brentwood, Tennessee Automatic
Patriot League Patriot 1986[q] 10[r][s] 23 Center Valley, Pennsylvania Automatic
Pioneer Football League PFL 1991 11[t] 1 St. Louis, Missouri Automatic
Southern Conference SoCon 1921 10[u] 22 Spartanburg, South Carolina Automatic
Southland Conference SLC 1963 13[v] 17 Frisco, Texas Automatic
Southwestern Athletic Conference SWAC 1920 10 [w] 18 Birmingham, Alabama Abstains
  1. ^ All 12 full members play football in the Big Sky except Idaho, which plays in the FBS Sun Belt Conference. Cal Poly and UC Davis, both full members of the non-football Big West Conference, are football-only affiliates.
    • Idaho will downgrade its football program from FBS to FCS in 2018 and rejoin Big Sky football that year.
    • North Dakota will leave the Big Sky in non-football sports in 2018 for the Summit League. The school will remain a football-only member until joining the MVFC in 2020.
  2. ^ In addition to the full members and football affiliates, Binghamton and Hartford are associate members in men's golf.
  3. ^ The Big South has four full members that compete for its football championship, plus two football-only associates in Kennesaw State and Monmouth. Although Campbell became a full member of the Big South in July 2011, its football program remains in the Pioneer Football League.
    • In 2018, the following changes will take place:
      • Hampton and USC Upstate, the latter a non-football school, will become full members. It has not yet been announced whether Hampton football will immediately join the Big South.
      • Campbell football will join the Big South.
      • Liberty football will leave for FBS independence.
    • In 2019, North Alabama will become a Big South football-only member, and Hampton will begin Big South football play if it did not do so in 2018. With Liberty's FBS transition complete at that time, it will abandon its full Big South membership, but will remain an associate member in the 17 non-football sports that it now houses in the Big South.
  4. ^ The CAA football conference was only founded in 2007, but has a continuous history dating to the late 1930s (although not under the same charter):
    • The New England Conference was formed by five New England state universities, plus one private university in that region (Northeastern), in 1938. Four of the public schools--Maine, UMass, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island--were in the CAA football conference through the 2011 season. However, UMass football left for the MAC in 2012. URI football initially planned to leave for the Northeast Conference in 2013, but decided to remain in the CAA.
    • In 1946, the four then-remaining members of the New England Conference affiliated with two other schools to form the Yankee Conference under a separate charter, with athletic competition starting in 1947.
    • In 1997, the Yankee Conference was absorbed by the Atlantic 10 Conference. The A10 inherited the Yankee Conference's automatic berth in the Division I-AA (now FCS) playoffs. In addition to the four charter New England Conference members mentioned above, five other members of the Yankee Conference at the time of the A10 merger are still in the CAA football conference.
    • After the 2006 season, all of the A10 football teams left for the new CAA football conference. The CAA inherited the A10's automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.
  5. ^ The CAA has 10 full members, but only five of them are part of the CAA football conference. Currently, seven associate members fill out the ranks of the CAA football conference: Albany, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Richmond, Stony Brook, and Villanova. Villanova is also a CAA associate in women's rowing.
  6. ^ In addition to the football associates, the CAA has three other associate members that each participate in one sport:
  7. ^ Note that "Independents" is not a conference; it is simply a designation used for schools whose football programs do not play in any conference. All of these schools have conference memberships for other sports.
  8. ^ One independent in 2018 during North Alabama's transition from Division II to FCS football.
    • No independents in 2019 with North Alabama joining Big South football.
  9. ^ Although the conference considers 1954 to be its founding date, the athletic league's origins go back to the turn of the 20th century.
    • The Ivy League considers the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League (EIBL), a men's basketball-only conference founded in 1901, as part of its history. Every school that had been an EIBL member would become part of the Ivy League.
    • In 1945, the eight schools that would eventually form the athletic Ivy League entered into the Ivy Group Agreement, which governed football competition between the schools. The original agreement was renewed in 1952.
    • The official founding date of 1954 reflects the extension of the Ivy Group Agreement to all sports. As part of the agreement, Brown, the only one of the original Ivy Group that had not joined the EIBL, did so. All-sports competition began in 1955, with the EIBL directly absorbed into the new league.
  10. ^ The football conference currently consists of 11 of the 13 member schools.
    • 12 full members in 2018 with Hampton joining the Big South in non-football sports, with football joining the Big South no later than 2019. Possibility of 10 football members if Hampton immediately joins Big South football.
    • 11 full members and 9 football members in 2019 with Savannah State dropping to Division II.
  11. ^ In addition to the full members, Augusta, a Division II school that operates Division I programs in men's and women's golf, is an associate member in men's golf only.
  12. ^ The football conference dates to 1985, but the conference charter was established in 1982. See History of the Missouri Valley Football Conference for more details.
  13. ^ North Dakota will join the MVFC in 2020.
  14. ^ The conference has seven full members that sponsor football. Duquesne of the non-football Atlantic 10 is a football associate.
  15. ^ In addition to Duquesne in football, the NEC has seven other associate members that each participate in one sport:
  16. ^ The football conference consists of 9 of the 12 member schools. Morehead State plays non-scholarship football in the Pioneer Football League, while Belmont and SIU Edwardsville do not sponsor football.
  17. ^ The Patriot League was founded as the football-only Colonial League in 1986. In 1990, it became an all-sports conference and adopted its current name.
  18. ^ Five of the full members do not sponsor FCS football. American, Boston University and Loyola (Maryland) do not sponsor football at all; Army is an FBS independent; and Navy plays in the American Athletic Conference. Fordham and Georgetown are associate members in football.
  19. ^ In addition to the football associates, two other schools have single-sport membership:
    • MIT, otherwise a Division III institution, is an associate in women's rowing.
    • Richmond is a women's golf associate.
  20. ^ 10 members in 2018 when Campbell moves its football program to the Big South.
  21. ^ In addition to the full members, the SoCon currently has 16 associate members which play one sport in the conference, with one other school set to become an associate in the near future:
  22. ^ The football conference currently consists of 11 of the 13 member schools.
  23. ^ In addition to the full members, Howard is an associate member in women's soccer.

Division I non-football schools

Several Bowl Subdivision and Championship Subdivision conferences have member institutions that do not compete in football. Such schools are sometimes unofficially referred to as I-AAA.[74]

The following non-football conferences have full members that sponsor football:

The following Division I conferences do not sponsor football. These conferences still compete in Division I for all sports that they sponsor.


  1. ^ In addition to the full members, four schools are associate members in a single sport, and a fifth is an associate in two sports.
  2. ^ 8 members in 2018 with North Alabama joining from Division II and USC Upstate leaving for the Big South Conference.
  3. ^ In addition to the full members, the ASUN has four associate members, with one more set to join in the near future:
  4. ^ In addition to the full members, Lock Haven, otherwise a Division II institution, and Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) are associate members in field hockey.
  5. ^ The current Big East was formed in 2013 as a result of the split of the original Big East Conference. The original conference charter was retained by the football-sponsoring schools now known as the American Athletic Conference. While both leagues claim 1979 as their founding date, the current Big East maintains the history of the original conference in all sports that it sponsors. The pre-split histories of Big East football and rowing--the two sports that are sponsored by The American but not the current Big East--are not recognized by either offshoot conference.
  6. ^ In addition to the full members, the following schools are Big East affiliates in one or more sports:
    • Cincinnati, Florida, and Vanderbilt participate in women's lacrosse. All will leave after the 2018 season when The American, full-time home to Cincinnati, starts sponsoring women's lacrosse, with Florida and Vanderbilt becoming single-sport associates.
    • Connecticut and Temple participate in both field hockey and women's lacrosse. Both will move women's lacrosse to their full-time home of The American after the 2018 season, but will remain in Big East field hockey.
    • Denver participates in men's and women's lacrosse. It is the only current women's lacrosse associate that will remain in the Big East beyond 2018.
    • Liberty, Old Dominion, and Quinnipiac participate in field hockey.
  7. ^ In addition to the full members, the Big West has three associate members. Cal State Bakersfield and Sacramento State are members in beach volleyball, and Sacramento State is also a member in men's soccer. UC San Diego, a Division II member, competes in men's volleyball, a sport in which D-I and D-II members compete under identical scholarship limitations for a single national championship.
  8. ^ In addition to the full members, Belmont is a men's soccer affiliate, but will leave in 2018 for single-sport membership in the Southern Conference.
  9. ^ Note that "Independents" is not a conference, it is simply a designation used to indicate schools which are not a member of any conference.
  10. ^ There have been no independents since New Jersey Institute of Technology joined the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2015.
  11. ^ In addition to the full members, 12 other schools are MAAC affiliates in one sport, and three others have multiple sports in the conference.
  12. ^ In addition to the full members, four schools house one sport in the conference:
  13. ^ North Dakota will join The Summit in 2018.
  14. ^ In addition to the full members, two schools are single-sport associates, and two others house multiple sports in the conference.
    • Drake and Illinois State are men's tennis associates.
    • Eastern Illinois is an associate member in men's soccer, plus men's and women's swimming & diving.
    • Valparaiso is an associate in men's swimming (it does not sponsor diving) and men's tennis.
  15. ^ In addition to the full members, Creighton is an associate member in women's rowing.
  16. ^ California Baptist will move from Division II and join the WAC in 2018.
  17. ^ In addition to the full members, the WAC currently has 9 associate members that house one or two sports in the conference:

Of these, the three that most recently sponsored football were the Atlantic 10, MAAC, and WAC. The A-10 football league dissolved in 2006 with its members going to the Colonial Athletic Association. In addition, four A-10 schools (Dayton, Fordham, Duquesne, and Massachusetts) play football in a conference other than the new CAA, which still includes two full-time A-10 members (Rhode Island and Richmond). The MAAC stopped sponsoring football in 2007, after most of its members gradually stopped fielding teams. The only pre-2007 MAAC member that still sponsors football is Marist; Monmouth became the second full MAAC member with football upon its arrival in 2013. Marist plays in the Pioneer Football League, while Monmouth spent the 2013 season as an FCS independent before moving its football program into the Big South. The WAC dropped football at the end of the 2012 season, after a near-complete membership turnover that saw the conference stripped of all but two of its football-sponsoring members. The two remaining football-sponsoring schools, Idaho and New Mexico State, played the 2013 season as FBS independents before becoming football-only members of the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.

Division I in ice hockey

Some sports, most notably ice hockey[76] and men's volleyball, have completely different conference structures that operate outside of the normal NCAA sports conference structure.

As ice hockey is limited to a much smaller number of almost exclusively Northern schools, there is a completely different conference structure for teams.[76] These conferences feature a mix of teams that play their other sports in various Division I conferences, and even Division II and Division III schools. For most of the early 21st century, there was no correlation between a team's ice hockey affiliation and its affiliation for other sports, with the exception of the Ivy League's hockey-playing schools all being members of the ECAC. For example, before 2013, the Hockey East men's conference consisted of one ACC school, one Big East school, four schools from the America East, one from the A-10, one CAA school, and two schools from the D-II Northeast Ten Conference, while the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) both had some Big Ten representation, plus Division II and III schools. Also, the divisional structure is truncated, with the Division II championship abolished in 1999.

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference ceased its sponsorship of the sport in 2003,[77] with the remaining members forming Atlantic Hockey. For the next decade, no regular all-sport conferences sponsored ice hockey.

Starting with the 2013-14 season, Division I men's hockey experienced a major realignment. The Big Ten Conference began to sponsor ice hockey, and their institutions withdrew their membership from the WCHA and CCHA.[78] Additionally, six other schools from those conferences withdrew to form the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference at the same time.[79] The fallout from these moves led to the demise of the CCHA, two more teams entering the NCHC, and further membership turnover in the men's side of the WCHA.

Women's hockey was largely unaffected by this realignment. The Big Ten still has only four members with varsity women's hockey, with six teams required under conference bylaws for official sponsorship. As a result, the only changes in women's hockey affiliations in the 2010-14 period occurred in College Hockey America, which saw two schools drop the sport and three new members join.


Conference Nickname Founded Members Men Women
Atlantic Hockey AHC 1997 11 11 none
Big Ten Conference Big Ten, B1G 1896 [a] 7 7 none
College Hockey America CHA 1999 [b] 6 none 6
ECAC Hockey N/A 1962 12 12 12
Hockey East N/A 1984 11[c] 11 9[c]
Independents 2[d] 1 1
National Collegiate Hockey Conference NCHC 2011[e] 8 8 none
Western Collegiate Hockey Association WCHA 1951 15 10 7
  1. ^ Founded as an all-sports conference in 1896, but did not sponsor ice hockey until 2013-14.
  2. ^ Founded as a men's-only conference in 1999, with women's hockey added in 2002. Men's hockey was dropped after the 2009-10 season.
  3. ^ a b 12 total members and 10 women's members in 2018 with addition of Holy Cross; men's membership will not change.
  4. ^ The only independent programs in 2017-18 are the Arizona State men's and Sacred Heart women's teams.
  5. ^ Date of founding; play began in 2013-14.

Classification debate

In the early 21st century, a controversy arose in the NCAA over whether schools will continue to be allowed to have one showcased program in Division I with the remainder of the athletic program in a lower division, as is the case of, notably, Johns Hopkins University lacrosse as well as Colorado College and University of Alabama in Huntsville in ice hockey. This is an especially important issue in hockey, which has no Division II national championship and has several schools whose other athletic programs compete in Division II and Division III.

This controversy was resolved at the 2004 NCAA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee when the members supported Proposal 65-1, the amended legislation co-sponsored by Colorado College, Clarkson University, Hartwick College, the Johns Hopkins University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rutgers University-Newark, St. Lawrence University, and SUNY Oneonta.[80][81] Each school affected by this debate is allowed to grant financial aid to student-athletes who compete in Division I programs in one men's sport and one women's sport. It is still permitted for other schools to place one men's and one women's sport in Division I going forward, but they cannot offer scholarships without bringing the whole program into compliance with Division I rules. In addition, schools in Divisions II and III are allowed to "play up" in any sport that does not have a championship for the school's own division, but only Division II programs and any Division III programs covered by the exemption can offer scholarships in those sports.

The Division I programs at each of the eight "waiver schools" which were grandfathered with the passing of Proposal 65-1 were:

See also


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External links

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