The Power Five conferences are five athletic conferences which are considered to be the elite in college football in the United States. They are part of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of NCAA Division I, the highest level of collegiate football in the nation. The conferences are the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference (SEC). As of the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year, only two of the sixty-five power five conference schools have never won a National Championship in any sport, Kansas State of the Big 12 and Virginia Tech of the ACC. The term Power Five is not defined by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the origin of the term is unknown. It has been used in its current meaning since at least 2006. The term is also occasionally used in other college sports, although in many non-football sports, most notably basketball, anywhere from six to eight conferences may be considered "high-major".
The Power Five conferences make up five of the ten conferences in FBS; the other FBS conferences are informally known as the Group of Five (American Athletic Conference (the American or AAC), Conference USA, Mid-American Conference (MAC), Mountain West Conference, and the Sun Belt Conference). The FBS consists of the Power Five, the Group of Five, and a small number of independent schools (among those schools long-time independents Army and Notre Dame, along with other schools that typically stay independent for a few years before moving to a conference). Prior to the establishment of the College Football Playoff in 2014, the Power Five conferences, as well as the old Big East Conference, were called Automatic Qualifying (AQ) conferences, because the champion of each conference received an automatic berth in one of the five Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl games. The final college football season for which the BCS was in effect was the 2013 season. With the split of the old Big East in 2013, there are now five power conferences.
The conferences that comprise the Power Five are designated by the NCAA, individually by name, as "autonomy conferences". Section 126.96.36.199 of the NCAA Constitution grants such conferences autonomy "to permit the use of resources to advance the legitimate educational or athletics-related needs of student-athletes and for legislative changes that will otherwise enhance student-athlete well-being". Eleven areas of autonomy are listed, including promotional activities unrelated to athletics participation, pre-enrollment expenses and support, and financial aid.
The ten current FBS conferences are listed below. For the Power Five, the member universities of each conference are also listed.
* The University of Notre Dame is full voting member of the ACC, and although its football team does not participate in ACC football and competes as a football independent, it is obligated to play an average of five football games a year against ACC opponents. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame entered into a full ACC football schedule and was eligible for the conference's championship. Notre Dame fields 24 other varsity sports that compete in the ACC, as well as men's ice hockey which competes in the Big Ten Conference.
** The University of Oklahoma and University of Texas have announced they will leave the Big 12 Conference in 2025, and join the SEC. Brigham Young University, University of Cincinnati, University of Central Florida and University of Houston have accepted invitations to join the Big 12 in 2023.
With the establishment of the College Football Playoff in 2014, the term "automatic qualifying conference" is no longer in use, as the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has been discontinued. However, five of the six former AQ conferences are now known as the "Power Five conferences": the Big Ten Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Pac-12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The sixth AQ conference, the Big East, was split up during the 2010-2014 NCAA conference realignment, with five members joining P5 conferences, Notre Dame establishing a relationship with the ACC, the remaining non-football members forming the new Big East Conference, and the remaining members forming the American Athletic Conference. It is unknown where the term "Power Five Conference" originated from; it is not officially documented anywhere by the NCAA.
The American, as well as Conference USA (C-USA), the Mid-American Conference (MAC), the Mountain West Conference (MW), and the Sun Belt Conference are known as the "Group of Five" (sometimes called the G5).
The FBS also has seven independent schools as of the upcoming 2021 season: Notre Dame, Army, BYU, Liberty, New Mexico State, UConn, and UMass. Notre Dame is currently considered equal to the Power Five schools, being a full (with the exception of football) member of the ACC with an annual five-game football scheduling agreement with that conference; Notre Dame also has its own national television contract and its own arrangement for access to the CFP-affiliated bowl games should it meet stated competitive criteria. All Power Five leagues that require their members to schedule at least one Power Five team in nonconference play (currently the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Pac-12) consider Notre Dame to be a Power Five opponent for such purposes. The ACC, Big Ten, and SEC also count BYU as a Power Five opponent for scheduling purposes, and the Big Ten and SEC count Army as well.
Teams from the Power Five and the Group of Five play each other during the season, and sometimes also play against FCS teams. However, many coaches of Power Five schools have argued that Power Five schools should only be allowed to schedule games against other Power Five schools. In 2014, the NCAA gave the Power Five conferences greater autonomy in regard to issues such as stipends and recruiting rules. Some Power Five conferences, including the Big Ten and SEC, require their teams to play at least one non-conference P5 opponent each season.
The College Football Playoff rotates among six bowl games, with two bowl games used as each year as the national semi-finals, and four other bowls matching the remaining top teams in the country. These six bowl games are collectively known as the "New Year's Six" bowl games. Conference champions from the Power Five are not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and at least one will always be left out of the playoffs. Group of Five teams, while not ineligible by any rule, have not yet been ranked higher than #8 in the final CFP rankings (UCF in 2018), with selectors claiming these teams have weaker schedules.
Each conference champion from the Power Five and the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion is guaranteed a spot in a New Year's Six Bowl. Every year, a non-Power Five team is guaranteed one bid to the New Year's Six bowls; however, so far no additional bids beyond that one have been granted.
|2014||2014 Fiesta Bowl||Boise State (MW)||38||Arizona (Pac-12)||30|
|2015||2015 Peach Bowl||Houston (American)||38||Florida State (ACC)||24|
|2016||2017 Cotton Bowl||Wisconsin (Big Ten)||24||Western Michigan (MAC)||16|
|2017||2018 Peach Bowl||UCF (American)||34||Auburn (SEC)||27|
|2018||2019 Fiesta Bowl||LSU (SEC)||40||UCF (American)||32|
|2019||2019 Cotton Bowl||Penn State (Big Ten)||53||Memphis (American)||39|
|2020||2021 Peach Bowl||Georgia (SEC)||24||Cincinnati (American)||21|
|March Madness||CBS, Turner||$8.8bn ($1.1bn)|
|College Football Playoff||ESPN||$5.6bn ($470m)|
|Pac-12 Conference (Pac-12)||Fox, ESPN||$3.0bn ($250m)|
|Big Ten Conference (Big Ten)||Fox, ESPN||$2.6bn ($440m)|||
|Big 12 Conference (Big 12)||Fox, ESPN||$2.6bn ($200m)|
|Southeastern Conference (SEC)||ESPN, CBS||$2.25bn ($55m)[note 1]|
|Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)||ESPN||$1.86bn ($155m)|
The FBS has undergone several waves of realignment since the 1990s, when the Bowl Coalition was established. The first realignment occurred in the 1990s, and resulted in the demise of the Southwest Conference, which was a member of the Bowl Coalition and at times considered equal to some of the Power Five conferences; as well as many schools giving up independent status to join conferences. In the early 1990s, Arkansas left the Southwest Conference for the SEC; the original Big East Conference began sponsoring football, with eight former football independents joining either for all sports or football only; and other major independents such as Florida State (to the ACC), Penn State (to the Big Ten), and South Carolina (to the SEC) joined major conferences. In the 1996 NCAA conference realignment, the SWC dissolved, and four Texas teams from that conference joined with the Big 8 schools to form the Big 12 Conference.
During another phase of realignment in 2005, three schools (Boston College, Miami-FL and Virginia Tech) jumped from the Big East to the ACC, and Temple also left the conference (before eventually returning in 2013). The Big East responded by adding former basketball-only member Connecticut and three schools from C-USA.
College football underwent another major conference realignment from 2010 to 2014, as the Big Ten and Pac-10 sought to become large enough to stage championship games. Members of the original Big East left the conference to join the Big 12, Big Ten, and ACC. The Big 12 lost members to the SEC, the Pac-12, and the Big Ten, while the Big Ten also gained one former ACC member. The remaining members of the Big East split into two conferences: the American Athletic Conference (the American) and a new Big East Conference that does not sponsor football (only three of the original 10 members of the current Big East sponsor football, all at the second-tier Division I FCS level). The American, the football successor to the Big East, is no longer considered a power conference. Despite the major conference realignment from 2010 to 2014, relatively few schools dropped out of or joined the ranks of the power conferences. Two of the three non-AQ schools that had appeared in multiple BCS bowls left the Mountain West Conference and joined a power conference, as Utah joined the Pac-12 and TCU joined the Big 12. Former Big East members Temple, Cincinnati, and South Florida are all now part of The American; another former Big East member, UConn, left American Conference football after the 2019 season to become an FBS independent while otherwise joining the current Big East. Of these, only Temple was a founding member of the Big East in football.
The most recent major realignment is currently ongoing. During a period of less than two months in 2021, the Big 12 both gained and lost members. First, on July 30, the conference lost two of its mainstays when Oklahoma and Texas announced that they would leave for the SEC no later than 2025. The Big 12 reloaded by announcing four new members on September 10, with American members Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF plus FBS independent BYU joining no later than 2024.
At present, six of the nine former members of the Southwest Conference are in Power Five conferences: Arkansas and Texas A&M are members of the SEC, while TCU, Baylor, Texas, and Texas Tech are members of the Big 12. Houston and SMU are members of the American, with Houston now set to join the Big 12 in the near future, while Rice is a member of Conference USA.
From 1998 to 2013, the top teams in Division I FBS played in the BCS. It consisted of four or five bowl games, with a national championship game either rotating among the bowl sites (prior to the 2006 season) or played as a separate game. The BCS succeeded two other systems that were put in place after the 1991 season in order to ensure that one national champion could be crowned at the end of the season. The original Bowl Coalition consisted of the SEC, the Big Eight Conference (later succeeded by the Big 12), the Southwest Conference (SWC), the ACC, the Big East, and Notre Dame. The BCS added the Pac-10 (now known as the Pac-12) and the Big Ten, while the SWC dissolved in 1996. In 2013, the Big East split into two conferences, and its successor, the American Athletic Conference (The American), took the Big East's place for the 2013 season.
In addition to creating a national championship game, the BCS also created a set format for other major bowls. After the two top teams in the BCS rankings were matched up in the BCS National Championship Game, the other three or (after the 2005 season) four bowls selected other top teams. The term "BCS conference" was used by many fans to refer to one of the six conferences whose champions received an automatic berth in one of the five BCS bowl games, although the BCS itself used the term "automatic qualifying conference" (AQ conference). While the number of AQ conferences was technically variable, the BCS always had six AQ conferences since its inception in 1998. The Mountain West Conference (MW) was perhaps the closest of the other conferences to getting AQ status, but its request for AQ status was denied in 2012. Each of the bowls had a historic link with one or more of the six BCS conferences with the exception of the former Big East, and the bowl games selected a team from each of these conferences if it was eligible for a BCS bowl and not playing in the national title game. The conferences included in this group, with their traditional bowl links, were:
Notre Dame is an independent in football, but was a founding member of the BCS. Because of the "Notre Dame rule", it had guaranteed access to the BCS bowls when it met certain defined performance criteria.
Map of automatic qualifying conference schools in 2013
The other five conferences (listed below) were non-AQ conferences because they did not receive an annual automatic bid to a BCS bowl game. The highest ranked champion of any non-AQ conference received an AQ bid if they ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS poll or ranked in the top 16 and higher than a champion of an AQ conference.
The conferences in this group were:
Ten "non-AQ" teams appeared in the nine following BCS games, with an overall record of 5-3:
Of these appearances, all were via automatic qualifying bids, except Boise State's participation in the highly controversial 2010 Fiesta Bowl in which the Broncos were selected via at-large bid and played fellow BCS Buster TCU.
The following table lists the number of times that a member of each conference appeared in a New Year's Six bowl game or a BCS bowl game. For the 1998 to 2005 seasons there were four such games, from 2006 to 2013 there were five such games. Starting in 2014 there are six CFP associated bowl games (not including the national championship game) known as the New Year's Six. A * indicates a team from that conference won the national championship, while a ^ indicates a team from that conference was the runner-up in the national championship game.
|Season||ACC||Big 12||Big Ten||Pac-12||SEC||ND||Big East||Others|
The Power Five conferences sponsor other sports in addition to football.
|Sport||ACC||Big 12||Big Ten||Pac-12||SEC||Total|
|Football||14 (1)||10||14||12||14||64 (65)|
|Soccer||12||1||9||5 1||2||26 (30)|
|Lacrosse||5||--||5 1||1||--||10 (12)|
|Ice hockey||2||--||6*||1||--||7 (10)|
|Wrestling[a]||6||4 8||14||3 3||1||27 (39)|
|Water polo||--||--||--||4||--||0 (4)|
|Sport||ACC||Big 12||Big Ten||Pac-12||SEC||Total|
|Beach volleyball||1||1||1||9||2||9 (14)|
|Field hockey||7||--||9||2||--||16 (18)|
|Lacrosse||8[b]||--||6 1||6||2||20 (23)|
|Water polo||--||--||2||5||--||0 (7)|
Numbers in italics denote special exceptions:
Men's Ice Hockey:
Men's Volleyball: As of the most recent 2021 NCAA men's volleyball season (2020-21 school year), 24 Division I members sponsor varsity men's volleyball, with a large majority being mid-major programs. In fact, D-I men's volleyball schools are outnumbered by Division II schools; members of both divisions compete under identical scholarship limits for a single national championship. Before 2012, this championship was also open to Division III schools, but explosive growth in the sport at that level in the 21st century led to the creation of a separate D-III championship. The only D-I all-sports league to sponsor the sport is the mid-major Big West Conference. With that in mind, the five Power Five schools with men's volleyball programs are aligned as follows:
Men's Water Polo: Only 25 Division I members sponsor varsity men's water polo. As with men's volleyball, a large majority of the D-I schools that sponsor the sport are mid-major programs. The NCAA conducts a single national championship open to all member schools, regardless of division.
Beach Volleyball: A women-only sport at the NCAA level, beach volleyball is sponsored by only one Power Five conference, namely the Pac-12. Nine of that conference's schools sponsor the sport (with the exceptions being Colorado, Oregon State, and Washington State). Other Power Five schools that sponsor the sport are aligned as follows:
Women's Field Hockey:
Women's Ice Hockey:
Women's Water Polo: Only 33 Division I members sponsor varsity women's water polo. As with men's water polo, a large majority of the D-I schools that sponsor the sport are mid-major programs. The NCAA conducts a single national championship open to all member schools, regardless of division.
The Power 5 refers to five conferences, including the SEC, considered the elite of collegiate football.