football-fcs flag

Daniel Wilco | | January 13, 2020

FCS Championship: Everything you need to know

North Dakota State wins the FCS Championship, 28-20

Here is everything you need to know about the FCS championship: the tournament to decide the national champion in the Football Championship Subdivision of NCAA Division I football:

2019-20 FCS CHAMPIONSHIP: North Dakota State defeats James Madison | See the final bracket

What is the difference between the FCS and FBS?

Unlike in all other NCAA sports, NCAA Division I football is split into two divisions. This split happened in 1978, when Division I-A and Division I-AA were created. In 2006, those subdivisions were renamed. The higher level, Division I-A, became the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the lower level, Division I-AA, became the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

The main differences between the two are the number of full scholarships teams can give to their players (85 in FBS, 63 in FCS) and postseason format:

  • FBS teams currently vie for the opportunity to play in the 4-team College Football Playoff (which was created in 2014), with postseason-eligible teams that don’t make the cut playing in one-off bowl games.
  • FCS teams have always played in a single-elimination bracket tournament (similar to most other NCAA sports). Since 2013, the field for that tournament has been 24 teams.

When did the FCS start?

The FCS first began as Division I-AA in 1978, but was renamed the FCS in 2006. 

The first Division I-AA championship was a four-team tournament in 1978, where Florida A&M defeated Massachusetts 35-28 in the title game.

How has the FCS changed since 1978?

Currently, the FCS consists of 13 conferences comprised of 125 teams.

The championship has evolved quite a bit in the past few decades. 

In 1981, the playoff was expanded to eight teams. In 1982, it expanded to 12 teams. It expanded again in 1986 to 16. It stayed that size until 2010, when the field was expanded again to 20 teams, and the championship location moved to Frisco, Texas, where it has stayed since. 

In 2013, the field was expanded to its current format of 24 teams.

How North Dakota State won its eighth FCS title in nine years

How do teams get into the FCS playoffs?

The field of 24 is split into two different qualifiers: 10 automatic and 14 at-large.

The automatic qualifiers are the teams that win one of the 10 conferences that receive automatic bids. The at-large qualifiers are selected by the FCS Playoff Selection Committee.

What does the Selection Committee look at in its process?

For information on selecting, seeding, and bracketing teams, the committee may consider comparative data of individual teams, including but not limited to:

  • Overall record
  • Record against Division I opponents (an institution with fewer than six Division I wins may place that team in jeopardy of not being selected)
  • Record against opponents from other AQ conferences
  • Record against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents
  • Head-to-head record
  • Record against common opponents
  • NCAA Simple Rating System (NCAA SRS) Data
  • FCS Coaches Poll
  • Input from regional advisory committees

How does seeding for the FCS playoff work?

Once the full field of 24 teams is completed, the committee seeds the top eight teams. This begins with committee members recommending teams for the top-eight seed pool. A team must receive at least 30 percent of the votes to be included in the seed pool. Once this is done, each committee member ranks the teams in the seed pool via poll vote. The committee reviews and discusses this preliminary ranking before voting again. This final vote produces the eight seeded teams, in order.

WALTER PAYTON AWARD: Complete history of the annual FCS top offensive honor

The seeded teams receive a first-round bye in the tournament. The remaining 16 teams play first-round games and are paired according to geographic proximity and then placed in the bracket according to geographic proximity to the top eight seeds.

Teams cannot travel more than 400 miles via ground, and teams from the same conference that played each other during the regular season will not be paired for first-round games.

Take a look inside the FCS Championship

How does the FCS playoff work?

The tournament progresses in a single-elimination bracket. Of the 24 teams in the tournament, the top eight receive a first-round bye. The other 16 play in a first-round game. Then, the remaining 16 teams play in four rounds that culminate with a championship in Frisco, TX.

Here is the final 2019 bracket, for example:

2019 FCS bracket

Who has won the most FCS championships?

Since 1978, 21 different teams have won an FCS championship, but none have won more than North Dakota State. The Bison didn’t win their first title until 2011, but they have claimed eight of the nine available championships since, including five in a row from 2011 to 2015.

FCS RECORDS: Schools with the most FCS football national championships

Here is who has won every FCS championship since the first in 1978:

2019 North Dakota State Matt Entz 28-20 James Madison Frisco, Texas
2018 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 38-24 Eastern Washington Frisco, Texas
2017 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 17-13 James Madison Frisco, Texas
2016 James Madison Mike Houston 28-14 Youngstown State Frisco, Texas
2015 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 37-10 Jacksonville State Frisco, Texas
2014 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 29-27 Illinois State Frisco, Texas
2013 North Dakota State Craig Bohl 35-7 Towson Frisco, Texas
2012 North Dakota State Craig Bohl 39-13 Sam Houston State Frisco, Texas
2011 North Dakota State Craig Bohl 17-6 Sam Houston State Frisco, Texas
2010 Eastern Washington Beau Baldwin 20-19 Delaware Frisco, Texas
2009 Villanova Andy Talley 23-21 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
2008 Richmond Mike London 24-7 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
2007 Appalachian State Jerry Moore 49-21 Delaware Chattanooga, Tenn.
2006 Appalachian State Jerry Moore 28-17 Massachusetts Chattanooga, Tenn.
2005 Appalachian State Jerry Moore 21-16 UNI Chattanooga, Tenn.
2004 James Madison Mickey Matthews 31-21 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
2003 Delaware K.C. Keeler 40-0 Colgate Chattanooga, Tenn.
2002 Western Kentucky Jack Harbaugh 34-14 McNeese State Chattanooga, Tenn.
2001 Montana Joe Glenn 13-6 Furman Chattanooga, Tenn.
2000 Georgia Southern Paul Johnson 27-25 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
1999 Georgia Southern Paul Johnson 59-24 Youngstown State Chattanooga, Tenn.
1998 Massachusetts Mark Whipple 55-43 Georgia Southern Chattanooga, Tenn.
1997 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 10-9 McNeese State Chattanooga, Tenn.
1996 Marshall Bob Pruett 49-29 Montana Huntington, W.Va.
1995 Montana Don Read 22-20 Marshall Huntington, W.Va.
1994 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 28-14 Boise State Huntington, W.Va.
1993 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 17-5 Marshall Huntington, W.Va.
1992 Marshall Jim Donnan 31-28 Youngstown State Huntington, W.Va.
1991 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 25-17 Marshall Statesboro, Ga.
1990 Georgia Southern Tim Stowers 36-13 Nevada Statesboro, Ga.
1989 Georgia Southern Erk Russell 37-34 Stephen F. Austin * Statesboro, Ga.
1988 Furman Jimmy Satterfield 17-12 Georgia Southern Pocatello, Idaho
1987 Louisiana-Monroe Pat Collins 43-42 Marshall Pocatello, Idaho
1986 Georgia Southern Erk Russell 48-21 Arkansas State Tacoma, Wash.
1985 Georgia Southern Erk Russell 44-42 Furman Tacoma, Wash.
1984 Montana State Dave Arnold 19-6 Louisiana Tech Charleston, S.C.
1983 Southern Illinois Rey Dempsey 43-7 Western Carolina Charleston, S.C.
1982 Eastern Kentucky Roy Kidd 17-14 Delaware Wichita Falls, Texas
1981 Idaho State Dave Kragthorpe 34-23 Eastern Kentucky Wichita Falls, Texas
1980 Boise State Jim Criner 31-29 Eastern Kentucky Sacramento, Calif.
1979 Eastern Kentucky Roy Kidd 30-7 Lehigh Orlando, Fla.
1978 Florida A&M Ruby Hubbard 35-28 Massachusetts Wichita Falls, Texas

* -- Stephen F. Austin's participation in 1989 championship vacated.

Teams ranked No. 1 the most times in the College Football Playoff rankings

Here's a look at data when it comes to being ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Undefeated college football teams in 2023

We're following all the action as we track all the remaining undefeated college football teams in the FBS level in the 2023 season.

All-HBCU: The top HBCU football players, by position, from the 2023 season

These are the top players, by position, from the 2023 HBCU football season.

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from and our partners