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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | August 3, 2022

Making sense of FCS conference realignment

North Dakota State dominates Montana State, secures 9th FCS title

It's been a wild offseason in FCS football, with teams and conferences changing more than ever. There are 130 total FCS teams and a handful will be playing in a new conference in 2022 and beyond, but what does it all mean?

Here's a breakdown of the many changes to the FCS football landscape in the upcoming seasons amid major conference realignment.

All realignment news is updated as of August 3, 2022.

Moving from the FCS

The following teams are moving from the FCS to the FBS level:

School FCS Conference FBS Conference
James Madison CAA Sun Belt
Jacksonville State ASUN Conference USA
Sam Houston WAC Conference USA

In 2022, James Madison will officially leave for the FBS, playing as an independent. It will join the Sun Belt in 2023.

In 2023, both Sam Houston and Jacksonville State will be FBS programs. In 2022, Sam Houston and Jacksonville State will begin their FBS transition and are ineligible for postseason play, but will remain in the WAC and ASUN conferences, respectively. 

Among the teams transitioning to FBS are three championships and eight championship appearances, including 54 percent of all championship appearances from teams not named North Dakota State since 2011.

🔮: Way-too-early 2022 FCS playoff bracket predictions

New to FCS

So we know who's out, but here's who's joining the FCS. Here are the programs making the jump to the Championship Subdivision:

School DII Conference FCS Conference
Texas A&M-Commerce LSC Southland
Lindenwood GLVC OVC
Stonehill NE10 NEC

Texas A&M-Commerce moves up from Division II to the Southland. The former DII power won the DII title in 2017. Lindenwood joined the NCAA in 2012 at the Division II level and makes the move to the FCS a decade later. Stonehill was a charter member of the NE10.

UP NEXT: 9 potential breakout FCS teams in the 2022 season

Conference outlook

Before we get into the shifts within the conferences, let's first look at what the FCS conferences are. Here are all of the FCS conferences

  • ASUN
  • Big Sky
  • Big South
  • CAA
  • Ivy
  • MEAC
  • MVFC
  • NEC
  • OVC
  • Patriot
  • Pioneer
  • SoCon
  • Southland
  • SWAC
  • WAC

The importance of conferences

Conferences are important at the FCS level because conference winners* receive automatic bids to the 24-team FCS playoffs. However, for a conference to be eligible for an automatic bid, it needs to have a minimum of six eligible teams.

*The SWAC, MEAC and Ivy League do not send their conference champions to the FCS playoffs.

LOOKING AHEAD: 16 FCS transfers who could have the biggest potential impact in 2022

Changes within the FCS in 2022

Kennesaw State and North Alabama leave Big South, join ASUN

Entering the 2021 season, we knew that Kennesaw State and North Alabama would be playing their final seasons in the conference. They'll head to the ASUN in 2022, with Kennesaw State taking the 2021 Big South title with it.

Austin Peay leaves OVC, joins ASUN

Austin Peay leaves the OVC for a revamped ASUN in 2022.

UIW spurns WAC, stays in Southland

In November of 2021, UIW accepted a July 1, 2022 invitation to join the WAC. However, UIW reversed that decision June 24, 2022 — exactly one week before the conference switch — instead deciding to remain in the Southland.

Lamar leaves WAC, joins Southland... earlier than expected

Lamar will be rejoining the Southland in 2022, a move coming a year earlier than previously announced. The decision to join in 2022 came on July 11, 2022, about a month and a half before the 2022 FCS season is set to begin.

Lamar, a founding member of the Southland, originally announced its decision to rejoin the conference in 2023 on April 8, 2022. Regardless, the move comes after Lamar left the Southland for the WAC in 2021.

Southern Utah leaves Big Sky, joins WAC

The WAC is revitalized and Southern Utah will join the conference in 2022. Southern Utah joins Utah Tech as the northernmost programs in the conference.

Monmouth leaves Big South, joins CAA

After missing out on another Big South football title, Monmouth departs the conference for the CAA in 2022. 

Hampton leaves Big South, joins CAA

Four years after Hampton made its oft-debated move to leave the MEAC and join the Big South, the Pirates are making another switch. Hampton departs its former conference for the CAA in 2022. The Virginia-based HBCU now has a regional conference rival, with William & Mary only minutes away in the 757.

Stony Brook joins the CAA full time

Yes, Stony Brook was already a member of the CAA for football. But its decision to join the conference in every sport cannot be ignored.

Bryant leaves NEC, joins Big South

Bryant leaves the NEC to join the Big South as an associate football member. The comes after Big South lost multiple members. Bryant gives the Big South six football teams in 2022.

Changes within the FCS in 2023 and beyond 

Murray State leaves OVC, joins MVFC

Murray State has announced it's leaving the OVC for the Missouri Valley in all sports. However, the Missouri Valley doesn't sponsor football. Instead many Missouri Valley programs compete in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, a separate entity. 

In 2023, Murray State will join the MVFC after playing one final season in the OVC in 2022.

North Carolina A&T leaves Big South, joins CAA

For the second time in two seasons, North Carolina A&T has changed conferences. After joining the Big South in 2021, the Aggies are leaving for the CAA. North Carolina A&T was a power in the all-HBCU conference MEAC before struggling in a 5-6 2021 season. The Aggies will try and regain their success in the CAA, officially joining the conference in football in 2023.

Campbell leaves Big South, joins CAA

Campbell announced on August 3, 2022 that it would be leaving the Big South to join the CAA in 2023. The move becomes official July 1, 2023 and will bring the CAA to 14 member schools and 15 football schools. Campbell becomes the latest charter member to leave the Big South.

Texas-Rio Grande Valley joins WAC

Come 2025, UTRGV will introduce its football program, joining the WAC at the FCS level. 

PORTAL: These FCS teams have been most active in the transfer portal this offseason

Conferences on the edge

Given the NCAA rule requiring six eligible teams to qualify for an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, a few conferences are teetering the line. While the NCAA does grant a two-year grace period for conferences to raise membership numbers back to minimum requirements, here are the conferences with six or fewer FCS teams in the future.

ASUN

Once Jacksonville State officially goes to the FBS, the ASUN will be left with five teams in 2023 — Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay, Kennesaw State and North Alabama remain. 

Big South

The Big South has gone through a gauntlet of departures recently, with seven schools departing in the last two years. In 2022, the Big South will have six teams thanks to Bryant's addition, just enough for an auto-bid. However, that number drops to four teams in 2023 when North Carolina A&T and Campbell depart — only Bryant, Robert Morris, Charleston Southern, and Gardner-Webb remain. 

MEAC

As mentioned before, the MEAC doesn't send its conference champion to the FCS playoffs — instead playing in the Celebration Bowl — so it doesn't have to worry about falling below the auto-bid mark. However, the conference did see Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M leave in 2021, leaving the conference with six teams.

OVC

The loss of Austin Peay and Murray State will drop the OVC to six teams in the future — ​​UT Martin, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Eastern Illinois are the holdovers, while FCS newcomer Lindenwood joins. However, the conference will have five playoff-eligible teams during the 2023-2025 seasons since Lindenwood won't be postseason eligible until 2026.

WAC

In 2022, the WAC will be down to three playoff-eligible teams since Sam Houston is transitioning to the FBS and Utah Tech and Tarleton are still in the FCS transition process. 

However, Utah Tech and Tarleton's transition status will eventually end, giving the conference five playoff-eligible teams in 2024. In 2025, UTRGV will have joined the conference, bringing the total number of football-playing schools to six. 

Conference associations

To maintain automatic-qualifying bids, conferences have initiated associations between each other to remain eligible. We saw the ASUN and WAC merge to form the AQ7 in 2021, but that was only a one-year partnership at the time. Here's some of the recent moves announced:

Southland-OVC

The Southland and OVC announced a scheduling alliance for non-conference games in 2022 and 2023, but that alliance does not have playoff implications.

Big South-OVC

The Big South and OVC have an association set for 2023. The two conferences will share one bid among the two conferences. The association between the two conference has an initial term of at least four years, going through the 2026 season. Together, the conferences will have 9 playoff-eligible teams from 2023-2025 and 10 playoff-eligible teams in 2026.

ASUN-WAC

The ASUN and WAC renewed their football alliance for the 2022 season. The two conferences will play schedules and championships among their own members. The ASUN and WAC will share one automatic qualifying bid, going to one of the two conference champions. The policy to govern who receives the automatic playoff bid has yet to be decided.

Together, the conferences will have eight playoff-eligible teams in 2022 and 2023 and 10 playoff-eligible teams in 2024.

More

Outside of the mergers, another notable happening during the most recent wave of conference realignment occurred when the SoCon doubled its exit fee for members to $2 million.

The FCS is ever-changing as more teams are making moves in the wave of conference realignment. It all makes for an exciting future in the sport.

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