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Wayne Cavadi | | December 17, 2022

How the DII football championship works: History and FAQs

Ferris State wins the 2021 DII football championship in dominant fashion

Every September, the road to McKinney, Texas for the DII football championship begins for every team, but only two reach the pinnacle in December. Here's a look at how the DII football championship tournament works. 

2022 DII FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: How Ferris State won the 2022 title

When did the DII football championship begin?

The DII football championship as we know it officially began in 1973. Prior to that, DII football was known as the NCAA College Division and champions were named by the United Press International and Associated Press polls. From 1958 to 1972, six teams — Ohio, Pittsburg State, Arkansas State, and North Dakota State, San Diego State, and Delaware twice apiece — were unanimous national champions.

The inaugural DII football championship in 1973 was held in Sacramento, California. Louisiana Tech defeated Western Kentucky 34-0.

How has the DII football championship changed since 1973?

For the most part, the tournament hasn’t changed. It has long been a single-elimination tournament, pitting the best of DII football against each other for the chance to claim the national championship.

What has changed is the field. The original DII football championship consisted of eight teams, which lasted 15 years until eight more teams were added in 1988. In 2004, the field again expanded from 16 to 24, and in 2016 it added four more teams to get to the current 28-team format we see today.

Back-to-back last-second TDs have Shepherd, miraculously, in DII football semis

How do teams get into the NCAA DII tournament?

Unlike most other DII sports that have eight regions, DII football is broken down into four Super Regions. Since four conferences make up each Super Region, there are no automatic qualifiers in the DII football championship, another trait unique to DII football compared to other DII tournaments.

Here’s a breakdown of the Super Regions:

Super Region Conferences
Super Region 1 G-MAC, MEC, NE10, PSAC, Independents (Bluefield State, Post)
Super Region 2 CIAA, GSC, SAC, SIAC
Super Region 3 GAC, GLIAC, GLVC, MIAA
Super Region 4 LSC, NSIC, RMAC

What is the DII football selection process?

Since there are no automatic bids in the DII football championship, every team in the four Super Regions that is DII eligible can qualify for the tournament. The NCAA DII football national committee provides three Super Regional rankings over the final three weeks of the season, showing the top 10 teams from each region. Though it isn’t an exact measure of who will make up the final bracket, it helps to shine a light on those in contention. 

Originally, the top seven seeds in each regional ranking advance to the DII football championship tournament. The top seed in each of the four Super Regions gets a first-round bye. Once the teams reach the national semifinals, the four teams are seeded No. 1 through No. 4.

In 2019, the DII football committee changed the seeding process. The changes were in the No. 5-7 seeds, where the committee has the flexibility to move those teams out of region or in-region to a closer destination to cut down on flights. For example, the traditional No. 2 vs. 7 and No. 4 vs. 5 regional matchups could become No. 2 vs. 5 and No. 4 vs. 7 if the travel plans make more sense. For more on those changes, click here for our interview with the committee

What does the DII football bracket look like?

The current DII football championship tournament has three first-round games in each Super Region, normally played at the higher-seeded school’s home field. The top seed in each Super Region gets a bye to the second round. The national quarterfinals, or what essentially comes down to the Super Region championship, is next before the seeding takes place in the semifinals.

Here’s a look at how Ferris State won the 2021 national championship. DII football championship bracket.

DII football championship history

A lot has changed in the DII football landscape since that 1973 DII football championship. Many of those early champions went on to find success in both the FBS and FCS with three — North Dakota State, Montana State and Delaware — winning titles at the FCS level.

DII TITLE TOWN? Check out the programs with the most DII football championships

The last few years have seen a lot of Gulf South Conference representation. Ferris State defeated Valdosta State in 2021 in rematch of the 2018 national championship game. West Florida won its first title in 2019, which was its second trip to the title game since 2017. North Alabama lost the championship game in 2016 before jumping to the FCS marking five-straight years of GSC dominance. However, the record of six titles, held by Northwest Missouri State, stays in the MIAA.

Here’s a list of all the DII football championship finals since 1973:

2022 Ferris State Tony Annese 41-14 Colorado School of Mines McKinney, Tx.
2021  Ferris State Tony Annese 58-17 Valdosta State McKinney, Tx. 
2020 Canceled - Covid-19        
2019 West Florida Pete Shinnick 48-40 Minnesota State  McKinney, Tex.
2018 Valdosta State Kerwin Bell 49-47 Ferris State McKinney, Tex.
2017 Texas A&M-Commerce Colby Carthel 37-27 West Florida Kansas City, Kan.
2016 Northwest Missouri State Adam Dorrel 29-3 North Alabama Kansas City, Kan.
2015 Northwest Missouri State Adam Dorrel 34-7 Shepherd Kansas City, Kan.
2014 Colorado State-Pueblo John Wristen 13-0 Minnesota State-Mankato Kansas City, Kan.
2013 Northwest Missouri State Adam Dorrel 43-28 Lenoir-Rhyne Florence, Ala.
2012 Valdosta State David Dean 35-7 Winston-Salem State Florence, Ala.
2011 Pittsburg State Tim Beck 35-21 Wayne State (Mich.) Florence, Ala.
2010 Minnesota-Duluth Bob Nielson 20-17 Delta State Florence, Ala.
2009 Northwest Missouri State Mel Tjeersdma 30-23 Grand Valley State Florence, Ala.
2008 Minnesota-Duluth Bob Nielson 21-14 Northwest Missouri State Florence, Ala.
2007 Valdosta State David Dean 25-20 Northwest Missouri State Florence, Ala.
2006 Grand Valley State Chuck Martin 17-14 Northwest Missouri State Florence, Ala.
2005 Grand Valley State Chuck Martin 21-17 Northwest Missouri State Florence, Ala.
2004 Valdosta State Christ Hatcher 36-31 Pittsburg State Florence, Ala.
2003 Grand Valley State Brian Kelly 10-3 North Dakota Florence, Ala.
2002 Grand Valley State Brian Kelly 31-24 Valdosta State Florence, Ala.
2001 North Dakota Dale Lennon 17-14 Grand Valley State Florence, Ala.
2000 Delta State Steve Campbell 63-34 Bloomsburg Florence, Ala.
1999 Northwest Missouri State Mel Tjeersdma 58-52 (4ot) Carson-Newman Florence, Ala.
1998 Northwest Missouri State Mel Tjeersdma 24-6 Carson-Newman Florence, Ala.
1997 Northern Colorado Joe Glenn 51-0 New Haven Florence, Ala.
1996 Northern Colorado Joe Glenn 23-14 Carson-Newman Florence, Ala.
1995 North Alabama Bobby Wallace 27-7 Pittsburg State Florence, Ala.
1994 North Alabama Bobby Wallace 16-10 Texas A&M-Kingsville Florence, Ala.
1993 North Alabama Bobby Wallace 41-34 Indiana (Pa.) Florence, Ala.
1992 Jacksonville State Bill Burgess 17-13 Pittsburg State Florence, Ala.
1991 Pittsburg State Chuck Broyles 23-6 Jacksonville State Florence, Ala.
1990 North Dakota State Rocky Hager 51-11 Indiana (Pa.) Florence, Ala.
1989 *Mississippi College John Williams 3-0 Jacksonville State Florence, Ala.
1988 North Dakota State Rocky Hager 35-21 Portland State Florence, Ala.
1987 Troy Rick Rhoades 31-17 Portland State Florence, Ala.
1986 North Dakota State Earle Solomonson 27-7 South Dakota Florence, Ala.
1985 North Dakota State Earle Solomonson 35-7 North Alabama McAllen, Texas
1984 Troy Chan Gailey 18-17 North Dakota State McAllen, Texas
1983 North Dakota State Don Morton 41-21 Central State (Ohio) McAllen, Texas
1982 Texas State Jim Wacker 34-9 UC Davis McAllen, Texas
1981 Texas State Jim Wacker 42-13 North Dakota State McAllen, Texas
1980 Cal Poly Joe Harper 21-13 Eastern Illinois Albuquerque, N.M.
1979 Delaware Tubby Raymond 38-21 Youngstown State Albuquerque, N.M.
1978 Eastern Illinois Darrell Mudra 10-9 Delaware Longview, Texas
1977 Lehigh John Whitehead 33-0 Jacksonville State Wichita Falls, Texas
1976 Montana State Sonny Holland 24-13 Akron Wichita Falls, Texas
1975 Northern Michigan Gil Krueger 16-14 Western Kentucky Sacramento, Calif.
1974 Central Michigan Roy Kramer 54-14 Delaware Sacramento, Calif.
1973 Louisiana Tech Maxie Lambright 34-0 Western Kentucky Sacramento, Calif.

2022 DII football championship date and location

The 2022 DII football championship returns to McKinney ISD Stadium in McKinney after its debut in the 2018 season. The championship game is scheduled for Dec. 17, 2022.

FUTURE DII CHAMPS: The DII football championship returns to McKinney

McKinney marks the ninth host site for the DII football championship, and the fourth stadium in Texas to have the honors. The title game was a bit nomadic in its early days, before settling in Florence, Alabama for a 28-year run between 1986 to 2013. It spent three years in Sacramento to start before heading to Wichita Falls, Texas for two seasons. After one year in Longview, Texas it headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico for two years, until returning to Texas — this time McAllen — for a five-year run. Then it was on to Florence, followed by a four-year run in Kansas City, Kansas before returning to Texas once again. 

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