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 2023 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.
This article was originally published before the 2022 season. All realignment news is updated as of September 10, 2023.
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|
|Kennesaw State||ASUN||Conference USA|
In 2022, James Madison will officially leave for the FBS, joining the Sun Belt.
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.
In 2024, Kennesaw State will be leaving for the FBS. The Owls will begin their FBS transition in 2023 and will be ineligible for postseason play.
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.
New to FCS
So we know who's out, but here's who's joining the FCS. Here are the programs that made the jump to the Championship Subdivision in 2022:
|School||DII Conference||FCS Conference|
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.
In 2024, West Georgia will join the FCS, joining the ASUN conference.
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
- Big Sky
- Big South
+The ASUN and WAC are merging in 2023 to form a football-only conference. More info below
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.
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.
Western Illinois leaves MVFC, joins OVC
Western Illinois announced on May 12, 2023 that it will be leaving the Missouri Valley Football Conference to join the Ohio Valley Conference in 2024. The Leathernecks will join the OVC in all sports outside of football beginning July 2023, with the football program joining the new conference a year later.
Bryant leaves Big South, joins CAA
Bryant announced on August 10, 2023 that it will be joining the CAA in the 2024 season as a football member. The move comes two years after Bryant left the NEC to join the Big South as an associate football member (see below). Bryant gives the CAA 16 football teams in 2024.
Texas-Rio Grande Valley joins WAC
Come 2025, UTRGV will introduce its football program, joining the WAC at the FCS level.
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. Kennesaw State will leave the ASUN in 2024 (see above).
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 moves comes after Big South lost multiple members. Bryant gives the Big South six football teams in 2022.
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.
Once Jacksonville State officially goes to the FBS and Kennesaw State begins its transition, the ASUN will be left with four playoff eligible teams in 2023 and beyond — Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay and North Alabama remain. That number will increase to five once West Georgia becomes eligible.
The Big South has gone through a gauntlet of departures recently, with eight schools departing in the last three 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 and three teams in 2024 when Bryant departs. Only Robert Morris, Charleston Southern, and Gardner-Webb remain.
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.
The loss of Austin Peay and Murray State will drop the OVC to six teams in 2023 — 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 season since Lindenwood won't be postseason eligible until 2026. That number will rise to six playoff-eligible teams during the 2024 season once Western Illinois joins, before rising to seven-playoff eligible teams in 2026.
In 2022 and 2023, 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.
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:
The Southland and OVC announced a scheduling alliance for non-conference games in 2022 and 2023, but that alliance does not have playoff implications.
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 and WAC merge to form football-only conference: The United Athletic Conference
The ASUN and WAC announced on April 17, 2023 that the two conferences will make their partnership official as a new football-only conference called the United Athletic Conference (UAC). The UAC will begin play in 2023 as the ASUN and WAC will play a combined schedule with inter-conference play between ASUN and WAC schools. In 2023 the UAC will have nine football-playing members but only seven playoff-eligible members. In 2024, the joint conference will have nine playoff-eligible teams.
The UAC was denied a wavier-request to be formally recognized by the NCAA as a single-sport conference in 2023, so the UAC is technically unofficial, even with the ASUN and WAC sharing an auto-bid.
The ASUN and WAC first merged in 2021 to form the AQ7 to share one automatic bid.
The conferences then renewed their football alliance for the 2022 season. The two conferences played schedules and championships among their own members. The ASUN and WAC shared one automatic qualifying bid, going to one of the two conference champions. The automatic bid determining formula can be found below.
- Each conference shall nominate its regular season champion (by the conference’s own formula) for AQ comparison.
- If the regular season champion is a reclassifying team, the conference shall nominate the team finishing highest in the regular season standings that is eligible for an FCS AQ. Tiebreaker formulas are to be set by each conference and may include use of the ASUN-WAC Power Ranking after the conclusion of regular season play.
- If the two nominated teams have the same W-L record in Countable Games, and they met during the regular season, the head to head winner shall be the AQ recipient.
- If item No. 3 above is not applicable, the team with the higher ASUN-WAC Power Ranking will be declared the AQ recipient.
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.
|No. of Teams||Conference||Teams|
|16||CAA||Albany, Bryant*, Campbell, Delaware, Elon, Hampton, Maine,
Monmouth, New Hampshire, North Carolina A&T,
Rhode Island, Richmond, Stony Brook, Towson,
Villanova, William & Mary
|12||Big Sky||Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Idaho State, Montana,
Montana State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado,
Portland State, Sacramento State, UC Davis, Weber State
|12||SWAC||Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Bethune-Cookman,
Florida A&M, Grambling State, Jackson State,
Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern,
Texas Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
|11||MVFC||Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Murray State,
North Dakota, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa,
South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois,
|11||Pioneer||Butler, Davidson, Dayton, Drake, Marist, Morehead State,
Presbyterian, San Diego, St. Thomas, Stetson, Valparaiso
|10||UAC||See ASUN and WAC schools|
|10||Big South-OVC||See Big South and OVC schools|
|9||SoCon||Chattanooga, ETSU, Furman, Mercer, Samford,
The Citadel, VMI, Western Carolina, Wofford
|8||Ivy||Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard,
Penn, Princeton, Yale
|8||NEC||Central Connecticut State, Duquesne, LIU, Merrimack,
Sacred Heart, Saint Francis (PA), Stonehill+, Wagner
|8||Southland||Houston Christian, Lamar, McNeese, Nicholls,
Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana,
Texas A&M-Commerce+, Incarnate Word
|7||Patriot||Bucknell, Colgate, Fordham, Georgetown,
Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh
|7||OVC||Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood+, UT Martin,
Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State,
Tennessee Tech, Western Illinois*
|6||MEAC||Delaware State, Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State,
North Carolina Central, South Carolina State
|6||WAC||Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin, Southern Utah,
Tarleton State#, Utah Tech#, Texas-Rio Grande Valley^
|5||ASUN||Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky,
North Alabama, West Georgia*
|3||Big South||Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Robert Morris|
*As of 2024
^As of 2025
#Playoff Eligible in 2024
+Playoff Eligible in 2026