NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision

Second-highest level of college football in the US

NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision
Current season, competition or edition:
Current sports event 2023 NCAA Division I FCS football season
SportAmerican football
No. of teams129
CountryUnited States

The NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as Division I-AA, is the second-highest level of college football in the United States, after the Football Bowl Subdivision. Sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the FCS level comprises 129 teams in 13 conferences as of the 2024 season. The FCS designation is only tied to football with the non-football sports programs of each school competing in NCAA Division I.[clarify]


From 1906 to 1955, the NCAA had no divisional structure for member schools. Prior to the 1956 college football season, NCAA schools were organized into an upper University Division and lower College Division. In the summer of 1973, the University Division became Division I, but by 1976, there was a desire to further separate the major football programs from those that were less financially successful, while allowing their other sports to compete at the top level.[1]

Division I-AA was created in January 1978, when Division I was subdivided into Division I-A and Division I-AA for football only.[2] The initial criteria for a program's admittance to I-A included (1) scheduling 60% of its games against other I-A teams, and either (2) having a 30,000-seat stadium and an average attendance of 17,000 for one year in the last four, or (3) drawing an average of 17,000 over the last four years. Division I football schools satisfying #1 and either #2 or #3 also had to maintain eight sports overall. Schools failing to meet either #2 or #3 could still qualify for I-A if they maintained twelve sports overall.[3] (NOTE: the NCAA, at the time, governed male sports only; women's teams did not count toward these totals). Of 144 schools participating in Division I football in the 1977 season, 79 were expected to qualify for I-A, with the remaining 65 relegated to I-AA.[3]

But because the NCAA allowed four years for criteria #2 and #3 to be met, just eight schools (seven from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, a league of HBCUs that had just moved to Division I in 1977) opted for Division I-AA for the 1978 season. Meanwhile, another 35 reclassified from Division II to Division I-AA, including four entire conferences. Thus, at least initially, the creation of Division I-AA appeared to backfire; rather than serve as a home for the smaller or less competitive football programs of Division I, it created a pathway for football-playing Division II schools to join Division I without the burden of funding a major football program. Division I-AA still had just 50 members when the four-year deadline set in January 1978 expired, forcing 41 schools that did not meet I-A criteria to reclassify to I-AA.[4] Some successfully appealed the decision, including eight members of the Mid-American Conference along with Cincinnati, a football independent at the time.[5] Thus I-AA membership hit an early peak of 91 in 1982, before settling down into the 80-90 range for the next several years.

The next big increase in Division I-AA membership came after the January 1991 NCAA convention voted to require an athletic program to maintain all of its sports at the same divisional level by the 1993 season.[6] In order to comply, 28 Division I schools with football programs at the Division II and Division III levels were forced to upgrade their teams to the Division I level, and all of them (at least initially) chose Division I-AA as their new football home. At the same time, the number of football scholarships allowed in I-AA was reduced from the original 70 to 63, effective in 1994; it has remained at that number ever since. With the new additions, membership in I-AA hit a new high of 118 in 1993.

The subdivision stabilized thereafter, maintaining at least 120 members from 1997 onward. Membership peaked at 130 in 2022 before settling at the current 129.

NCAA Division I-A and NCAA Division I-AA were renamed as NCAA Division I FBS and NCAA Division I FCS prior to the 2006 season.


The FCS has held a post-season playoff to award an NCAA-sanctioned national championship since its inception in 1978. The size of the playoff bracket has increased from 4 teams in 1978 to 24 teams in the 2020 season. This makes the FCS the highest level of college football with an NCAA-sanctioned national championship.


As of the 2024 football season, there are 13 Division I FCS football conferences:

See also


  1. ^ "NCAA may drop 100 Division 1 schools". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). Associated Press. November 16, 1976. p. B11.
  2. ^ "Big schools win battle". St. Petersburg Independent. (Florida). Associated Press. January 13, 1978. p. 5C.
  3. ^ a b Underwood, John (January 23, 1978). "The NCAA splits its decision". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  4. ^ "The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on August 28, 1982 · 32".
  5. ^ "The Cincinnati Enquirer from Cincinnati, Ohio on August 27, 1982 · Page 19".
  6. ^ "Northridge Likely To Alter Its Game Plan". Los Angeles Times. January 11, 1991.

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