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Division I (or D-I) is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States.


"D-I" schools are the major collegiate athletic powers, with larger budgets, more elaborate facilities, and higher numbers of athletic scholarships. This level was once called the "University" division of the NCAA in contrast to the "College" division; this terminology was replaced with the current numeric (I, II, III) divisions in 1973. In football only, Division I was further subdivided into Division I-A (the principal football schools) and Division I-AA in 1978. Subsequently the term "Division I-AAA" was added to delineate Division I schools which do not field a football program at all.

A controversy recently arose in the NCAA over whether schools will continue to be allowed to have one showcased program in Division I with the remainder of the athletic program in a lower division, as is the case of, notably, Johns Hopkins University in lacrosse as well as Colorado College and University of Alabama in Huntsville in ice hockey. This is an especially important issue in hockey, which has no Division II competition and has several schools whose other athletic programs compete in Division II and Division III.

This controversy was resolved at the 2004 NCAA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee when the members supported Proposal 65-1, the amended legislation co-sponsored by Colorado College, Clarkson University, Hartwick College, Johns Hopkins University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rutgers University-Newark, St. Lawrence University, and SUNY Oneonta. Each school affected by this debate is allowed to grant financial aid to student-athletes who compete in Division I programs in one men's sport and one women's sport. It is still permitted for other schools to place one men's and one women's sport in Division I going forward, but they cannot offer scholarships without bringing the whole program into compliance with Division I rules.


Subdivisions in Division I are important only in football. In all other sports, all Division I conferences are considered equivalent. The subdivisions were recently given names to reflect the differing levels of football play in them. Additionally, some sports, most notably ice hockey and men's volleyball, have completely different conference structures that operate outside of the normal NCAA sports conference structure.

The method by which the NCAA determines whether a school is Bowl or Championship subdivision is first by attendance numbers and then by scholarships. Although scholarships are only one of several methods for the NCAA to determine if they have some form of financial backing for the program they do look at attendance as an additional key consideration.

For attendance they either will allow the tickets sold or the number of actual people attending the season games as reporting methods. They require a minimum of 15,000 people in attendance for each home game as an average every other year. These numbers get posted to the NCAA statistics website for football each year. In the 2005 football season 14 schools were listed with an average below 15,000. With the new rules starting in the 2006 season, the amount of Bowl subdivision schools could drop in the near future if those schools are not able to pull in enough fans into the games. Additionally, 8 schools in the Championship subdivision had enough attendance to be moved up in 2005.

Football Bowl Subdivision[]

NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as NCAA Division I-A) college football is the only NCAA-sponsored sport without an organized tournament to determine its champion. Schools in Division I-A compete in post-season bowl games, with the champions of six conferences receiving automatic bids to the highly lucrative Bowl Championship Series to determine a national champion. This is due to many factors, including tradition and certain legal decisions against the NCAA, especially with regard to the sale of television rights.

The remaining five conferences, often referred to as "Mid-Majors", do not receive automatic bids but their conference champions are eligible for one of the four remaining "at-large" spots. The one exception is a small group of independents. These teams, Notre Dame in particular, have to be either ranked ahead of a champion from one of the six automatic bid conferences in the BCS standings or rank in the top eight of the BCS standings, to ensure a spot in a BCS bowl game.

The NCAA has also pushed for Division I-Bowl Subdivision schools to be forced to schedule a minimum number of home games each season and meet attendance requirements for those games (see above). This has met with resistance from smaller conferences, whose schools often receive large amounts of money to play road games against schools from the BCS-conferences.

Division I-Bowl Subdivision schools are currently limited to a total of 85 football players receiving financial assistance. Due to the fact that for competitive reasons a student on partial scholarship counts fully against the total of 85, virtually all Bowl Subdivision schools that are not on NCAA probation give 85 full scholarships. The service academies—in this context, Army, Navy, and Air Force—are exempt from this rule, as all of their students receive full scholarships from the federal government.

In 2007, there were 119 full members of Division I FBS. Western Kentucky University was in its first year of a two-year transition period from Division I FCS; it will become a full FBS member in 2009.

Any conference with at least 12 football teams is allowed to split its teams into two divisions and conduct a championship game between the division winners. The prize is normally a specific bowl game bid for which the conference has a tie-in, or a spot in the BCS (depending on the conference).


Conference Nickname Founded Members Sports Headquarters
Atlantic Coast Conference ACC 1953 12 20 Greensboro, North Carolina
Big East Conference Big East 1979 16 23 Providence, Rhode Island
Big Ten Conference Big Ten 1896 11 25 Park Ridge, Illinois
Big 12 Conference Big 12 1994 12 21 Dallas, Texas
Conference USA C-USA 1995 12 19 Irving, Texas
Division I-FBS Independents 4
Mid-American Conference MAC 1946 12 23 Cleveland, Ohio
Mountain West Conference MWC 1999 9 14 Colorado Springs, Colorado
Pacific-10 Conference Pac 10 1959 10 22 Walnut Creek, California
Southeastern Conference SEC 1932 12 17 Birmingham, Alabama
Sun Belt Conference Sun Belt 1976 13 19 New Orleans, Louisiana
Western Athletic Conference WAC 1962 9 19 Greenwood Village, Colorado

Football Championship Subdivision[]

The Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as I-AA) determines its champion in a 16-team, single-elimination tournament. The champions of eight conferences receive automatic bids to this tournament. However, teams from other conferences are still eligible for one of the eight remaining "at-large" spots.

The Ivy League chooses to not participate in this tournament, and the Pioneer Football League and Northeast Conference play in the Gridiron Classic, though all conference teams technically remain tournament eligible. Due to their own conference title game and games played Thanksgiving weekend, the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) does not play in the playoffs. The possible exception here is if a SWAC team other than Alabama State, Grambling State, or Southern (all of whom play Thanksgiving weekend) does not win their division to go to the SWAC championship game and still has seven D-I wins, they are eligible for an at-large spot. However, this scenario has not occurred since the SWAC pulled out of the playoff at-large system.

When I-AA was formed in 1978, the playoffs comprised just four teams, doubling to eight teams in 1981. The following year (1982) changed to a 12-team tourney, with each of the top four seeds receiving a first-round bye and a home game in the quarterfinals. The I-AA playoffs went to the present 16-team format in 1986. After 28 seasons, the "I-AA" was dropped by the NCAA for 2006 season and playoffs, although it is still informally used.

The last SWAC team to participate in the I-AA playoffs was Jackson State in 1997; the SWAC never achieved success in the tournament, going winless in 19 games in twenty years (1978-97). The Ivy league, which was moved down to I-AA beginning in 1982 (against their wishes), has a strict 10-game schedule policy and has yet to participate in the I-AA/FCS playoffs.

Schools in a transition period after joining the FCS from Division II are also ineligible for the playoffs. Several highly ranked teams in 2006 were excluded, with #3 North Dakota State as the most notable absence. NDSU's only setback was a 10-9 loss at Minnesota of the Big Ten Conference; the Bison will not be eligible for the playoffs until the 2008 season.

The three service academies (Army, Navy, & Air Force) were briefly considered for I-AA status in the early 1980s, but under a recommendation from The Pentagon, have remained in the NCAA's top subdivision.

Division I FCS schools are currently restricted to giving financial assistance amounting to 63 full scholarships. Unlike Bowl Subdivision schools, Championship Subdivision schools may divide their allotment into partial scholarships, but Championship Subdivision schools are limited to 85 players receiving any sort of athletic financial aid for football. Competitive forces, though, mean that a substantial number of players in Championship Subdivision programs are on full scholarships.

A few Championship Subdivision conferences are composed of schools that offer no athletic scholarships at all, most notably the Ivy League, as well as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Pioneer Football League, a football-only conference. The Northeast Conference also sponsored non-scholarship football, but began offering a maximum of 30 full scholarship equivalents in 2006. The Patriot League does not give football scholarships, but permits them in other sports (athletes receiving these scholarships are ineligible to play football for Patriot League schools).

A national championship team for this level of football is determined annually "on the field" in a 16-team tournament. The #1-ranked Championship Subdivision mid-major team is awarded The Sports Network Cup on the eve of the overall Championship Subdivision championship game. The PFL and NEC also meet in an exempted postseason game called the Gridiron Classic, which will match the champions of the two Championship Subdivision football conferences, except if one of the league champions make the playoff, in which the second place team will compete.


Conference Nickname Founded Members Sports Headquarters Tournament Bid
Big Sky Conference Big Sky 1963 9 15 Ogden, Utah Automatic
Big South Conference Big South 1983 9 18 Charlotte, North Carolina Invitation
Colonial Athletic Association CAA 1983 (2007 for football) 12 21 Richmond, Virginia Automatic
Missouri Valley Football Conference 1985 8 1 St. Louis, Missouri Automatic
Great West Football Conference Great West 2004 5 1 Elmhurst, Illinois Invitation
Ivy League Ivy League 1954 8 33 Princeton, New Jersey Abstains
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference MAAC 1980 10 25 Edison, New Jersey Invitation
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference MEAC 1970 12 15 Virginia Beach, Virginia Automatic
Northeast Conference NEC 1981 12 22 Somerset, New Jersey Invitation
Ohio Valley Conference OVC 1948 11 17 Brentwood, Tennessee Automatic
Patriot League Patriot 1986 8 23 Center Valley, Pennsylvania Automatic
Pioneer Football League PFL 1991 8 1 St. Louis, Missouri Invitation
Southern Conference SOCON 1921 11 19 Spartanburg, South Carolina Automatic
Southland Conference Southland 1963 12 17 Frisco, Texas Automatic
Southwestern Athletic Conference SWAC 1920 10 18 Birmingham, Alabama Abstains

Division I-Non-Football[]

Several Bowl Subdivision and Championship Subdivision conferences have member institutions that do not compete in football (such schools are sometimes unofficially referred to as 1-AAA). For example, the Big East Conference, a Bowl Subdivision conference in football, has five members that do not play football at all (DePaul, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John's), plus an additional two members who play football in Championship Subdivision conferences (Georgetown and Villanova); conference member Notre Dame plays football as a Bowl Subdivision independent.

In addition, some schools officially affiliated with conferences that do not sponsor football do, in fact, field football teams. For example, UC Davis and Cal Poly, SLO are members of the non-football Big West Conference, but they still participate in football under the FCS Great West Football Conference.

The following Division I conferences do not sponsor football. These conferences still compete in Division I for all other sports.


Conference Nickname Founded Members Sports Headquarters
America East Conference America East 1979 9 22 Boston, Massachusetts
Atlantic Sun Conference A-Sun 1978 10 17 Macon, Georgia
Atlantic 10 Conference A-10 1975 14 21 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Big West Conference Big West / BWC 1969 9 17 Irvine, California
Horizon League Horizon 1979 10 19 Indianapolis, Indiana
Missouri Valley Conference MVC / Valley 1907 10 19 St. Louis, Missouri
The Summit League The Summit 1982 10 19 Elmhurst, Illinois
West Coast Conference WCC 1952 8 13 San Bruno, California

Of these, the two that most recently sponsored football were the Atlantic-10 and the Big West. The Big West Conference football league was disbanded after 2000, and the A-10 football league dissolved in 2006 with its members going to the Colonial Athletic Association. In addition, four A-10 schools (Dayton, Fordham, La Salle, and Temple) play football in a conference other than the new CAA, which still includes three full-time A-10 members (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Richmond).

Other non-football conference schools that sponsor football include six of the Missouri Valley schools (Drake, Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Southern Illinois) and three of the Horizon League schools (Butler University, Valparaiso University, and Youngstown State University).

See also[]

  • College football - Maps of the United States showing locations of Division I-FBS and I-FCS schools
  • List of Division I Stadiums
  • List of NCAA Division I FCS programs
  • List of NCAA Divsion I FBS programs
  • Division II
  • Division III
  • List of undefeated Division I-A football teams
  • List of Division I Athletic Directors

External links[]

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