NCAA Division I FBS independent schools

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FBS Independents
2014 season
NCAA Division I FBS
Schools 3
Sports fielded 1 (men's: 1; women's: 0)
Region Eastern United States
Midwestern United States
Mountain States
FBS Independents locations

NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision independent schools are four-year institutions whose football programs are not part of an NCAA-affiliated conference. This means that FBS independents are not required to schedule each other for competition like conference schools do. There are many fewer independent schools than in years past; many independent schools join, or attempt to join, established conferences, usually in order to gain a share of television revenue and access to bowl games that agree to take teams from certain conferences, and in order to help deal with otherwise potentially difficult challenges in scheduling opponents to play throughout the season.

All Division I FBS independents are eligible for the College Football Playoff (CFP), or for the so-called "access bowls" associated with the CFP, if they are chosen by the CFP selection committee. Notre Dame has a potential tie-in with the Orange Bowl. Army has an agreement with the Military Bowl (formerly the EagleBank Bowl),[1] and Notre Dame, in addition to its CFP agreement, has other bowl agreements as part of its affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). (Notre Dame had similar agreements with its previous conference, the Big East.) BYU had an agreement with the Armed Forces Bowl for 2011.[2]

The ranks of football independents increased by one starting with the 2011 season with the announcement that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference to become a football independent starting with that season.[3] The ranks increased by two in 2013 when the WAC dropped football and New Mexico State and Idaho did not have a conference for football.[4] The ranks of football independents decreased by two in 2014 with the return of Idaho and New Mexico State as football-only members of the Sun Belt Conference,[5] and decreased by one more in 2015 with Navy joining the American Athletic Conference as a football only member.[6][7][8] UMass is expected to become an FBS independent beginning in 2016.[9] Coastal Carolina will also play as an FBS independent in 2016 during its FCS-to-FBS transition before joining the Sun Belt Conference in the following year.[10]

FBS independents

Institution Nickname Location Founded Type Enrollment Primary Conference Future Conference
United States Military Academy Army Black Knights West Point, New York 1802 Federal Military Academy 4,294 Patriot League
University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish Notre Dame, Indiana 1842 Private (Catholic) 11,733 Atlantic Coast Conference
(Full member in all sports, but partial for football) [11]
Brigham Young University Cougars Provo, Utah 1875 Private (LDS) 29,672 West Coast Conference

Reasons for independence

In recent years, most independent FBS schools have joined a conference for two primary reasons: A guaranteed share of television and bowl revenues, and ease of scheduling. The three remaining independent FBS schools have unique circumstances that allow for freedom from conference affiliation.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame unsuccessfully attempted on three occasions to join an athletic conference in the early 20th century, including the Big Ten in 1926, but was turned down, reportedly due to anti-Catholicism.[12] Notre Dame is now one of the most prominent programs in the country. Because of its national popularity built over several decades, Notre Dame is the only individual school to have its own national television contract,[13][14] and was the only independent program to be part of the Bowl Championship Series coalition and its guaranteed payout. These factors help make Notre Dame one of the most financially valuable football programs in the country, thus negating the need for Notre Dame to secure revenue by joining a conference.[15][16]

Previously, Notre Dame had easily filled its annual schedule without needing conference games to do so. It had longstanding rivalries with many different programs around the country, many under long-term contacts, including annual rivalry games with USC, Navy,[12] Michigan, Stanford, Michigan State, Boston College, and Purdue as well as Pitt. All Notre Dame home games and most away games are on national television, so other teams have a large financial incentive to schedule the university. Nonetheless, Notre Dame joined the ACC in 2013 for all sports except football and men's ice hockey. (The ACC does not sponsor ice hockey for either sex; the only other ACC member with a men's ice hockey varsity team is Boston College, which plays alongside Notre Dame in Hockey East.) As part of this agreement, Notre Dame plays five of its football games each season against ACC members. This arrangement required Notre Dame to eliminate or reduce the frequency of several rivalries: the Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue series were canceled, while Boston College and Pitt, ACC members themselves, now play Notre Dame every three or four years. On the other hand, the move has allowed Notre Dame to resume old rivalries with ACC members Georgia Tech and Miami, while still scheduling Big 10 opponents from time to time.


One of the remaining independent programs is the service academy Army. Whereas television and bowl appearances are important sources of revenue and advertising for most other universities and their football games, the United States federal government fully funds essential scholastic operations of the service academies (athletics are funded by non-profit associations), effectively rendering such income superfluous.

Army has annual games guaranteed with Navy and with Air Force. It also has a historic rivalry with Notre Dame; the Army game is semi-regular. Television rights for the longstanding Army–Navy Game, which is the last regular season game in the NCAA, serve as a significant revenue source for the program. The academy also uses its football program to do recruiting; without a conference schedule, the service academy is able to more easily schedule games around the country.

Navy was formerly an independent program, but joined the American Athletic Conference for college football in 2015, citing that it wanted to maintain competitiveness,[7] had concerns about scheduling and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make more money.[6] Navy's arrival in The American also brought the league's football membership to 12 schools, allowing it to play a conference championship game.

Brigham Young University

During the conference realignment that saw the university choose football independence in August 2010, some saw BYU as a potential future "Notre Dame of the West". Both are prominent faith-based schools; Notre Dame is arguably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S., while BYU is the flagship university of the LDS Church. The 1984 team's national championship is the most recent by a university that is not a current member of the College Football Playoff coalition.

BYU was getting less than $2 million a year through its contract with The MTN, the now-defunct TV network of the Mountain West Conference. BYU has its own cable channel,[17] but had a very restrictive contract which did not allow BYU to broadcast its own football games.[18] The new contract with ESPN will pay BYU an estimated $800,000 to $1.2 million per home game,[19] and allow for greater freedom with its own channel.

Independents' stadiums

Institution Football Stadium Capacity
Army Michie Stadium 40,000
BYU LaVell Edwards Stadium 63,725
Notre Dame Notre Dame Stadium 80,795


The following is a complete list of teams which have been Division I-A (FBS) Independents since the formation of Division I-A in 1978.

Years Team Previous Conference Conference Joined Current Conference
1978–1979 Air Force Division I Independent WAC (1980-1998) Mountain West (1999–present)
1987–1991 Akron OVC MAC (1992–present)
1996–1998 Alabama-Birmingham Division I-AA Independent C-USA (1999–2014) Dropped Football
1992 Arkansas State Division I-AA Independent Big West (1993–1995)
1996–1998 Big West (1993–1995) Big West (1999–2000) Sun Belt (2001–present)
1978–1997 Army Division I Independent C-USA (1998–2004)
2005–present C-USA (1998–2004)
1978–1990 Boston College Division I Independent Big East (1991–2004) ACC (2005–present)
2011–present BYU Mountain West (1999–2010)
1992 Cal State Fullerton Big West Dropped football
1996–2001 Central Florida Division I-AA Independent MAC (2002–2004) American (2013–present)
1978–1995 Cincinnati Division I Independent C-USA (1996–2004) Big East/American (2005–present)[N 1]
1978–1981 Colgate Division I Independent Division I-AA Independent (1982–1985) Patriot League (1986–present)
2000–2003 Connecticut Atlantic 10[N 2] Big East/American (2004–present)[N 1][N 3]
1978–1996 East Carolina Division I Independent C-USA (1997–2013) American (2014–present)
1978–1991 Florida State Division I Independent ACC (1992–present)
1978–1982 Georgia Tech Division I Independent ACC (1983–present)
1978 Hawaiʻi Division I Independent WAC (1979–2011) Mountain West (2012–present)
1978–1981 Holy Cross Division I Independent Division I-AA Independent (1982–1985) Patriot League (1986–present)
2013 Idaho WAC (2005–2012) Sun Belt (2014–present)
1978–1980 Illinois State Division I Independent MVC (1981–1984) MVFC (1985–present)[N 4]
1978–1981 Indiana State Division I Independent Division I-AA Independent (1982–1985) MVFC (1986–present)[N 4]
1991 Long Beach State Big West Dropped football
1989–1992 Louisiana Tech Division I-AA Independent Big West (1993-1995)
1996-2000 Big West (1993-1995) WAC (2001-2012) C-USA (2013–present)
1982-1992 Louisiana-Lafayette Southland Conference Big West (1993-1995)
1996-2000 Big West (1993-1995) Sun Belt (2001–present)
1996–2000 Louisiana-Monroe Southland Sun Belt (2001–present)
1978–1995 Louisville Division I Independent C-USA (1996–2004) ACC (2014–present)
1978–1995 Memphis Division I Independent C-USA (1996–2012) American (2013–present)
1978–1990 Miami (FL) Division I Independent Big East (1991–2003) ACC (2004–present)
1999–2000 Middle Tennessee OVC Sun Belt (2001–2012) C-USA (2013–present)
1978–2014 Navy Division I Independent American (2015–present)
2013 New Mexico State WAC (2005–2012) Sun Belt (2014–present)
1978–1982 North Texas Division I Independent Southland (1983-1994)
1995 Southland (1983–1994) Big West (1996–2000) C-USA (2013–present)
1987–1992 Northern Illinois MAC Big West (1993-1995)
1996 Big West (1993–1995) MAC (1997–present)
1978–present Notre Dame Division I Independent
1978–1992 Penn State Division I Independent Big Ten (1993–present)
1978–1990 Pittsburgh Division I Independent Big East (1991–2012) ACC (2013–present)
1978–1981 Richmond Division I Independent Division I-AA Independent (1982–1983) CAA (1984–present)[N 5]
1978–1990 Rutgers Division I Independent Big East/American (1991–2013)[N 6] Big Ten (2014–present)
1978–1991 South Carolina Division I Independent SEC (1992–present)
2001–2002 South Florida Division I-AA Independent C-USA (2003–2004) Big East/American (2005–present)[N 1]
1978–1995 Southern Mississippi Division I Independent C-USA (1996–present)
1978–1990 Syracuse Division I Independent Big East (1991–2012) ACC (2013–present)
1978–1990 Temple Division I Independent Big East (1991–2004)
2005–2006 Big East (1991–2004) MAC (2007–2011) Big East/American (2012–present)[N 1]
1978–1980 Tennessee State Division I Independent Division I-AA Independent (1981–1987) OVC (1988–present)
2002–2003 Troy Division I-AA Independent Sun Belt (2004–present)
1978–1995 Tulane Division I Independent C-USA (1996–2013) American (2014–present)
1986–1995 Tulsa MVC WAC (1996–2004) American (2014–present)
1978–1981 UNLV Division II Independent Big West (1982–1995) Mountain West (1999–present)
2001–2002 Utah State Big West Sun Belt (2003–2004) Mountain West (2013–present)
1978–1980 Villanova Division I Independent Dropped Football CAA (1985–present)[N 5]
1978–1990 Virginia Tech Division I Independent Big East (1991–2003) ACC (2004–present)
1978–1990 West Virginia Division I Independent Big East (1991–2011) Big 12 (2012–present)
2008 Western Kentucky Gateway Football Conference Sun Belt (2009–2013) C-USA (2014–present)
1986 Wichita State MVC Dropped football
1978–1981 William & Mary Division I Independent Division I-AA Independent (1982–1992) CAA (1993–present)[N 5]
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 This school remained in the conference that includes the FBS members of the pre-2013 Big East Conference, which began operating as the American Athletic Conference in July 2013.
  2. The A10 sponsored football through the 2006 season, after which its football conference was effectively absorbed by the Colonial Athletic Association. UConn was an A10 member only in football.
  3. UConn was a founding member of the original Big East Conference in 1979, but did not join for football until 2004.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The history of this conference is extremely convoluted. In 1985, the Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference, a women's sports conference parallel to the Missouri Valley Conference, added football as its only men's sport by taking in the MVC's I-AA football teams. In 1992, the women's portion of the Gateway merged with the MVC; the football conference kept the Gateway charter, changing the conference name to Gateway Football Conference. The current name was adopted in 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 The CAA football conference did not exist under that name until 2007, but has a continuous history dating back to 1938. It started with the formation of the New England Conference, which folded in 1947, with its member schools joining the newly formed Yankee Conference under a separate charter. In 1997, the Yankee Conference merged with the Atlantic 10 Conference. After the 2006 season, the A10 football conference disbanded, with all of its members joining a new CAA football conference. The automatic berth of the Yankee Conference in the I-AA/FCS playoffs passed in succession to the A10 and the CAA.
  6. Rutgers remained in the American Athletic Conference for the 2013 season before leaving for the Big Ten Conference in 2014.

See also

External links


  1. Tenorio, Paul. "Bowl Game Brings Football Back to RFK". The Washington Post. September 11, 2008. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  2. [1]
  3. Katz, Andy (August 31, 2010). "BYU leaving MWC for 2011–12 season". Retrieved August 31, 2010. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Hinnen, Jerry (September 12, 2012). "New Mexico State makes it official, will go independent in 2013". CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 17, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Idaho and New Mexico State to Join Sun Belt Conference As Football Members in 2014" (Press release). Sun Belt Conference. March 27, 2013. Retrieved March 28, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Navy sets sail with the Big East
  7. 7.0 7.1 Big East officially adds Navy
  8. At the time Navy announced it would leave the independent ranks, its destination conference was known as the Big East Conference. When that conference split into football-sponsoring and non-football conferences in July 2013, the non-football schools took the Big East name with them. The football-sponsoring conference now operate as the American Athletic Conference.
  9. "Independent football schedule taking shape for UMass">[2]
  10. "Coastal Carolina to Join Sun Belt Conference". Sun Belt Conference. Retrieved 16 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Notre Dame Goes To ACC: Bowl Security, Football Scheduling Flexibility Key To Move". Sports Business Daily. Street and Smith’s Sports Group. September 13, 2012. Retrieved September 9, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Helliker, Kevin (2013-01-03). "Notre Dame's Holy Line". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 7, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Sandomir, Richard (1991-08-25). "COLLEGE FOOTBALL; Notre Dame Scored a $38 Million Touchdown on Its TV Deal". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-06. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "NBC and Notre Dame Extend Football Agreement Through 2010". 2003-12-18. Retrieved 2008-04-06. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Gage, Jack (2006-12-22). "The most valuable college football teams". Forbes. Archived from the original on August 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-06. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help); Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Notre Dame Football Program Ranked Most Valuable In College Football". 2006-11-20. Retrieved 2008-04-06. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Katz, Andy (August 18, 2010). "Sources: BYU mulling Notre Dame path". Retrieved August 31, 2010. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Harmon, Dick (August 24, 2010). "BYU's broadcast issues boiling over". Deseret News. Retrieved November 17, 2010. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "BYU signs long-term deals with ESPN, Notre Dame". September 3, 2010. Retrieved June 25, 2012. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>