National Collegiate Athletic Association (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 fewer independent schools than in years past; many independent schools join, or attempt to join, established conferences. The main reasons to join a conference are to gain a share of television revenue and access to bowl games that agree to take teams from certain conferences, and 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), 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.
The ranks of football independents increased by one starting with the 2011 season with the announcement that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference (MWC) to become a football independent starting with that season. The ranks increased by two in 2013 when the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) dropped football and New Mexico State and Idaho did not have a conference for football. 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 (SBC) and decreased by one more in 2015 with Navy joining the American Athletic Conference (AAC) as a football-only member. UMass became an FBS independent in 2016. Two further teams joined the ranks of FBS independents for the 2018 season: New Mexico State, whose membership in the Sun Belt Conference was not extended beyond the 2017 season, and Liberty, which transitioned from the Big South Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision in 2018.
|Region||Eastern United States|
Midwestern United States
Southern United States
|Commissioner||Mark Emmert (since November 1, 2010)|
|Institution||Founded||Nickname||First season||Location||Type||Primary conference|
|United States Military Academy
(Army West Point)
|March 16, 1802||Black Knights||November 29, 1890||West Point, New York||Federal (Military)||Patriot League|
|Brigham Young University
|October 16, 1875||Cougars||October 7, 1922||Provo, Utah||Private (LDS)||West Coast Conference|
|1971||Flames||1973||Lynchburg, Virginia||Private (Christian)||Atlantic Sun Conference|
|New Mexico State University
(New Mexico State)
|1888||Aggies||1893||Las Cruces, New Mexico||Public (New Mexico State University system)||Western Athletic Conference|
|University of Notre Dame
|November 26, 1842||Fighting Irish||November 23, 1887||Notre Dame, Indiana||Private (Catholic)||Atlantic Coast Conference|
|University of Massachusetts Amherst
|April 29, 1863||Minutemen||November 22, 1879||Amherst, Massachusetts||Public (University of Massachusetts system)||Atlantic 10|
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. Three of the six remaining independent FBS schools in particular (Army, BYU, and Notre Dame) have unique circumstances that allow for freedom from conference affiliation.
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 always the final regular season game in the NCAA, serve as a significant revenue source for the program. The academy also uses its football program to recruit future cadets, regardless of whether they ever play a varsity sport; 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, had concerns about scheduling and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make more money. Navy's arrival in The American also brought the league's football membership to 12 schools, allowing it to play a conference championship game under the rules in effect at the time. Army and Navy are members of the Patriot League for all other sports.
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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 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 earning 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, but had a very restrictive contract which did not allow BYU to broadcast its own football games. The new contract with ESPN will pay BYU an estimated $800,000 to $1.2 million per home game, and allow for greater freedom with its own channel.
Liberty founder Jerry Falwell long sought to turn the University into an evangelical equivalent to Notre Dame, dating back to the school's founding in 1971. Included in that was a Division I athletic program and an FBS football team. After a long tenure in the Big South Conference of the FCS, the university sought football affiliation with either Conference USA or the Sun Belt Conference. When both conferences decided against further expansion and elected not to invite Liberty, the Lynchburg-based school sought an NCAA waiver to move up to FBS as an independent. That waiver was approved in 2017 with the Flames eventually moving to NCAA Division I FBS as an independent in 2018. The Flames unusually played two regular-season games (a home-and-home series) against fellow independent New Mexico State in their inaugural FBS season, and plan to do so again in 2019.
The Western Athletic Conference dropped football after the 2012 season, so New Mexico State and Idaho played as FBS independents in 2013. Both schools joined the Sun Belt Conference for football from 2014 to 2017. In the spring of 2016, the Sun Belt Conference decided to live up to its name by including only schools from the "sun belt" in its lineup beginning in 2018. Idaho opted to drop to the FCS level, joining the Big Sky Conference, and New Mexico State decided to become an FBS independent again. In their last year as a Sun Belt member, New Mexico State became bowl eligible for the first time in 57 years since their victory in the 1960 Sun Bowl, winning the 2017 Arizona Bowl in dramatic fashion with an overtime touchdown run by Larry Rose III. As noted above, New Mexico State unusually scheduled two regular-season games during a single season against fellow FBS independent Liberty University in both 2018 and 2019.
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. Notre Dame is now one of the most prominent programs in the country. Because of its national popularity built over several decades, Notre Dame 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.
Previously, Notre Dame had 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, Michigan, Stanford, Michigan State, Boston College, Purdue, and 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 played alongside Notre Dame in Hockey East until 2017, when Notre Dame switched to the Big Ten). 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 Ten opponents from time to time.
The University of Massachusetts football program played in the Football Championship Subdivision of NCAA Division I before 2011, including a national championship season in 1998. The Minutemen began a two-year Football Bowl Subdivision transition period in 2011, with the support of the Mid-American Conference playing in their conference as a football-only member. In March 2014, the MAC and UMass announced an agreement for the Minutemen to leave the conference after the 2015 season due to declining an offer to become a full member of the conference. In the agreement between the MAC and the university, there was a contractual clause that had UMass playing in the MAC as a football-only member for two more seasons if UMass declined a full membership offer. Massachusetts announced that it would look for a "more suitable conference" for the team. In September 2014, Massachusetts announced that they will be leaving the MAC and going independent beginning with the 2016 season. They have continued as an independent for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The Minutemen have set their entire 11-game schedule for both 2019 and 2020, and most of their 2021 schedule is also set, which implies that the program will continue to be an independent for several more years.
|BYU||LaVell Edwards Stadium||63,470|
|New Mexico State||Aggie Memorial Stadium||30,343|
|Notre Dame||Notre Dame Stadium||77,622|
|UMass||Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium (on-campus)
Gillette Stadium (off-campus)
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)|
|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)|
|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][N 3]||Big East/American (2004–present)[N 1][N 4]|
|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||Hawaii||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 (2014–2017)||Big Sky (2018–present)|
|1978–1980||Illinois State||Division I independent||MVC (1981–1984)||MVFC (1985–present)[N 5]|
|1978–1981||Indiana State||Division I independent||Division I-AA independent (1982–1985)||MVFC (1986–present)[N 5]|
|1991||Long Beach State||Big West||Dropped football|
|1982–1992||Louisiana||Southland Conference||Big West (1993–1995)|
|1996–2000||Big West (1993–1995)||Sun Belt (2001–present)|
|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)|
|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 (2014–2017)||Division I independent|
|2018–present||Sun Belt (2014–2017)||Division I independent|
|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 2]|
|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)|
|1996–1998||UAB||Division I-AA independent||C-USA (1999–2014, 2017–present)[N 7]|
|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 2]|
|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 2]|
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In American college sports, NCAA Division I independent schools are four-year institutions that do not belong to a conference for a particular sport.NCAA independents
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NCAA Division I FBS independent schools
NCAA Division I FCS independent schools
NCAA Division I independent schools (baseball)
NCAA Division I independent schools (basketball)
NCAA Division I independent schools (ice hockey)
NCAA Division I independent schools (soccer)
NCAA Division II independent schools
NCAA Division III independent schools
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NCAA Division I FBS independents