NCAA Division I FBS independent schools

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),[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 (MWC) to become a football independent starting with that season.[3] 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.[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 (SBC)[5] and decreased by one more in 2015 with Navy joining the American Athletic Conference (AAC) as a football-only member.[6][7][8] UMass became an FBS independent in 2016.[9] 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,[10] and Liberty, which transitioned from the Big South Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision in 2018.[11]

FBS independents
FBS independents logo
DivisionDivision I
Sports fielded
  • 1
    • men's: 1
RegionEastern United States
Midwestern United States
Mountain States
Southern United States
HeadquartersIndianapolis, Indiana
CommissionerMark Emmert (since November 1, 2010)
WebsiteOfficial website
FBS independents locations

FBS independents

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
Liberty University
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
(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
  1. ^ Notre Dame remains officially an independent football team, and is not a member of the ACC in any capacity for football. However, as part of the agreement to join the ACC in other sports, Notre Dame agreed to schedule 5 games per year against ACC opponents.[12]

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. 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,[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 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,[13] but had a very restrictive contract which did not allow BYU to broadcast its own football games.[14] The new contract with ESPN will pay BYU an estimated $800,000 to $1.2 million per home game,[15] 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,[16] 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.

New Mexico State

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

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.[17] 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.[18][19]

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,[17] 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.[20][21] 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.[22][23] 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.[24]

Independent school stadiums

Institution Football stadium Capacity
Army Michie Stadium 38,000
BYU LaVell Edwards Stadium 63,470
Liberty Williams Stadium 25,000
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)

Former independent schools

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)
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][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]
2016–present UMass Mid-American (2012–2015)
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]


  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ a b c d 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ UConn was a founding member of the original Big East Conference in 1979, but did not join for football until 2004.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ Rutgers remained in the American Athletic Conference for the 2013 season before leaving for the Big Ten Conference in 2014.
  7. ^ UAB dropped football after the 2014 season, but reinstated the sport for 2017 and beyond. The school remained a C-USA member throughout.

See also


  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.
  4. ^ Hinnen, Jerry (September 12, 2012). "New Mexico State makes it official, will go independent in 2013". CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  5. ^ "Idaho and New Mexico State to Join Sun Belt Conference As Football Members in 2014" (Press release). Sun Belt Conference. March 27, 2013. Archived from the original on July 3, 2013. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Navy sets sail with the Big East
  7. ^ a b 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. ^ "Sun Belt Football to Be 10 Teams in 2018" (Press release). Sun Belt Conference. March 1, 2016. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  11. ^ "Liberty to become FBS independent in 2018". Fox Sports. February 16, 2017. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ Katz, Andy (August 18, 2010). "Sources: BYU mulling Notre Dame path". Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  14. ^ Harmon, Dick (August 24, 2010). "BYU's broadcast issues boiling over". Deseret News. Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  15. ^ "BYU signs long-term deals with ESPN, Notre Dame". September 3, 2010. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  16. ^ [3]
  17. ^ a b Helliker, Kevin (2013-01-03). "Notre Dame's Holy Line". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 7, 2013.
  18. ^ Gage, Jack (2006-12-22). "The most valuable college football teams". Forbes. Archived from the original on August 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  19. ^ "Notre Dame Football Program Ranked Most Valuable In College Football". 2006-11-20. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  20. ^ Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "UMass football, MAC to part ways following 2015 season".
  22. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links

Brian Kelly (American football coach)

Brian Keith Kelly (born October 25, 1961) is an American football coach and former player. He is currently the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, a position he has held since December 2009. Kelly was previously head coach at Grand Valley State University (1991–2003), Central Michigan University (2004–2006), and University of Cincinnati (2006–2009). He led the Grand Valley State Lakers to consecutive NCAA Division II Football Championships in 2002 and 2003. Kelly's 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team reached the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

Doug Martin (American football coach)

Douglas Franklin Martin (born February 4, 1963) is an American college football coach and former player. He is currently the head coach at New Mexico State University, a position he assumed in February 2013. Martin served in the same capacity at Kent State University from 2004 to 2010, where he compiled a record of 29–53.

Hugh Freeze

Danny Hugh Freeze Jr. (born September 27, 1969) is an American football coach. He is currently the head football coach at Liberty University.

A successful high school football coach at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tennessee, Freeze coached Michael Oher and Greg Hardy. He subsequently served as the head football coach at Lambuth University from 2008 to 2009, Arkansas State University in 2011, and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) from 2012 to 2016.

Under Freeze, the Ole Miss football program committed various recruiting and academic violations that figured in the NCAA's decision to expunge 33 of the team's victories and ban it from post-season play for two years.Freeze resigned from Ole Miss after officials discovered that he had used a university cellphone to call escort services multiple times over the course of five years.

Jeff Monken

Jeffrey Michael Monken (born April 15, 1967) is the head coach of the Army Black Knights football team. He was formerly the head coach of the Georgia Southern Eagles football team. He previously served under Paul Johnson as a running backs coach and special teams coordinator at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Kalani Sitake

Kelaokalani Fifita "Kalani" Sitake (born October 10, 1975) is an American football coach and former player. He has been the head football coach at Brigham Young University (BYU) since December 2015. Sitake is the first Tongan to become a collegiate football head coach. Sitake played college football as a fullback at BYU, under coach LaVell Edwards and graduated in 2000.

List of Division I FBS independents football standings (1869–1905)

This is an era-list of yearly standings of the highest level of college football, including NCAA Division I FBS independent schools football standings prior to the establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1906.

List of Division I FBS independents football standings (1906–1955)

This is an era-list of yearly standings of the highest level of college football, including NCAA Division I FBS independent schools football standings.

List of Division I FBS independents football standings (1956–present)

This is an era-list of yearly standings of the highest level of college football, including NCAA Division I FBS independent schools football standings.

NCAA Division I FCS independent schools

NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision independent schools are four-year institutions in the United States whose football programs are not part of a football conference. This means that FCS independents are not required to schedule each other for competition as conference schools do.

One school, North Dakota, will compete as an FCS independent in the next college football season in 2019. The Fighting Hawks left the Big Sky Conference for the non-football Summit League in July 2018, and will join the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020. As part of its move, it agreed to honor existing contracts to play Big Sky members in football, and thus committed to playing a full Big Sky football schedule in 2018 and 2019. Two schools that played as FCS independents in 2018 will join Big South Conference football in 2019. Hampton joined the Big South in non-football sports in July 2018. At the same time, North Alabama began a transition from NCAA Division II by joining the non-football Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN). North Alabama football will join the Big South under the terms of an alliance between the ASUN and Big South which allows any member of either conference that awards football scholarships to play Big South football.

NCAA Division I independent schools

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

NCAA Independents may refer to:

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

NCAA independent schools (lacrosse)

Walt Bell

Walter A. Bell IV is an American football coach and former player. He is the current head coach for the UMass Minutemen, and previously served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida State, Maryland, and Arkansas State.

NCAA Division I FBS independents
Current teams
Former teams

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.