The Pioneer Football League (PFL) is a collegiate athletic conference which operates in the United States. The conference participates in the NCAA's Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) as a football-only conference. It has member schools that range from New York, North Carolina, and Florida in the east to California in the west. It is headquartered in St. Louis, in the same complex that also contains the offices of the Missouri Valley Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference. Unlike most other Division I FCS conferences, the Pioneer League consists of institutions that choose not to award athletic scholarships ("grants-in-aid") to football players.
Most of the PFL's members are private schools. Morehead State University is currently the only public school in the conference.
|Pioneer Football League|
|Members||10 (11 in 2021)|
|Headquarters||St. Louis, Missouri|
|Commissioner||Patty Viverito (since 1994)|
Following an NCAA rule change passed in January 1991, which required Division I schools to conduct all sports at the Division I level by 1993, the conference was formed by charter members Butler University, the University of Dayton, Drake University, the University of Evansville, and Valparaiso University. The University of San Diego joined in 1992, and the league played its first season in 1993. The six original schools which played in the 1993 season had previously sponsored football at the Division I, Division II and Division III levels.
In 1997, the league reduced to five members when the University of Evansville downgraded football from Division I to club status; Evansville explored upgrading football back to Division I in 2007, but decided against it.
In 2001, the conference nearly doubled in size and was reorganized with the five pre-2001 members forming the North Division, and newcomers Austin Peay State University, Davidson College, Jacksonville University and Morehead State University forming the South Division. The reorganization spawned a new championship system in which the best record holders from each division would play in a title game for the conference championship.
2005–2008 membership changes
On April 8, 2005, Austin Peay announced its departure from the league effective after the 2005 season; Austin Peay returned to scholarship-granting competition in 2007 as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference in which it competes in other sports. As a result, the conference reverted to round-robin play; the divisions and championship game were abolished. On April 7, 2006, Campbell University announced the reinstatement of football effective in 2008, and on December 5, 2007, accepted an invitation to the PFL. In February 2008, Marist College announced that it would join the PFL for the 2009 season, after the MAAC stopped sponsoring football. Although Campbell moved in 2011 from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the Big South Conference, which sponsors football, it did not join the Big South in football and remained in the PFL through the 2017 season.
2013 membership changes & automatic playoff berth
On June 13, 2011, Mercer University and Stetson University were announced as league members (effective 2013) bringing membership to 12 schools. In addition, as of 2013, the league has an automatic bid into the FCS division I playoffs. Soon after its PFL membership was announced, Mercer accepted an invitation to join the Southern Conference (scholarship-granting) effective July 1, 2014. During its one season in the league, Mercer set a Division I win-loss record for start-up programs; Mercer finished the 2013 season with an overall record of 10–2 including an undefeated 8–0 record at home, also a Division I record held jointly with Auburn University, which likewise went undefeated at home in 2013.
The next change in conference membership was announced on November 14, 2016, when Campbell announced it would transition to scholarship football and add that sport to its existing Big South membership effective with the 2018 season, temporarily reducing the PFL membership to 10. Barring any further changes to conference membership, the PFL will return to 11 members in 2021, following the November 20, 2017 announcement of Presbyterian College that it would join the conference starting with the 2021 season. Presbyterian will remain in the Big South Conference for all other sports.
|Butler University||Indianapolis, Indiana||1855||1887||Private||3,897||1991||Bulldogs||Horizon||Big East|
|Davidson College||Davidson, North Carolina||1837||1897||Private||1,950||2001||Wildcats||SoCon||Atlantic 10 (A-10)|
|University of Dayton||Dayton, Ohio||1850||1905||Private||8,353||1991||Flyers||Horizon||Atlantic 10 (A-10)|
|Drake University||Des Moines, Iowa||1881||1883||Private||3,164||1991||Bulldogs||Missouri Valley|
|Jacksonville University||Jacksonville, Florida||1934||1934 (1998)||Private||7,426||2001||Dolphins||Atlantic Sun (ASUN)|
|Marist College||Poughkeepsie, New York||1929||1978||Private||6,200||2009||Red Foxes||MAAC|
|Morehead State University||Morehead, Kentucky||1922||1927||Public||11,358||2001||Eagles||OVC|
|University of San Diego||San Diego, California||1949||1956||Private||4,904||1992||Toreros||WCC|
|Stetson University||DeLand, Florida||1883||1901 (2013)||Private||4,330||2013||Hatters||Atlantic Sun (ASUN)|
|Valparaiso University||Valparaiso, Indiana||1859||1919||Private||2,917||1991||Crusaders||Summit||Missouri Valley|
Valparaiso changed its primary conference affiliation to the Missouri Valley Conference in July 2017, but the Crusaders remain in Pioneer League football.
|Austin Peay State University||Clarksville, Tennessee||1927||1930||Public||8,650||2001||2006||Governors||OVC|
|Campbell University||Buies Creek, North Carolina||1887||1925 (2008)||Private||9,471||2008||2017||Fighting Camels/Lady Camels||Atlantic Sun (ASUN)||Big South|
|University of Evansville*||Evansville, Indiana||1854||1898||Private||3,050||1991||1998||Purple Aces||Missouri Valley|
|Mercer University||Macon, Georgia||1833||1892 (2013)||Private||8,300||2013||2014||Bears||Atlantic Sun (ASUN)||Southern|
|Presbyterian College||Clinton, South Carolina||1880||1913||Private||1,172||2021||Blue Hose||Big South|
Three in-state rivalries currently exist in the PFL.
Butler and Valparaiso first played in 1927, and had nine meetings prior to 1951. That year, the two teams began playing every year, and in 2006 began playing for the Hoosier Helmet Trophy. Butler currently leads 47–24. The two schools had an all-sports rivalry as well when both were in the Horizon League together from 2007–2012.
Campbell and Davidson began their rivalry in 2008 when the Fighting Camels joined the PFL. Campbell and Davidson are tied 4–4 all-time through the 2016 season.
Jacksonville and Stetson started their football rivalry in 2013, when Stetson began PFL play. The schools were already rivals in other sports, both being members of the ASUN Conference.
Butler and Dayton also have a rivalry based on proximity to each other. The teams have met every year since 1977 with the exception of 1991 and 1992. Dayton leads 26–11–1.
|2005||San Diego||Championship Game|
|Dayton||1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001*, 2002*, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015|
|San Diego||2005*, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017|
|Drake||1995, 1998, 2000, 2004*, 2011, 2012|
|Butler||1994, 2009, 2012, 2013|
* – Won at PFL Championship Game
|Season||North Division||Score||South Division||Location|
|2002||Dayton||28–0||Morehead State||Morehead, Kentucky|
|2003||Valparaiso||54–42||Morehead State||Valparaiso, Indiana|
|2004||Drake||20–17||Morehead State||Morehead, Kentucky|
|2005||San Diego||47–40||Morehead State||San Diego, California|
The Pioneer Football League has had alliances with the Gridiron Classic and the Sports Network Cup. In addition, league members are allowed to accept at-large invitations to other college bowl games and teams are eligible to compete in the FCS playoffs.
Through the 2012 season, the NCAA did not offer the league an automatic invite to the FCS playoffs and never offered an at-large bid to any of its teams, effectively barring the league from the tournament. Starting in 2013, the Pioneer League received an automatic bid to compete in the Division I Football Championship as the playoffs expanded from 20 teams to 24. The PFL won its first playoff game in 2016, as San Diego advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
The PFL was a participant in the NCAA Division I FCS Consensus Mid-Major Football National Championship, along with the Northeast Conference and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, two other conferences without automatic playoff bids. The Consensus championship has since been discontinued; the NEC first earned an automatic postseason bid in 2010, while the MAAC no longer sponsors football.
Below are postseason accomplishments by past and current members prior to the formation of the Pioneer Football League.
|1945||Drake||13||Fresno State||12||Raisin Bowl|
|1946||Evansville||19||Northern Illinois||7||Turkey Bowl|
|1947||Evansville||20||Northern Illinois||0||Hoosier Bowl|
|1948||Evansville||13||Missouri Valley||7||Refrigerator Bowl|
|1950||Wisconsin-La Crosse||47||Valparaiso||14||Cigar Bowl|
|1969||Arkansas State||29||Drake||21||Pecan Bowl|
|1972||Tennessee State||29||Drake||7||Pioneer Bowl|
|1973||Wittenberg||21||San Diego||14||Division III Playoffs|
|1974||Central (IA)||31||Evansville||14||Division III Playoffs|
|1983||Cal Davis||25||Butler||3||Division II Playoffs|
|1988||Tennessee-Martin||23||Butler||3||Division II Playoffs|
|1989||Dayton||17||Union (NY)||7||Stagg Bowl|
|1991||Pittsburg State||26||Butler||16||Division II Playoffs|
From 2006 through 2009, the PFL and Northeast Conference (NEC) staged the Gridiron Classic, an exempted postseason football game that matched the champions of the two conferences which were technically members of Division I FCS, but which were not the recipients of automatic invitations to the football championship playoff at the time.
Since 2013, the PFL champion has received an invite to the FCS playoffs; previously, PFL teams had to receive an at-large bid, which no team ever received.
|2013||Butler||First Round||Tennessee State||L, 0–31|
|2014||San Diego||First Round||Montana||L, 14–52|
|2015||Dayton||First Round||Western Illinois||L, 7–24|
|2016||San Diego||First Round
North Dakota State
|2017||San Diego||First Round
North Dakota State
|Butler||Bud and Jackie Sellick Bowl||7,500|
|Jacksonville||D. B. Milne Field||5,500|
|Morehead State||Jayne Stadium||10,000|
|San Diego||Torero Stadium||6,000|
|Stetson||Spec Martin Memorial Stadium||6,000|