NCAA Division I FBS independent schools

Last updated
FBS independents
NCAA Division I FBS independent schools logo.png
Established1978;41 years ago (1978)
Association NCAA
Division Division I
Subdivision FBS
Sports fielded
  • 1
    • men's: 1
Region Eastern United States
Midwestern United States
Mountain States
Southern United States
Headquarters Indianapolis, Indiana
Commissioner Mark Emmert (since November 1, 2010)
Website Official website
NCAA Division I FBS independent schools map.svg

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] The UConn Huskies will become an FBS independent team beginning with the 2020 season. [12]

FBS independents

InstitutionFoundedNicknameFirst seasonLocationTypePrimary conference
United States Military Academy
(Army West Point)
March 16, 1802;217 years ago Black Knights November 29, 1890;129 years ago West Point, New York Federal (Military) Patriot League
Brigham Young University
October 16, 1875;144 years ago Cougars October 7, 1922;97 years ago Provo, Utah Private (LDS) West Coast Conference
Liberty University
1971;48 years ago Flames 1973;46 years ago Lynchburg, Virginia Private (Christian) Atlantic Sun Conference
New Mexico State University
(New Mexico State)
1888;131 years ago Aggies 1893;126 years ago Las Cruces, New Mexico Public (New Mexico State University system) Western Athletic Conference
University of Notre Dame
(Notre Dame)
November 26, 1842;177 years ago Fighting Irish November 23, 1887;132 years ago Notre Dame, Indiana Private (Catholic) Atlantic Coast Conference
[lower-alpha 1]
University of Massachusetts Amherst
April 29, 1863;156 years ago Minutemen November 22, 1879;140 years ago Amherst, Massachusetts Public (University of Massachusetts system) Atlantic 10

Future members

InstitutionFoundedNicknameFirst seasonLocationTypePrimary conference
University of Connecticut
April 21, 1881;138 years ago Huskies October 3, 1896;123 years ago Storrs, Connecticut Public Big East Conference (2020)
  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. [13]

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[ dubious ].

Army has annual games guaranteed with Navy and with Air Force. It also has a historic rivalry with Notre Dame; the rivalry game is semi-regular, though no new editions to this rivalry are currently scheduled. 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 the bulk of their other sports, most notably men's and women's basketball.


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, [14] but had a very restrictive contract which did not allow BYU to broadcast its own football games. [15] The new contract with ESPN will pay BYU an estimated $800,000 to $1.2 million per home game, [16] 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, [17] 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 did 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 and will do so again in 2021 against Hawaii.

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. [18] 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. [19] [20]

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, [18] 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 only other ACC member with a men's or women'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.

UConn (2020)

UConn was a founding member of the original Big East Conference in 1979, but that conference split along football lines in 2013. As noted previously, Notre Dame remained an FBS independent but placed its other sports in the ACC, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse followed Notre Dame into the ACC, also joining ACC football. The seven members without FBS football teams left to form a new non-football Big East Conference, while the remaining FBS schools (among them UConn) joined with several new members to reorganize the Big East corporate entity as the American Athletic Conference (which would lose Louisville to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten a year later).

In the years after the split, UConn's flagship men's and women's basketball programs faced significant issues. Jim Calhoun, the coach who had largely built the UConn men into a national powerhouse, had retired after the 2011–12 season. While his successor Kevin Ollie had led the Huskies to a national title in the first season after the split, the team faded noticeably in later seasons, and Ollie was fired after the 2017–18 season amid an NCAA investigation. [21] Ollie's final season saw UConn men's attendance reach its lowest level in 30 years. The women had a somewhat different issue, namely a severe lack of competition in The American—in their first six seasons in that league, the Huskies went unbeaten in conference regular-season and tournament play. [22] [23]

The Huskies received and accepted an invitation to join the reconfigured Big East in 2019, with a July 2020 entry date. Due to the Big East not sponsoring football, UConn was willing to stay in The American as a football-only member. After leaving the conference in all other sports, the American Athletic Conference was unwilling to allow UConn to remain as a football-only member, leading to UConn's independence in football beginning in 2020. [24] Ironically, the football program's poor record in recent seasons may make it easier to find FBS opponents to fill out the schedule in 2020 and subsequent years. [25]


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. [26] [27] 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, 2018 and 2019 seasons. [28] [29] The Minutemen have set their entire 12-game schedule for 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. [30]

Independent school stadiums

InstitutionFootball stadiumCapacity
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
UConn (2020) Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field 38,066
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. School names reflect those in current use by their athletic programs, which may not reflect names used when those schools were independents.

YearsTeamPrevious conferenceConference joinedCurrent 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
1978–1995 Cincinnati Division I independent C-USA (1996–2004) Big East/American (2005–present) [N 1]
1978–1981 Colgate Division I independentDivision I-AA independent (1982–1985) Patriot League (1986–present)
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 independentDivision 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 2]
1978–1981 Indiana State Division I independentDivision I-AA independent (1982–1985) MVFC (1986–present) [N 2]
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
1995 Pacific Big West Dropped football
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 independentDivision I-AA Independent (1982–1983) CAA (1984–present) [N 3]
1978–1990 Rutgers Division I independent Big East/American (1991–2013) [N 4] 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 independentDivision 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 5]
1996–2001 UCF Division I-AA independent MAC (2002–2004) American (2013–present)
2000–2003, 2020 UConn The American (2013–2019)
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 independentDropped football CAA (1985–present) [N 3]
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 independentDivision I-AA independent (1982–1992) CAA (1993–present) [N 3]


  1. 1 2 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. 1 2 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.
  3. 1 2 3 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.
  4. Rutgers remained in the American Athletic Conference for the 2013 season before leaving for the Big Ten Conference in 2014.
  5. 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

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  6. 1 2 Big East officially adds Navy
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