NCAA Division I Football Championship

Last updated
NCAA Division I
Football Championship
NCAA Division I FCS logo.svg
Stadium Toyota Stadium (2010–present)
Location Frisco, Texas (2010–present)
Previous stadiums Finley Stadium (1997–2009)
Marshall University Stadium (1992–1996)
various (1978–1991)
Previous locations Chattanooga, Tennessee (1997–2009)
Huntington, West Virginia (1992–1996)
various (1978–1991)
Preceded byNCAA Division I-AA Football Championship (1978–2005)
2019 season matchup
North Dakota State vs. James Madison
(North Dakota State 28–20)
2020–21 season matchup
Sam Houston State vs. South Dakota State
(Sam Houston State 23–21)

The NCAA Division I Football Championship is an annual post-season college football game, played since 2006, used to determine a national champion of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). From 1978 to 2005, the game was known as the NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship.


The game serves as the final match of an annual postseason bracket tournament between top teams in FCS. Since 2013, 24 teams normally participate in the tournament, with some teams receiving automatic bids upon winning their conference championship, and other teams determined by a selection committee. The reigning national champions are the Sam Houston State Bearkats, who won the championship game for the 2020–21 season in May 2021 following a reduced 16-team playoff.

The FCS is the highest division in college football to hold a playoff tournament sanctioned by the NCAA to determine its champion. The four-team College Football Playoff used by the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is not sanctioned by the NCAA.


Playoff format

In the inaugural season of Division I-AA, the 1978 postseason included just four teams; three regional champions (East, West, and South) plus an at-large selection. [1] The field doubled to eight teams in 1981, with champions of five conferences—Big Sky, Mid-Eastern, Ohio Valley, Southwestern, and Yankee—receiving automatic bids. [2] The top four teams were seeded, and then matched against the four remaining teams based on geographical proximity. [3] The tournament was expanded to 12 teams in 1982, with each of the top four seeds receiving a first-round bye and a home game in the quarterfinals. [4] Champions of the Southern and Southland conferences also received automatic bids. [5]

The number of automatic bids has varied over time, due to changes in the number and size of conferences, with an automatic bid typically granted only to champions of conferences with at least six teams. [6] Initially, the tournament was played in December; since the expansion to twelve teams in 1982, earlier rounds have been held in late November.

The playoffs expanded to a 16-team format in 1986, requiring four postseason victories to win the title. Initially, only the top four teams were seeded, [7] with other teams geographically placed in the bracket. From 1995 through 2000, all 16 teams were seeded, independent of geography. In 2001, the number of seeded teams was reduced to four, with the seeded teams assured of home games in early tournament rounds, and other teams once again placed in the bracket to minimize travel. [8] Home team designation in games between unseeded teams is determined based on several factors, including attendance history and revenue potential. [9]

In April 2008, the NCAA announced that the playoff field would expand to 20 teams in 2010, with the Big South and Northeast Conference earning automatic bids for the first time. [10] That bracket structure included seeding of the top five teams. Twelve teams received first-round byes; the remaining eight teams played first-round games, with the four winners advancing to face the top four seeds. The playoffs expanded to 24 teams beginning in 2013, with the champion of the Pioneer Football League receiving an automatic bid for the first time. [11] The number of seeded teams was increased to eight, with the 16 unseeded teams playing in first-round games. For the 2020 season, impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the bracket was reduced to 16 teams. [12]

The field is traditionally set the Sunday before Thanksgiving and play begins that weekend.

Appalachian State's National Championship trophies for 2005 (I-AA), 2006 (FCS), and 2007 (FCS). NC TrophiesASU.jpg
Appalachian State's National Championship trophies for 2005 (I-AA), 2006 (FCS), and 2007 (FCS).
Playoff format
1st round

Team selection

At-large selections and seeding within the bracket are determined by the FCS Playoff Selection Committee, which consists of one athletic director from each conference with an automatic bid. [13] As of the 2018 season, there are 10 conferences with automatic bids and the selection committee makes 14 at-large selections. [13] For the 2018 season, the committee was chaired by Dr. Brad Teague of the University of Central Arkansas. [14]

Championship final

The 2015 final between North Dakota State and Jacksonville State at Toyota Stadium Toyotastadiumfcs.jpg
The 2015 final between North Dakota State and Jacksonville State at Toyota Stadium

The tournament culminates with the national final, played between the two remaining teams from the playoff bracket. Unlike earlier round games in each year's playoff, which are played at campus sites, the title game is played at a site predetermined by the NCAA, akin to how the NFL predetermines the site for each Super Bowl. Originally played in December, with the 2010 expansion to a 20-team field, the final moved to January, with two or three weeks between the semifinals and final.

The inaugural title game was played in 1978 in Wichita Falls, Texas. The 1979 and 1980 games were held in Orlando, Florida, and Sacramento, California, respectively, and the game returned Wichita Falls for 1981 and 1982. The games played in Wichita Falls were known as the Pioneer Bowl, while the game played in Sacramento was known as the Camellia Bowl—both names were used for various NCAA playoff games played in those locations, and were not specific to the I-AA championship. In 1983 and 1984, the game was played in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1985 and 1986, Tacoma, Washington, hosted the game, which the NCAA branded as the "Diamond Bowl". [15]

The 1987 and 1988 games were played in Pocatello, Idaho; and from 1989 through 1991, in Statesboro, Georgia. The 1992 through 1996 games were held in Huntington, West Virginia; and from 1997 through 2009, the title game was played in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Since 2010, the title game has been played in Frisco, Texas, a suburb north of Dallas, at Toyota Stadium, a multi-purpose stadium primarily used by FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. The stadium was known as Pizza Hut Park until the day after the final of the 2011 season, and then as FC Dallas Stadium until September 2013. The original contract with Frisco began in the 2010 season and ran through the 2012 season. [16] The contract has since been extended three times; first through the 2015 season, [17] then through the 2019 season, [18] and most recently through the 2024 season with an option for the 2025 season. [19]

Season(s)VenueLocationTenant NCAA teamDagger-14-plain.pngTitle games by tenant
1978 Memorial Stadium Wichita Falls, Texas noneN/A
1979 Orlando Stadium Orlando, Florida UCF Knights (D-III)N/A
1980 Hughes Stadium Sacramento, California noneN/A
1981–1982Memorial StadiumWichita Falls, TexasnoneN/A
1983–1984 Johnson Hagood Stadium Charleston, South Carolina The Citadel Bulldogs none
1985–1986 Tacoma Dome Tacoma, Washington noneN/A
1987 Minidome Double-dagger-14-plain.png Pocatello, Idaho Idaho State Bengals none
1988 Holt Arena
1989–1991 Paulson Stadium Statesboro, Georgia Georgia Southern Eagles 2: 1989, 1990
1992–1996 Marshall University Stadium Huntington, West Virginia Marshall Thundering Herd 4: 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996
1997–2009 Finley Stadium Chattanooga, Tennessee Chattanooga Mocs none
2010–2011 Pizza Hut Park Double-dagger-14-plain.png Frisco, Texas noneN/A
2012FC Dallas StadiumDouble-dagger-14-plain.png
2013–present Toyota Stadium

Dagger-14-plain.png at the time games were played
Double-dagger-14-plain.png earlier name of the same venue

There have been six instances where a team whose venue was predetermined to host the final game advanced to play for the championship on their own field. Georgia Southern won both title games they played at Paulson Stadium, while Marshall had a 2–2 record in four title games they played at Marshall University Stadium (now known as Joan C. Edwards Stadium).


Three FCS conferences usually do not participate in the tournament. The Ivy League, which has been at the FCS level since 1982 and prohibits its members from awarding athletic scholarships in any sport, plays a strict ten-game regular season and does not participate in any postseason football, citing academic concerns. [20] [21] The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), two conferences consisting of historically black colleges and universities, opt to play the Celebration Bowl (which was established in 2015) instead of the FCS tournament. MEAC gave up its automatic spot in the tournament prior to the 2015 season, while SWAC (whose regular season extends through the Turkey Day Classic and Bayou Classic at the end of November and holds its own final in December) has not sent a team to the tournament since 1997. [22] Teams from the MEAC and SWAC may accept at-large bids, so long as they aren't committed to other postseason games that would conflict with the tournament. The most recent team from the MEAC to accept a bid were the 2016 North Carolina A&T Aggies, while the most recent SWAC team to participate in the tournament were the Jackson State Tigers in 1997.

Historically, conferences in FCS that did not offer athletic scholarships were not granted automatic bids into the tournament and, although in theory were eligible for at-large bids, never received any. The last non-scholarship conference in the subdivision, the Pioneer Football League, now receives a tournament bid, which was initiated with the 2013 postseason.

FCS conferences

ConferenceNicknameFoundedFootball membersSportsHeadquarters
ASUN Conference ASUN1978At least 5 in 202219 (20 in 2021; 21 in 2022) Atlanta, Georgia
Big Sky Conference Big Sky196313 (12 in 2022)16 Ogden, Utah
Big South Conference Big South198310 (9 in 2021; 7 in 2022)19 Charlotte, North Carolina
Colonial Athletic Association CAA19791221 Richmond, Virginia
Ivy League  %1954833 Princeton, New Jersey
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Dagger-14-plain.pngMEAC19709 (6 in 2021)16 Norfolk, Virginia
Missouri Valley Football Conference MVFC1982111 St. Louis, Missouri
Northeast Conference NEC1981822 Somerset, New Jersey
Ohio Valley Conference OVC19489 (7 in 2021)18 Brentwood, Tennessee
Patriot League 1986724 Center Valley, Pennsylvania
Pioneer Football League PFL19919 (11 in 2021)1St. Louis, Missouri
Southern Conference SoCon1921920 Spartanburg, South Carolina
Southland Conference 196311 (6 in 2021)17 Frisco, Texas
Southwestern Athletic Conference Double-dagger-14-plain.pngSWAC192010 (12 in 2021)18 Birmingham, Alabama
Western Athletic Conference WAC19629 (7 in 2022; 8 by 2024)19 (20 in 2021) Englewood, Colorado

% The Ivy League abstains from the championship tournament and all postseason play.

Dagger-14-plain.png The MEAC champion, since 2015, forgoes its automatic bid to allow its champion to participate in the Celebration Bowl. Non-champions are eligible for at-large bids (an example being the 2016 North Carolina A&T Aggies football team).

Double-dagger-14-plain.png The SWAC abstains from the championship tournament to allow for a longer regular season, a conference final, and participation in the Celebration Bowl against the MEAC champion since 2015.


For each season since the inaugural year of Division I-AA play, 1978, the following table lists the date of each title game and the champion. [23] The score and runner-up are also noted, along with the host city, game attendance, and head coach of the championship team.

SeasonDate (notes)ChampionScoreRunner-upLocationAttendanceWinning
head coach
1978 December 16, 1978 Florida A&M 35–28 UMass Wichita Falls, TX 13,604 Rudy Hubbard
1979 December 15, 1979 Eastern Kentucky 30–7 Lehigh Orlando, FL 5,200 Roy Kidd
1980 December 20, 1980 Boise State 31–29 Eastern Kentucky Sacramento, CA 8,157 Jim Criner
1981 December 19, 1981 Idaho State 34–23 Eastern Kentucky Wichita Falls, TX11,002 Dave Kragthorpe
1982 December 18, 1982 Eastern Kentucky (2)17–14 Delaware Wichita Falls, TX11,257 Roy Kidd (2)
1983 December 17, 1983 Southern Illinois 43–7 Western Carolina Charleston, SC 15,950 Rey Dempsey
1984 December 15, 1984 Montana State 19–6 Louisiana Tech Charleston, SC9,125 Dave Arnold
1985 December 21, 1985 Georgia Southern 44–42 Furman Tacoma, WA 5,306 Erk Russell
1986 December 19, 1986 Georgia Southern (2)48–21 Arkansas State Tacoma, WA4,419 Erk Russell (2)
1987 December 19, 1987 Northeast Louisiana 43–42 Marshall Pocatello, ID 11,513 Pat Collins
1988 December 17, 1988 Furman 17–12 Georgia Southern Pocatello, ID9,714 Jimmy Satterfield
1989 December 16, 1989 Georgia Southern (3)37–34 Stephen F. Austin Statesboro, GA 25,725 Erk Russell (3)
1990 December 15, 1990 Georgia Southern (4)36–13 Nevada Statesboro, GA23,204 Tim Stowers
1991 December 21, 1991 Youngstown State 25–17 Marshall Statesboro, GA12,667 Jim Tressel
1992 December 19, 1992 Marshall 31–28 Youngstown State Huntington, WV 31,304 Jim Donnan
1993 December 18, 1993 Youngstown State (2)17–5 Marshall Huntington, WV29,218 Jim Tressel (2)
1994 December 17, 1994 Youngstown State (3)28–14 Boise State Huntington, WV27,674 Jim Tressel (3)
1995 December 16, 1995 Montana 22–20 Marshall Huntington, WV32,106 Don Read
1996 December 21, 1996 Marshall (2)49–29 Montana Huntington, WV30,052 Bob Pruett
1997 December 20, 1997 Youngstown State (4)10–9 McNeese State Chattanooga, TN 14,771 Jim Tressel (4)
1998 December 19, 1998 UMass 55–43 Georgia Southern Chattanooga, TN17,501 Mark Whipple
1999 December 18, 1999 Georgia Southern (5)59–24 Youngstown State Chattanooga, TN20,052 Paul Johnson
2000 December 16, 2000 Georgia Southern (6)27–25 Montana Chattanooga, TN17,156 Paul Johnson (2)
2001 December 21, 2001 Montana (2)13–6 Furman Chattanooga, TN12,698 Joe Glenn
2002 December 20, 2002 Western Kentucky 34–14 McNeese State Chattanooga, TN12,360 Jack Harbaugh
2003 December 19, 2003 Delaware 40–0 Colgate Chattanooga, TN14,281 K. C. Keeler
2004 December 17, 2004 James Madison 31–21 Montana Chattanooga, TN16,771 Mickey Matthews
2005 December 16, 2005 Appalachian State 21–16 Northern Iowa Chattanooga, TN20,236 Jerry Moore
2006 December 15, 2006 Appalachian State (2)28–17 UMass Chattanooga, TN22,808 Jerry Moore (2)
2007 December 14, 2007 Appalachian State (3)49–21 Delaware Chattanooga, TN23,010 Jerry Moore (3)
2008 December 19, 2008 Richmond 24–7 Montana Chattanooga, TN17,823 Mike London
2009 December 18, 2009 Villanova 23–21 Montana Chattanooga, TN14,328 Andy Talley
2010 January 7, 2011 Eastern Washington 20–19 Delaware Frisco, TX 13,027 Beau Baldwin
2011 January 7, 2012 North Dakota State 17–6 Sam Houston State Frisco, TX20,586 Craig Bohl
2012 January 5, 2013 North Dakota State (2)39–13 Sam Houston State Frisco, TX21,411 Craig Bohl (2)
2013 January 4, 2014 North Dakota State (3)35–7 Towson Frisco, TX19,802 Craig Bohl (3)
2014 January 10, 2015 North Dakota State (4)29–27 Illinois State Frisco, TX20,918 Chris Klieman
2015 January 9, 2016 North Dakota State (5)37–10 Jacksonville State Frisco, TX21,836 Chris Klieman (2)
2016 January 7, 2017 James Madison (2)28–14 Youngstown State Frisco, TX14,423 Mike Houston
2017 January 6, 2018 North Dakota State (6)17–13 James Madison Frisco, TX19,090 Chris Klieman (3)
2018 January 5, 2019 North Dakota State (7)38–24 Eastern Washington Frisco, TX17,802 Chris Klieman (4)
2019 January 11, 2020 North Dakota State (8)28–20 James Madison Frisco, TX17,866 Matt Entz
2020 May 16, 2021 Sam Houston State 23–21 South Dakota State Frisco, TX7,840 K. C. Keeler (2)



Bo Levi Mitchell was MVP of the final for the 2010 season. Bo Levi Mitchell.JPG
Bo Levi Mitchell was MVP of the final for the 2010 season.

Since 2009, a Most Outstanding Player has been named for each final. [24]

2009 Matt Szczur VillanovaWR
2010 Bo Levi Mitchell Eastern WashingtonQB
2011Travis BeckNorth Dakota StateLB
2012 Brock Jensen North Dakota StateQB
2013Brock JensenNorth Dakota StateQB
2014 Carson Wentz North Dakota StateQB
2015Carson WentzNorth Dakota StateQB
2016 Khalid Abdullah [25] James MadisonRB
2017 Easton Stick North Dakota StateQB
2018 Darrius Shepherd North Dakota StateWR
2019 Trey Lance North Dakota StateQB
2020Jequez EzzardSam Houston StateWR

Note: starting with the 2010 season, the final game is played in the next calendar year.

Most appearances

The following table summarizes appearances in the final, by team, since the 1978 season, the first year of Division I-AA (the predecessor of FCS). Updated through completion of the 2020 season (43 finals, 86 total appearances).

TeamRecordAppearances by season
GamesWLWin pct.WonLost
North Dakota State
801.0002011*, 2012*, 2013*, 2014*, 2015*, 2017*, 2018*, 2019*
Georgia Southern^
62.7501985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1999, 20001988, 1998
Youngstown State
43.5711991, 1993, 1994, 19971992, 1999, 2016*
25.2861995, 20011996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009
24.3331992, 19961987, 1991, 1993, 1995
James Madison
22.5002004, 2016*2017*, 2019*
Eastern Kentucky
22.5001979, 19821980, 1981
13.25020031982, 2007, 2010*
Appalachian State^
301.0002005, 2006, 2007
12.33319881985, 2001
Sam Houston State
12.3332020*2011*, 2012*
12.33319981978, 2006
Boise State^
Eastern Washington
McNeese State
02.0001997, 2002
Florida A&M
Idaho State
Northeast Louisiana^
Montana State
Southern Illinois
Western Kentucky^
Arkansas State^
Illinois State
Jacksonville State
Louisiana Tech^
Northern Iowa
Stephen F. Austin
South Dakota State
Western Carolina
* Denotes finals played in the following calendar year.
^ Team is now a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

The below map shows the locations of teams that have won the championship; the color of the dot indicates the number of titles.

Usa edcp relief location map.png
Red pog.svg
Georgia Southern
Gold pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Youngstown State
Pink pog.svg
Appalachian State
Black pog.svg
Black pog.svg
Black pog.svg
Black pog.svg
White pog.svg

White pog.svg
White pog.svg
White pog.svg
White pog.svg
Eastern Washington
White pog.svg
Florida A&M
White pog.svg
White pog.svg
White pog.svg
Montana State
White pog.svg
White pog.svg
Sam Houston State
White pog.svg
Southern Illinois
White pog.svg
White pog.svg
Schools with FCS championships
Gold pog.svg – 8 championships, Red pog.svg – 6 championships, Blue pog.svg – 4 championships
Pink pog.svg – 3 championships, Black pog.svg – 2 championships, White pog.svg – 1 championship
Italics indicate schools that have since moved to FBS

Appearances by conference

The following table summarizes appearances in the final, by conference, since the 1978 season, the first year of Division I-AA (the predecessor of FCS). Updated through completion of the 2020 season (43 finals, 86 total appearances).

ConferenceRecordAppearances by season
GamesWLWin pct.WonLost
SoCon 1688.5001988, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 20071983, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2001
MVFC 15105.6671997, 2002, 2011*, 2012*, 2013*, 2014*, 2015*, 2017*, 2018*, 2019*1999, 2005, 2014*, 2016*, 2020*
Big Sky 1468.4291980, 1981, 1984, 1995, 2001, 2010*1990, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2018*
Independent 1174.6361985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 19941979, 1982, 1988, 1992
Southland 927.2221987, 2020*1984, 1986, 1989, 1997, 2002, 2011*, 2012*
CAA 835.3752008, 2009, 2016*2007, 2010*, 2013*, 2017*, 2019*
OVC 523.4001979, 19821980, 1981, 2015*
A-10 431.7501998, 2003, 20042006
MVC 1101.0001983 
SIAC 1101.0001978 
Patriot League 101.000 2003
Yankee 101.000 1978

Game records

This table lists records for the Championship Game.

Most points scored (one team)59Georgia SouthernYoungstown State 1999
Most points scored (losing team)43Georgia SouthernUMass 1998
Most points scored (both teams)98UMass (55)Georgia Southern (43)
Fewest points allowed0DelawareColgate 2003
Largest margin of victory40Delaware (40)Colgate (0)
Attendance32,106Montana vs. Marshall 1995

Media coverage

The game has been televised on an ESPN affiliated network since 1995.

1978–1981 ABC Sports
1982 CBS Sports
1983ABC Sports
1984 Satellite Program Network
1985–1989 ESPN
1990–1994CBS Sports
2002–2018 ESPN2
2019–present ESPN on ABC [26]

See also

Other college football championships

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