FBS independents
AssociationNCAA
Founded1978; 46 years ago (1978)
Sports fielded
  • 1
    • men's: 1
DivisionDivision I
SubdivisionFBS
No. of teams3 (2 in 2025)
RegionEastern United States
Midwestern United States
Official websiteOfficial website
Locations
FBS Independent Map 2023

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" (the New Year's Six bowls that issue at-large bids: Cotton, Peach, and Fiesta), if they are chosen by the CFP selection committee. Notre Dame has a potential tie-in with the Orange Bowl, along with other bowls via its affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Historically, Notre Dame had similar agreements with its previous conference, the Big East.

The ranks of football independents increased by one starting with the 2011 season with the announcement that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference (MW) to become a football independent starting with that season.[1] 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.[2] 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)[3] and decreased by one more in 2015 with Navy joining the American Athletic Conference (The American) as a football-only member.[4][5][6] UMass became an FBS independent in 2016.[7] 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,[8] and Liberty, which transitioned from the Big South Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision in 2018.[9] The UConn Huskies became an FBS independent team.[10]

The most recent changes to the independent ranks came in 2023 when BYU joined the Big 12 Conference,[11] and Liberty and New Mexico State joined Conference USA. A year later, Army joined Navy as a football-only member of The American.[12] In 2025, UMass will become a full member of the Mid-American Conference.[13]

FBS independents

Departing members are highlighted in rose.

Institution Location Founded First season Type Enrollment Endowment
(millions)
Nickname Colors Primary conference
University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana 1842 1887 Private
(Catholic)
12,681 $18,074[14] Fighting Irish     ACC
[N 1]
University of Connecticut Storrs, Connecticut 1881 1896 Public 32,333 $708 Huskies     Big East
University of Massachusetts Amherst Amherst, Massachusetts 1863 1879 Public 30,593 $368 Minutemen     A-10

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.

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 contracts, 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 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.

In 2020, after several non-ACC games were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame opted to play a full ACC football schedule for just the 2020 season. The Irish were eligible for the conference championship game (which they lost to Clemson) and the conference's automatic bowl bids. Notre Dame's football program returned to independence in 2021, with its schedule including the usual five games against ACC schools.[20]

UConn

The University of Connecticut 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 seven seasons in that league, the Huskies went unbeaten in conference play, both in the regular season and the conference tournament,[22][23] with all but two of their 139 conference wins being by double-digit margins.[24]

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.[10] Ironically, the football program's poor record in recent seasons may make it easier to find FBS opponents to fill out the schedule.[25]

UConn opted not to field a team in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting disruption to college football schedules. Specifically, as many other programs moved to conference-only schedules due to the pandemic, several of UConn's scheduled matches were canceled, and the program's status as an independent made it very difficult to schedule replacement games.[26]

UMass

The University of Massachusetts Amherst 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.[27][28] In September 2014, Massachusetts announced that they would be leaving the MAC and would compete as an independent beginning with the 2016 season.[29][30]

In late February 2024, it was announced that the 2024 season for UMass will be the last season competing as an independent. The Minutemen will rejoin the Mid-American Conference (MAC) as a full member beginning in 2025.[31][32]

Independent school stadiums

School Football stadium Capacity
Notre Dame Notre Dame Stadium 80,795
UConn Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field 42,704
UMass Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium 17,000

Television rights

School Network First season
Notre Dame NBC/Peacock[a] 1991
UConn CBS[b] 2021
UMass ESPN[c] 2022
  1. ^ One Notre Dame home game exclusively streams on Peacock, along with simulcasts of games airing on NBC, since 2021. Before that, there have been some Fighting Irish games aired on the now-defunct NBCSN. In 2020, two games aired on USA Network, one against South Florida, and a portion of the game against Clemson due to NBC's coverage of Joe Biden's victory speech, before returning to NBC for the remainder of the game.
  2. ^ UConn's home games primarily aired on CBS Sports Network since 2021. The deal was made prior to the 2020 season, but the team cancelled their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2024 season will be their fourth and final season in the deal. No home game has aired on the CBS network during their deal. In 2022 and 2023, one home game, both being against in-state FCS schools, were broadcast on The CW affiliate WCCT-TV and CBS affiliate WFSB-TV respectively.
  3. ^ UMass home games primarily stream on the ESPN+ streaming platform. The only non-streaming home game was in 2023 against Toledo, broadcast on ESPNU.

List of current and past independent schools

The following is an incomplete 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. Conference alignments reflect those in place for the next NCAA season in 2024.

From To 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 CUSA (1998–2004)
2005 2023 CUSA (1998–2004) American (2024–present)
1978 1990 Boston College Division I independent Big East (1991–2004) ACC (2005–present)
2011 2022 BYU Mountain West (1999–2010) Big 12 (2023–present)
1978 1995 Cincinnati Division I independent CUSA (1996–2004) Big 12 (2023–present)
1978 1981 Colgate Division I independent Division I-AA independent (1982–1985) Patriot League (1986–present)
1978 1996 East Carolina Division I independent CUSA (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 2]
1978 1981 Indiana State Division I independent Division I-AA independent (1982–1985) MVFC (1986–present)[N 2]
2018 2022 Liberty Big South (2002–2017) CUSA (2023–present)
1982 1992 Louisiana Southland Conference Big West (1993–1995) Sun Belt (2001–present)
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) CUSA (2013–present)
1978 1981 Louisiana–Monroe Division I independent Southland (1982-1993)
1994 2000 Southland (1982-1993) Sun Belt (2001–present)
1978 1995 Louisville Division I independent CUSA (1996–2004) ACC (2014–present)
1978 1995 Memphis Division I independent CUSA (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) CUSA (2013–present)
1978 2014 Navy Division I independent American (2015–present)
2013 New Mexico State WAC (2005–2012) Sun Belt (2014–2017)
2018 2022 Sun Belt (2014–2017) CUSA (2023–present)
1978 1982 North Texas Division I independent Southland (1983–1994)
1995 Southland (1983–1994) Big West (1996–2000) American (2023–present)
1987 1992 Northern Illinois MAC Big West (1993–1995)
1996 Big West (1993–1995) MAC (1997–present)
1978 2019 Notre Dame Division I independent ACC (2020)
2021 present ACC (2020)
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 Football (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 CUSA (2003–2004) Big East/American (2005–present)[N 5]
1978 1995 Southern Miss Division I independent CUSA (1996–2021) Sun Belt (2022–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 5]
2002 2003 Troy Division I-AA independent Sun Belt (2004–present)
1978 1995 Tulane Division I independent CUSA (1996–2013) American (2014–present)
1986 1995 Tulsa MVC WAC (1996–2004) American (2014–present)
1996 1998 UAB Division I-AA independent CUSA (1999–2014, 2017–2022)[N 6] American (2023–present)
1996 2001 UCF Division I-AA independent MAC (2002–2004) Big 12 (2023–present)
2000 2003 UConn Atlantic 10 (1997–1999) Big East (2004–2012)
2020 present 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 independent Dropped football CAA Football (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) CUSA (2014–present)
1986 Wichita State MVC Dropped football
1978 1981 William & Mary Division I independent Division I-AA independent (1982-1992) CAA Football (2007–present)[N 3]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Notre Dame is officially an independent football team. 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. In 2020, after several games against non-ACC schools were cancelled, Notre Dame opted to play a full ACC schedule for that one pandemic-disrupted season. The Irish were eligible for the conference championship game and for the ACC's Orange Bowl bid.[15][16]
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c CAA Football, the technically separate football league operated by the all-sports Coastal Athletic Association, did not exist until 2007. However, it 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 A-10 football conference disbanded, with all of its members joining the new CAA Football. The automatic berth of the Yankee Conference in the I-AA/FCS playoffs passed in succession to the A-10 and CAA Football.
  4. ^ Rutgers remained in the American Athletic Conference for the 2013 season before leaving for the Big Ten Conference in 2014.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ UAB dropped football after the 2014 season, but reinstated the sport for 2017 and beyond. The school remained a CUSA member throughout.

References

  1. ^ Katz, Andy (August 31, 2010). "BYU leaving MWC for 2011–12 season". ESPN.com. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  2. ^ Hinnen, Jerry (September 12, 2012). "New Mexico State makes it official, will go independent in 2013". CBSsports.com. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ "Navy sets sail with the Big East". ESPN.com. January 24, 2012.
  5. ^ "Big East officially adds Navy". ESPN.com. January 24, 2012.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Independent football schedule taking shape for UMass">[1]
  8. ^ "Sun Belt Football to Be 10 Teams in 2018" (Press release). Sun Belt Conference. March 1, 2016. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  9. ^ "Liberty to become FBS independent in 2018". Fox Sports. February 16, 2017. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
  10. ^ a b @Brett_McMurphy (July 26, 2019). "UConn will become an FBS independent in football & reaches agreement with American, will pay $17 million exit fee to leave league & join Big East In Olympic sports on July 1, 2020" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  11. ^ "BYU to Join Big 12 Conference" (Press release). BYU Cougars. September 10, 2021. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  12. ^ "Sources: Army approved to join AAC for football". ESPN.com. 2023-10-25. Retrieved 2023-10-25.
  13. ^ "Mid-American Conference to Add University of Massacusetts as Full Member" (Press release). Mid-American Conference. February 29, 2024. Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  14. ^ "2021 NACUBO-TIAA Study of Endowments (NTSE) Results". April 20, 2022.
  15. ^ "ACC sets 11-game slate, includes Notre Dame". ESPN.com. July 30, 2020.
  16. ^ "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.
  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. newsinfo.nd.edu. Archived from the original on August 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  19. ^ "Notre Dame Football Program Ranked Most Valuable In College Football". Forbes.com. 2006-11-20. Archived from the original on 2008-04-19. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  20. ^ "Football".
  21. ^ "Chasing Ghosts: Calhoun looms large, but clouds parting at UConn". ESPN.com. July 23, 2019. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  22. ^ Borzello, Jeff; Schlabach, Mark (June 22, 2019). "Sources: UConn expected to rejoin Big East". ESPN.com. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
  23. ^ Thamel, Pete (June 22, 2019). "Sources: UConn move to the Big East inevitable". Yahoo Sports. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
  24. ^ "No. 5 UConn beats Cincy 87-53, finishes perfect run in AAC". ESPN.com. Associated Press. March 9, 2020. Retrieved January 30, 2021.
  25. ^ "What UConn Football's Schedule Could Look Like in 2020 as Independent". 2019-06-23.
  26. ^ Bromberg, Nick (August 5, 2020). "Without a conference, UConn cancels football in 2020". Yahoo! Sports.
  27. ^ "UMass Football Will Leave Mid-American Conference at End of 2015". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  28. ^ "UMass football, MAC to part ways following 2015 season". 2014-03-26.
  29. ^ "UMass football announces 19 games for 2016-22 seasons featuring BYU, Appalachian State, Ohio and Hawaii". 2014-09-24.
  30. ^ "Matt Vautour: Independent football schedule taking shape for UMass". Archived from the original on November 13, 2014.
  31. ^ Withers, Tom (February 27, 2024). "UMass will join Mid-American Conference as a full sports member in 2025, MAC commissioner says". Associated Press. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  32. ^ Hernandez, Victoria (February 26, 2024). "UMass to join MAC conference, including previously independent football, per reports". USA Today. Retrieved February 27, 2024.