Pioneer Football League
Founded1991; 33 years ago (1991)
CommissionerGreg Walter (since 2023)
Sports fielded
  • 1 (football)
    • men's: 1
    • women's: 0
DivisionDivision I
No. of teams11
HeadquartersSt. Louis, Missouri
Location of teams in (({title))}

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.



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.[1] 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.

Membership changes

Original contraction

In 1997, the league was reduced to five members when the University of Evansville downgraded football from Division I to club status.

2001 expansion

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.[2] In February 2008, Marist College announced that it would join the PFL for the 2009 season, after the MAAC stopped sponsoring football.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] In addition, as of 2013, the league has an automatic bid into the FCS division I playoffs.[6] Soon after its PFL membership was announced, Mercer accepted an invitation to join the Southern Conference (scholarship-granting) effective July 1, 2014.[7] 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.

On July 1, 2014, Mercer University joined the Southern Conference for all sports, including football.

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.[8] Barring any further changes to conference membership, the PFL would have returned 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 remains in the Big South Conference for all other sports.[9] While Presbyterian did not become a full conference member until July 2021, it began PFL play in the spring 2021 season, rescheduled from fall 2020 due to COVID-19. After two PFL members chose not to play in the 2020–21 school year, the conference entered into a scheduling agreement with Presbyterian that included it in the spring 2021 schedule. While PC was not eligible for the PFL title in that season, it was eligible for the league's individual awards and honors.[10][11]

2019: Jacksonville drops football

On December 3, 2019 Jacksonville University announced that it discontinued its football program immediately.[12]

2021: Further expansion

Presbyterian was joined as a new PFL member in 2021 by the University of St. Thomas, a Twin Cities school that had been expelled from its longtime Division III home of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) effective in 2021–22. Shortly after the MIAC announced St. Thomas' expulsion, the Summit League, a non-football Division I conference, offered the Tommies membership. The NCAA announced on July 15, 2020 that it had granted a waiver to allow St. Thomas to make the jump to D-I on a five-year schedule, instead of the four years used for moves from Division II. The Tommies will not be eligible for the FCS playoffs until the transition is completed in 2026.[13]

Member schools

Current members

Institution Location Founded Joined Type Enrollment Nickname Colors Primary
the PFL
Butler University Indianapolis, Indiana 1855 1991 Private 5,554 Bulldogs     Horizon Big East
Davidson College Davidson, North Carolina 1837 2001 1,950 Wildcats     SoCon Atlantic 10
University of Dayton Dayton, Ohio 1850 1991 8,353 Flyers     Horizon
Drake University Des Moines, Iowa 1881 3,164 Bulldogs     Missouri Valley
Marist College Poughkeepsie, New York 1929 2009 6,200 Red Foxes     MAAC
Morehead State University Morehead, Kentucky 1922 2001 Public 8,218 Eagles     OVC
Presbyterian College Clinton, South Carolina 1880 2021 Private 1,172 Blue Hose     Big South
University of St. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota 1885 9,878 Tommies     Summit
University of San Diego San Diego, California 1949 1992 4,904 Toreros       WCC
Stetson University DeLand, Florida 1883 2013 4,330 Hatters     ASUN
Valparaiso University Valparaiso, Indiana 1859 1991 2,917 Beacons     Summit Missouri Valley

Former members

Institution Location Founded Joined Left Type Nickname Colors Primary
the PFL
Austin Peay State University Clarksville, Tennessee 1927 2001 2006 Public Governors     OVC ASUN
Campbell University Buies Creek, North Carolina 1887 2008 2018 Private Fighting Camels     ASUN CAA
University of Evansville Evansville, Indiana 1854 1991 1998[a] Purple Aces       Missouri Valley
Jacksonville University Jacksonville, Florida 1934 2001 2020[b] Dolphins     ASUN
Mercer University Macon, Georgia 1833 2013 2014 Bears     ASUN SoCon
  1. ^ Evansville dropped football following the 1997–98 school year.
  2. ^ Jacksonville dropped football following the 2019–20 school year.

Membership timeline

University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic ConferencePresbyterian CollegeNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsBig South ConferenceNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsSouth Atlantic ConferenceStetson UniversitySouthern ConferenceMercer UniversityMarist CollegeNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsMetro Atlantic Athletic ConferenceNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsLiberty Football ConferenceAtlantic Collegiate Football ConferenceCoastal Athletic Association Football ConferenceBig South ConferenceCampbell UniversityMorehead State UniversityNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsOhio Valley ConferenceJacksonville UniversityNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsDavidson CollegeNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsNCAA Division III independent schoolsUnited Athletic ConferenceASUN ConferenceOhio Valley ConferenceNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsAustin Peay State UniversityNCAA Division I FCS independent schoolsOhio Valley ConferenceUniversity of San DiegoNCAA Division III independent schoolsValparaiso UniversityUniversity of EvansvilleDrake UniversityUniversity of DaytonButler University

Full members  Other Conference  Other Conference 


One in-state rivalry currently exists in the PFL. A second had existed before Jacksonville discontinued its football program.

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 to 2012.

Jacksonville and Stetson had a football rivalry that ran from 2013, when Stetson began PFL play, to 2019, after which Jacksonville dropped football. The schools have been conference rivals in other sports since 1998, when Jacksonville joined the ASUN Conference, home to Stetson since 1985.

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.

Conference championships

Pioneer Football League is located in the United States
Morehead State
Morehead State
St. Thomas
St. Thomas
San Diego
San Diego
Locations of Pioneer Football League schools

PFL champions

Season Champion Record
1993 Dayton 5–0–0
1994 Butler
1995 Drake 5–0–0
1996 Dayton 5–0–0
1997 Dayton 5–0–0
1998 Drake 4–0
1999 Dayton 4–0
2000 Dayton
2001 Dayton Championship Game
2002 Dayton Championship Game
2003 Valparaiso Championship Game
2004 Drake Championship Game
2005 San Diego Championship Game
2006 San Diego 7–0
2007 Dayton
San Diego
2008 Jacksonville 7–1
2009 Butler
2010 Jacksonville
2011 San Diego
2012 Butler
San Diego
2013 Butler
2014 San Diego 7–1[14]
2015 Dayton
San Diego
2016 San Diego 8–0
2017 San Diego 8–0
2018 San Diego 8–0
2019 San Diego 8–0
2020/21* Davidson 4–1
2021 Davidson
San Diego
2022 St. Thomas 8-0
2023 Drake 8-0

(*) Due to COVID-19, the Pioneer Football League suspended the fall 2020 football season. Dayton and Marist opted out of the spring season. Presbyterian played a full PFL schedule, but was ineligible for the conference title, and its games were not counted in PFL standings.

League titles by school

School Championships Championship Years
1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001*, 2002*, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015
San Diego
2005*, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021
1995, 1998, 2000, 2004*, 2011, 2012, 2023
1994, 2009, 2012, 2013
2008, 2010
2000, 2003*
2020×, 2021
St. Thomas
Morehead State
Austin Peay

* – Won in PFL Championship Game
× – played in spring 2021
Italics – Co-champions

PFL Championship Game

Season North Division Score South Division Location
2001 Dayton 46–14 Jacksonville Dayton, Ohio
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

Postseason games

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.

Members pre-PFL postseason results

Below are postseason accomplishments by past and current members prior to the formation of the Pioneer Football League.

Season Champion Runner-up Bowl
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 Drake 14 Arizona 13 Salad Bowl
1948 Evansville 13 Missouri Valley 7 Refrigerator Bowl
1949 Evansville 22 Hillsdale 7 Refrigerator Bowl
1950 Wisconsin-La Crosse 47 Valparaiso 14 Cigar Bowl
1951 Houston 26 Dayton 21 Salad Bowl
1957 Louisville 34 Drake 20 Sun Bowl
1960 Middle Tennessee State 21 Presbyterian 12 Tangerine Bowl
1969 Arkansas State 29 Drake 21 Pecan Bowl
1969 Toledo 56 Davidson 33 Tangerine 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
1980 Dayton 63 Ithaca 0 Stagg Bowl
1981 Widener 17 Dayton 10 Stagg Bowl
1983 Cal Davis 25 Butler 3 Division II Playoffs
1987 Wagner 19 Dayton 3 Stagg Bowl
1988 Tennessee-Martin 23 Butler 3 Division II Playoffs
1989 Dayton 17 Union (NY) 7 Stagg Bowl
1991 Ithaca 34 Dayton 20 Stagg Bowl
1991 Pittsburg State 26 Butler 16 Division II Playoffs

PFL Sports Network Cup results

PFL Gridiron Classic results

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.

Season Champion Runner-up
2006 San Diego 27 Monmouth 7
2007 Dayton 42 Albany 21
2008 Albany 28 Jacksonville 0
2009 Butler 28 Central Connecticut 23

NCAA Division I Football Championship results

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.

Season PFL Champion Round Opponent(s) Result(s)
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
Second Round
Cal Poly
North Dakota State
W, 35–21
L, 7–45
2017 San Diego First Round
Second Round
Northern Arizona
North Dakota State
W, 41–10
L, 3–38
2018 San Diego First Round Nicholls L, 30–49
2019 San Diego First Round Northern Iowa L, 3–17
2020–21 Davidson First Round Jacksonville State L, 14–49
2021 Davidson First Round Kennesaw State L, 21–48
2022 Davidson* First Round Richmond L, 0–41
2023 Drake First Round North Dakota State L, 3–66

* - St. Thomas was the PFL champion in 2022; however, they were ineligible for postseason play due to still being in transition from Division III. Davidson, the runner-up, was awarded the auto-bid in their place.

Historical standings

Main article: List of Pioneer Football League standings

Conference facilities

School Football Stadium Capacity
Butler Bud and Jackie Sellick Bowl 7,500
Davidson Richardson Stadium 4,741
Dayton Welcome Stadium 11,000
Drake Drake Stadium 14,557[15]
Marist Leonidoff Field 5,000[16]
Morehead State Jayne Stadium 10,000
Presbyterian Bailey Memorial Stadium 6,500
St. Thomas O'Shaughnessy Stadium 5,025
San Diego Torero Stadium 6,000
Stetson Spec Martin Memorial Stadium 6,000
Valparaiso Brown Field 5,000


  1. ^ "Drake joins new league". The Telegraph-Herald. Dubuque, Iowa. November 22, 1991. pp. Page 1B. Retrieved July 1, 2012.
  2. ^ "Campbell University Accepts Invitation to Join Pioneer Football League". December 5, 2007. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2007.
  3. ^ "Marist gets a National Stage and Travel Schedule". September 11, 2009.
  4. ^ "Campbell University To Re-Join Big South Conference" (Press release). Big South Conference. May 14, 2009. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  5. ^ "Mercer University, Stetson University to join Pioneer Football League in 2013". June 13, 2011. Archived from the original on August 25, 2011. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  6. ^ Birch, Tommy (August 23, 2012). "Pioneer Football League officially announces automatic bid". Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on September 28, 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2012.
  7. ^ "VMI, ETSU, Mercer to join SoCon". College Football. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  8. ^ "Fighting Camels football to join Big South in 2018" (Press release). Campbell University. November 14, 2016. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  9. ^ "Presbyterian College Unveils New Strategic Plan" (Press release). Presbyterian College. November 19, 2017. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  10. ^ "PFL Announces Updated Spring Schedule" (Press release). Pioneer Football League. February 2, 2021. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  11. ^ "Valparaiso's Washington, San Diego's Glajchen Highlight 2020-21 PFL Major Award Recipients" (Press release). Pioneer Football League. April 26, 2021. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  12. ^ Moretti III, Matt. "Jacksonville University Discontinues Football". Jacksonville Athletics. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  13. ^ Haugen, Emily (July 15, 2020). "BREAKING: St. Thomas approved to begin transition to Division I athletics". TommieMedia. Minneapolis, Minnesota. Retrieved July 16, 2020.
  14. ^ "Football Program Compliance Update". Jacksonville University. November 14, 2014. Archived from the original on November 19, 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  15. ^ "Drake Stadium History". Drake Athletics. Retrieved December 31, 2008.
  16. ^ "Tenney Stadium at Leonidoff Field". Marist Athletics. Archived from the original on December 8, 2014. Retrieved December 5, 2014.