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D-I schools are generally the major collegiate athletic powers, with larger budgets, more elaborate facilities, and higher numbers of athletic scholarships in comparison to Division II and III. This level was once called the University Division of the NCAA in contrast to the College Division; this terminology was replaced with the current numeric (I, II, III) divisions in 1973. In football only, Division I was further subdivided into Division I-A (the principal football schools) and Division I-AA in 1978; these were renamed to "Football Bowl Subdivision" and "Football Championship Subdivision" in 2006. Subsequently, the term "Division I-AAA" has been used by some to delineate Division I schools which do not field a football program at all. Currently Division I contains 342 Institutions plus 7 going through the Reclassification Period. There currently is a moratorium on any additional movement up to Division I that is in effect until 2012.
All Division I schools must field athletes in at least seven sports for men and seven for women (or six for men and eight for women) with two team sports for each sex. There are several other NCAA sanctioned minimums and differences that distinguish Division I from Division II and III.
Subdivisions in Division I exist only in football. In all other sports, all Division I conferences are equivalent. The subdivisions were recently given names to reflect the differing levels of football play in them. Additionally, some sports, most notably ice hockey and men's volleyball, have completely different conference structures that operate outside of the normal NCAA sports conference structure.
The method by which the NCAA determines whether a school is Bowl or Championship subdivision is first by attendance numbers and then by scholarships.
For attendance reporting methods, the NCAA allows schools to report either total tickets sold or the number of persons in attendance at the games. They require a minimum average of 15,000 people in attendance every other year. These numbers get posted to the NCAA statistics website for football each year. With the new rules starting in the 2006 season, the number of Bowl Subdivision schools could drop in the future if those schools are not able to pull in enough fans into the games. Additionally, 8 schools in the Championship subdivision had enough attendance to be moved up in 2005 (although they would need to either compete as independents or join a conference in order to do so).
Football Bowl Subdivision
NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, college football is the only NCAA-sponsored sport without an organized tournament to determine its champion. Schools in Division I FBS compete in post-season bowl games, with the champions of six conferences receiving automatic bids to the highly lucrative Bowl Championship Series to determine a national champion. This is due to many factors, including that bowl games are sanctioned by the NCAA (primarily in terms of amateurism regulations and guaranteeing a minimum payout to conferences of the participating schools), but are not under its direct administration.
The remaining five conferences, often referred to as "Mid-majors", do not receive automatic bids but their conference champions are eligible for an automatic bid if it ranks in the BCS top 12 or in the top 16 and ahead of the champion from a conference with an automatic bid. Only one "mid-major" champion can qualify for an automatic bid in any year. The one exception is Notre Dame, which has to rank in the top eight of the BCS standings to ensure a spot in a BCS bowl game. 
FBS schools are limited to a total of 85 football players receiving financial assistance. For competitive reasons, a student receiving partial scholarship counts fully against the total of 85. Nearly all FBS schools that are not on NCAA probation give 85 full scholarships. The service academies—in this context, Army, Navy, and Air Force—are exempt from this rule, as all of their students receive full scholarships through the U.S. government and paid for by taxpayers.
In 2009, there are 120 full members of Division I FBS, including Western Kentucky University which completed its second year of a two-year transition period from Division I FCS in 2008, and is a full FBS member in 2009.
Any conference with at least 12 football teams may split its teams into two divisions and conduct a championship game between the division winners. The prize is normally a specific bowl game bid for which the conference has a tie-in, or a guaranteed spot in the BCS (depending on the conference).
|Atlantic Coast Conference||ACC||1953||12||20||Greensboro, North Carolina|
|Big East Conference||Big East||1979[FBS 1]||16[FBS 2]||23||Providence, Rhode Island|
|Big Ten Conference||Big Ten||1896||11||25||Park Ridge, Illinois|
|Big 12 Conference||Big 12||1996||12||21||Irving, Texas|
|Conference USA||C-USA||1995[FBS 3]||12[FBS 4]||19||Irving, Texas|
|Division I FBS Independents||3|
|Mid-American Conference||MAC||1946||12[FBS 5]||23||Cleveland, Ohio|
|Mountain West Conference||MWC||1999||9||14||Colorado Springs, Colorado|
|Pacific-10 Conference||Pac-10||1915[FBS 6]||10[FBS 7]||22||Walnut Creek, California|
|Southeastern Conference||SEC||1932||12||17||Birmingham, Alabama|
|Sun Belt Conference||Sun Belt||1976||13[FBS 8]||19||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Western Athletic Conference||WAC||1962||9||19||Greenwood Village, Colorado|
- ^ The conference was founded in 1979, but did not sponsor football until 1991.
- ^ Of the 16 Big East schools, only eight play football in the conference. Two schools sponsor football teams in the lower Football Championship Subdivision, and one plays football as an independent school. The rest do not play college football. Additionally, the conference features one associate member, Loyola University Maryland, which plays women's lacrosse in the Big East.
- ^ The conference was founded in 1995, with football competition starting in 1996.
- ^ In addition to the 12 full members, Conference USA features three schools—Florida International University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of South Carolina—which play men's soccer in the conference. Colorado College, a Division I school in men's ice hockey and a Division III school for all other sports, plays women's soccer in Conference USA, filling the void of Tulane, which suspended women's soccer until 2011 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Colorado College's status in C-USA beyond the 2010 season is unknown.
- ^ In addition to the 12 full members, the Mid-American Conference features four members which only participate in one sport each: Chicago State University in men's tennis, Hartwick College in men's soccer, Missouri State University in women's field hockey and Temple University in football.
- ^ Although the charter of the Pac-10 dates only to 1959, the conference claims the history of the Pacific Coast Conference, which was founded in 1915 and began competition in 1916, as its own. Of the nine members of the PCC at the time of its demise in 1958, only Idaho never joined the Pac-10, and the PCC's berth in the Rose Bowl passed to the AAWU (the original initialism for the current Pac-10).
- ^ The Pac-10 also includes several associate members which compete in a single sport in the conference; San Diego State University plays men's soccer and six additional schools participate in men's wrestling.
- ^ Only nine schools in the Sun Belt Conference currently sponsor football teams. The University of South Alabama is scheduled to begin Division I FBS football play in the future.
Football Championship Subdivision
The Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as Division I-AA, determines its champion in a 16-team, single-elimination tournament. The champions of eight conferences receive automatic bids, with eight "at-large" spots. A team must have at least seven wins to be eligible for an at-large spot. Beginning in 2010, the championship tournament will expand to 20 teams, with ten automatic bids and twelve first-round byes.
The tournament traditionally begins on Thanksgiving weekend and runs for four weeks. It concludes with the FCS championship game, played in Chattanooga, Tennessee, since 1997. Previously, the championship game had been played in Huntington, West Virginia (1992-96), with host Marshall advancing to the title game in four of the five years.
When I-AA was formed in 1978, the playoffs included just four teams for its first three seasons, doubling to eight teams for one season in 1981. From 1982-85, I-AA changed to a 12-team tourney, with each of the top four seeds receiving a first-round bye and a home game in the quarterfinals. The I-AA playoffs went to the present 16-team format in 1986, and will expand to 20-teams in 2010. After 28 seasons, the "I-AA" was dropped by the NCAA in 2006, although it is still informally and commonly used.
The Football Championship Subdivision includes several conferences which do not participate in the eponymous post-season championship tournament. The Ivy League chooses not to participate in this tournament. The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) has its own championship game in mid-December between the champions of its East and West divisions. Also three of its member schools traditionally do not finish their regular seasons until Thanksgiving weekend. Grambling State and Southern play each other in the Bayou Classic, and Alabama State plays Tuskegee University (a Division II team) in the Turkey Day Classic. SWAC teams are eligible to accept at-large bids if their schedule is not in conflict. The last SWAC team to participate in the I-AA playoffs was Jackson State in 1997.
The Pioneer Football League and Northeast Conference champions play in the Gridiron Classic, though all conference teams technically remain tournament eligible. If a league champion is invited to the national championship, the second-place team plays in the Gridiron Classic. The Northeast Conference will get an automatic bid to the tournament starting in 2010, as will the Big South Conference.
Schools in a transition period after joining the FCS from a lower division (or from the NAIA) are also ineligible for the playoffs.
Division I FCS schools are currently restricted to giving financial assistance amounting to 63 full scholarships. Unlike Bowl Subdivision schools, Championship Subdivision schools may divide their allotment into partial scholarships, but Championship Subdivision schools are limited to 85 players receiving any sort of athletic financial aid for football. Because of competitive forces, however, a substantial number of players in Championship Subdivision programs are on full scholarships.
A few Championship Subdivision conferences are composed of schools that offer no athletic scholarships at all, most notably the Ivy League and the Pioneer Football League, a football-only conference. The Northeast Conference also sponsored non-scholarship football, but began offering a maximum of 30 full scholarship equivalents in 2006 (which will grow to 40 over the next five years after a recent vote of the leagues school Presidents and Athletic Directors). The Patriot League does not give football scholarships, but permits them in other sports (athletes receiving these scholarships are ineligible to play football for Patriot League schools).
A national championship team for this level of football is determined annually "on the field" in a 16-team tournament. The #1-ranked Championship Subdivision mid-major team is awarded The Sports Network Cup on the eve of the overall Championship Subdivision championship game.
- ^ The Big South has seven full members that sponsor football. Stony Brook of the non-football America East Conference is an associate member for that sport. Campbell, currently a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference for most sports and the Pioneer Football League, will join the Big South for all sports in 2011.
- ^ Although the CAA was founded in 1983, and only began sponsoring football as a championship sport in 2007, the football conference effectively dates to 1938, when the New England Conference, later the Yankee Conference, was founded. That conference was absorbed by the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1997. After the 2006 season, all of the A10 football teams left for the new CAA football conference.
- ^ The CAA has 12 full members, but after Hofstra and Northeastern dropped football following the 2009 season, only four of the full members were part of the CAA football conference. These four schools are joined for football by six associate members. Two other full CAA members have plans to join the CAA football conference. Old Dominion began FCS play in 2009 and will begin CAA competition in 2011; Georgia State will begin FCS play in 2010 and CAA competition in 2012.
- ^ The Great West Conference was a football-only conference until 2008, when it became an all-sports conference.
- ^ The football conference has 5 teams, only two of which are full Great West members.
- ^ Three of the full members do not sponsor FCS football. American does not sponsor football at all, while Army and Navy are FBS independents. Fordham and Georgetown are associate members in football. However, Fordham will become ineligible for the conference title starting in 2010 when it begins to offer football scholarships, although it will play a full Patriot League schedule until at least 2012.
- ^ The football conference consists of 10 of the 12 member schools.
- ^ The football conference currently consists of 8 of the 12 member schools. Lamar will revive its FCS football program in 2010 and begin playing a full conference schedule in 2011. UTSA will launch an FCS football program in 2011 and begin conference play at a date to be determined.
Division I non-football schools
Several Bowl Subdivision and Championship Subdivision conferences have member institutions that do not compete in football. Such schools are sometimes unofficially referred to as I-AAA. For example, the Big East Conference, a Bowl Subdivision conference in football, has five members that discontinued their football programs (DePaul, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John's), plus an additional two members who play football in Championship Subdivision conferences (Georgetown and Villanova); conference member Notre Dame plays football as a Bowl Subdivision independent.
In addition, some schools officially affiliated with conferences that do not sponsor football do, in fact, field football teams. For example, UC Davis and Cal Poly are members of the non-football Big West Conference, but they still participate in football under the FCS Great West Conference, as well as San Diego, which is a member of the non-football West Coast Conference, but still participates in football under the FCS Pioneer Football League.
The following Division I conferences do not sponsor football. These conferences still compete in Division I for most other sports.
|America East Conference||America East||1979||9||22||Boston, Massachusetts|
|Atlantic Sun Conference||A-Sun||1978||11||17||Macon, Georgia|
|Atlantic 10 Conference||A-10||1975||14||21||Newport News, Virginia|
|Big West Conference||Big West / BWC||1969||9||17||Irvine, California|
|Horizon League||Horizon||1979||10||19||Indianapolis, Indiana|
|Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference||MAAC||1980||10||25||Edison, New Jersey|
|Missouri Valley Conference||MVC / Valley||1907||10||19||St. Louis, Missouri|
|The Summit League||The Summit||1982||10||19||Elmhurst, Illinois|
|West Coast Conference||WCC||1952||8||13||San Bruno, California|
Of these, the two that most recently sponsored football were the Atlantic-10 and the MAAC. The A-10 football league dissolved in 2006 with its members going to the Colonial Athletic Association. In addition, four A-10 schools (Dayton, Fordham, Duquesne, and Temple) play football in a conference other than the new CAA, which still includes three full-time A-10 members (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Richmond). The MAAC stopped sponsoring football in 2007, after most of its members gradually stopped fielding teams.
Other non-football conference schools that sponsor football include six of the Missouri Valley schools (Drake, Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Southern Illinois) and three of the Horizon League schools (Butler University, Valparaiso University, and Youngstown State University). The Missouri Valley Football Conference is a separate entity from the Missouri Valley Conference, despite sharing a name (from 2008).
Division I in ice hockey
As ice hockey is limited to a much smaller number of almost exclusively Northern schools, there is a completely different conference structure for teams. These conferences feature a mix of teams that play their other sports in various Division I conferences, and even Division II and Division III schools. With the exception of Ivy Leagues' hockey playing schools being members of the ECAC, there is no correlation between a team's ice hockey affiliation and its affiliation for other sports. For example, the Hockey East men's conference consists of one ACC school, one Big East school, four schools from America East, one from the A-10, one CAA school, and two schools from the D-II Northeast Ten Conference, whereas the CCHA and WCHA both have some Big Ten representation, plus Division II and III schools. Also, the divisional structure is truncated, with Division II competition in the sport abolished in 1999.
|Atlantic Hockey||Atlantic Hockey||1997||10 (10/none)|
|Central Collegiate Hockey Association||CCHA||1972||12 (12/none)|
|College Hockey America||CHA||2000||7 (4/5)|
|ECAC Hockey||N/A||1962||12 (12/12)|
|Hockey East||Hockey East||1984||11 (10/8)|
|Western Collegiate Hockey Association||WCHA||1951||12 (10/8)|
In the early 21st century, a controversy arose in the NCAA over whether schools will continue to be allowed to have one showcased program in Division I with the remainder of the athletic program in a lower division, as is the case of, notably, the Johns Hopkins University in lacrosse as well as Colorado College and University of Alabama in Huntsville in ice hockey. This is an especially important issue in hockey, which has no Division II competition and has several schools whose other athletic programs compete in Division II and Division III.
This controversy was resolved at the 2004 NCAA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee when the members supported Proposal 65-1, the amended legislation co-sponsored by Colorado College, Clarkson University, Hartwick College, the Johns Hopkins University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rutgers University-Newark, St. Lawrence University, and SUNY Oneonta. Each school affected by this debate is allowed to grant financial aid to student-athletes who compete in Division I programs in one men's sport and one women's sport. It is still permitted for other schools to place one men's and one women's sport in Division I going forward, but they cannot offer scholarships without bringing the whole program into compliance with Division I rules.
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