FBS Independents
2011 season
NCAA Division I FBS
Schools 4
Sports fielded 1 (men's: 1; women's: 0)
Region Eastern United States
Midwest United States
Mountain States

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 many fewer independent schools than in years past; many independent schools join, or attempt to join, established conferences, usually in order to gain a share of television revenue and access to bowl games that agree to take teams from certain conferences, and in order to help deal with otherwise potentially difficult challenges in scheduling opponents to play throughout the season.

All Division I FBS independents are eligible for a Bowl Championship Series bowl provided they meet eligibility requirements. Notre Dame receives an automatic bid by finishing in the top eight of the final BCS ranking. Notre Dame also has other bowl agreements as part of its affiliation with the Big East Conference, and Navy and Army have agreements with the Military Bowl (formerly the EagleBank Bowl).[1]

The ranks of football independents increased by one starting with the 2011 season with the announcement that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference to become a football independent starting with that season.[2] BYU has an agreement with the Armed Forces Bowl for 2011.[3] The ranks increased by two in 2013 with New Mexico State and Idaho.[4] The ranks of football independents are slated to decrease by one in 2015 with the announcement that Navy will join the Big East Conference as a football only member.[5][6]

Reasons for independenceEdit

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. The four remaining independent FBS schools have unique circumstances that circumvent their need for conference affiliation.

Notre DameEdit

Notre Dame is one of the most prominent programs in the country. Because of its national popularity built over several decades, Notre Dame is the only individual school to have its own national television contract,[7][8] and is 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.[9][10]

Previously, Notre Dame had easily filled its annual schedule without needing conference games to do so. It has longstanding rivalries with many different programs around the country, including annual rivalry games with USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Navy, Boston College, and Purdue as well as 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. If Notre Dame were to join a conference, it would likely have to eliminate or reduce the frequency of several rivalries. Nonetheless, for all sports except football and hockey Notre Dame will join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2015, and will as part of this agreement play five of its football games against ACC members.

Army and NavyEdit

Two of the remaining independent programs are two of the service academies, Army and Navy. 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.

Both service academies have annual games guaranteed with each other and with Air Force. Navy has an annual rivalry game with Notre Dame and Army has a semi-regular rivalry with Notre Dame. Television rights for the longstanding Army–Navy Game, which is the last regular season game in the NCAA, serve as a significant revenue source for the programs. The academies also use their football programs to recruit for their services; without a conference schedule, the service academies are able to more easily schedule games around the country.

However, Navy will join the Big East for college football in 2015, citing that it wanted to maintain competitiveness,[6] had concerns about scheduling and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make more money.[5]


During the conference realignment that saw the university choose football independence in August 2010, some saw it 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 LDS Church. The 1984 team's national championship is the most recent by a university that is not a current member of the BCS coalition. BYU was getting less than $2 million a year through its contract with The MTN, the TV network of the Mountain West Conference. BYU has its own cable channel,[11] but had a very restrictive contract which did not allow BYU to broadcast its own football games.[12] The new contract with ESPN will pay BYU an estimated $800,000 to $1.2 million per Home game,[13] and allow for greater freedom with its own channel.

FBS independentsEdit

Independents' stadiumsEdit

Institution Football Stadium Capacity
Army Michie Stadium 40,000
BYU LaVell Edwards Stadium 63,725
Navy Navy – Marine Corps Memorial Stadium 34,000
Notre Dame Notre Dame Stadium 80,975

University Ranking by Annual Research DollarsEdit

  • University of Notre Dame $97.1 million
  • Brigham Young University - Provo - $25.6  million
  • Army - US Military Academy - $10.1 million
  • Navy - US Naval Academy - $8.8 million

Future FBS independent schoolsEdit

Due to the Western Athletic Conference discontinuing sponsorship of football after the 2012-13 season,[14] New Mexico State University Aggies and the University of Idaho Vandals will become FBS independents beginning in the 2013-14 season.

Old Dominion University Monarchs are transitioning from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision, and will be an FBS independent for one season (2014–15) before joining Conference USA in 2015. During the 2014-15 season, Old Dominion University will not be eligible to go to a post-season bowl.


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.

Years Team Previous Conference Conference Joined Current Conference
1978–1979Air ForceDivision I IndependentWestern Athletic Conference (1980-1998)Mountain West Conference (1999–present)
1987–1991AkronOhio Valley ConferenceMid-American Conference (1992–present)
1996–1998Alabama-BirminghamDivision I-AA IndependentConference USA (1999–present)
1992 Arkansas StateDivision I-AA IndependentBig West Conference (1993–1995)
1996–1998Big West Conference (1993–1995)Big West Conference (1999–2000)Sun Belt Conference (2001–present)
1978–1997ArmyDivision I IndependentConference USA (1998–2004)
2005–presentConference USA (1998–2004)
1978–1990Boston CollegeDivision I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–2004)Atlantic Coast Conference (2005–present)
2011–presentBYU Mountain West Conference (1999–2010)
1992 Cal State FullertonBig West ConferenceDropped football
1996–2001Central FloridaDivision I-AA IndependentMid-American Conference (2002–2004)Conference USA (2005–present)
1978–1995CincinnatiDivision I IndependentConference USA (1996–2004)Big East Conference (2005–present)
1978–1981ColgateDivision I IndependentDivision I-AA Independent (1982–1985)Patriot League (1986–present)
2000–2003 Connecticut Atlantic 10 Conference[N 1] Big East Conference (2004–present)[N 2]
1978–1996East CarolinaDivision I IndependentConference USA (1997–present)
1978–1991Florida StateDivision I IndependentAtlantic Coast Conference (1992–present)
1978 Georgia TechDivision I IndependentAtlantic Coast Conference (1979–present)
1978 HawaiʻiDivision I IndependentWestern Athletic Conference (1979–2011)Mountain West Conference (2012–Present)
1978–1981Holy CrossDivision I IndependentDivision I-AA Independent (1982–1985)Patriot League (1986–present)
1978–1980Illinois StateDivision I IndependentMissouri Valley Conference (1981–1984) Missouri Valley Football Conference (1985–present)[N 3]
1978–1981Indiana StateDivision I IndependentDivision I-AA Independent (1982–1985)Missouri Valley Football Conference (1986–present)[N 3]
1991 Long Beach StateBig West ConferenceDropped football
1989–1992Louisiana TechDivision I-AA IndependentBig West Conference (1993–1995)
1996–2000Big West Conference (1993–1995)Western Athletic Conference (2001–present)
1982–1992Louisiana-LafayetteSouthland Conference Big West Conference (1993–1995)
1996–2000Big West Conference (1993–1995)Sun Belt Conference (2001–present)
1996–2000Louisiana-MonroeSouthland ConferenceSun Belt Conference (2001–present)
1978–1995LouisvilleDivision I IndependentConference USA (1996–2004)Big East Conference (2005–present)
1978–1995MemphisDivision I IndependentConference USA (1996–present)
1978–1990Miami (FL)Division I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–2003)Atlantic Coast Conference (2004–present)
1999–2000Middle TennesseeOhio Valley ConferenceSun Belt Conference (2001–present)
1978–presentNavyDivision I Independent
1978–1982North TexasDivision I IndependentSouthland Conference (1983–1994)
1995 Southland Conference (1983–1994)Big West Conference (1996–2000)Sun Belt Conference (2001–present)
1987–1992Northern IllinoisMid-American ConferenceBig West Conference (1993–1995)
1996 Big West Conference (1993–1995)Mid-American Conference (1997–present)
1978–presentNotre DameDivision I Independent
1978–1992Penn StateDivision I IndependentBig Ten Conference (1993–present)
1978–1990PittsburghDivision I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–present)
1978–1981RichmondDivision I IndependentDivision I-AA Independent (1982–1983) Colonial Athletic Association (1984–present)[N 4]
1978–1990RutgersDivision I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–present)
1978–1991South CarolinaDivision I IndependentSoutheastern Conference (1992–present)
2001–2002South FloridaDivision I-AA IndependentConference USA (2003–2004)Big East Conference (2005–present)
1978–1995Southern MississippiDivision I IndependentConference USA (1996–present)
1978–1990SyracuseDivision I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–present)
1978–1990TempleDivision I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–2004)
2005–2006Big East Conference (1991–2004)Mid-American Conference (2007–2011)Big East Conference (2012–present)
1978–1980Tennessee StateDivision I IndependentDivision I-AA Independent (1981–1987)Ohio Valley Conference (1988–present)
2002–2003TroyDivision I-AA IndependentSun Belt Conference (2004–present)
1978–1995TulaneDivision I IndependentConference USA (1996–present)
1986–1995TulsaMissouri Valley ConferenceWestern Athletic Conference (1996–2004)Conference USA (2005–present)
1978–1981UNLVDivision II IndependentBig West Conference (1982–1995)Mountain West Conference (1999–present)
2001–2002Utah StateBig West ConferenceSun Belt Conference (2003–2004)Western Athletic Conference (2005–present)
1978–1980VillanovaDivision I IndependentDropped Football Colonial Athletic Association (1985–present)[N 4]
1978–1990Virginia TechDivision I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–2003)Atlantic Coast Conference (2004–present)
1978–1990West VirginiaDivision I IndependentBig East Conference (1991–2011)Big 12 Conference (2012–present)
2008WKU Gateway Football Conference Sun Belt Conference (2009–present)
1986 Wichita StateMissouri Valley ConferenceDropped football
1978–1981William & MaryDivision I IndependentDivision I-AA Independent (1982–1992) Colonial Athletic Association (1993–present)[N 4]
  1. Tenorio, Paul. "Bowl Game Brings Football Back to RFK". The Washington Post. September 11, 2008. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  2. Katz, Andy (August 31, 2010). "BYU leaving MWC for 2011–12 season". Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  3. [1]
  5. 5.0 5.1 Navy sets sail with the Big East
  6. 6.0 6.1 Big East officially adds Navy
  7. Sandomir, Richard (1991-08-25). "COLLEGE FOOTBALL; Notre Dame Scored a $38 Million Touchdown on Its TV Deal". New York Times ( Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  8. "NBC and Notre Dame Extend Football Agreement Through 2010". 2003-12-18. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  9. Gage, Jack (2006-12-22). "The most valuable college football teams". Forbes. Retrieved 2008-04-06.[dead link]
  10. "Notre Dame Football Program Ranked Most Valuable In College Football". 2006-11-20. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  11. Katz, Andy (August 18, 2010). "Sources: BYU mulling Notre Dame path". Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  12. Harmon, Dick (August 24, 2010). "BYU's broadcast issues boiling over". Deseret News. Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  13. "BYU signs long-term deals with ESPN, Notre Dame". September 3, 2010. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  14. Hinton, Matt (August 20, 2012). "RIP WAC: Disintegrating league confirms 2012 football season will be its last". Retrieved 27 September 2012.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


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