NCAA Division I Football Championship

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.

NCAA Division I
Football Championship
StadiumToyota Stadium (2010–present)
LocationFrisco, Texas (2010–present)
Previous stadiumsFinley Stadium (1997–2009)
Marshall University Stadium (1992–1996)
various (1978–1991)
Previous locationsChattanooga, Tennessee (1997–2009)
Huntington, West Virginia (1992–1996)
various (1978–1991)
Preceded byNCAA Division I-AA Football Championship (1978–2005)
2018 season matchup
North Dakota State vs. Eastern Washington
(North Dakota State 38–24)
2019 season matchup
(January 11, 2020)

The game serves as the final match of an annual postseason bracket tournament between top teams in FCS. Since 2013, 24 teams 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 North Dakota State Bison, who have won seven championship games in the past eight seasons (2011–2015, 2017–2018).

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.

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

Playoff Format
Season(s) Bracket
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.[12] As of the 2018 season, there are 10 conferences with automatic bids and the selection committee makes 14 at-large selections.[12] For the 2018 season, the committee was chaired by Dr. Brad Teague of the University of Central Arkansas.[13]

Championship game

The tournament culminates with the national championship game, 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 championship game 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".[14]

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 championship game 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.[15] The contract has since been extended three times; first through the 2015 season,[16] then through the 2019 season,[17] and most recently through the 2024 season with an option for the 2025 season.[18]

Season(s) Venue Location Tenant NCAA team Title games by tenant
1978Memorial StadiumWichita Falls, TexasnoneN/A
1979Orlando StadiumOrlando, FloridaUCF Knights (D-III)N/A
1980Hughes StadiumSacramento, CalifornianoneN/A
1981–1982Memorial StadiumWichita Falls, TexasnoneN/A
1983–1984Johnson Hagood StadiumCharleston, South CarolinaThe Citadel Bulldogsnone
1985–1986Tacoma DomeTacoma, WashingtonnoneN/A
1987MinidomePocatello, IdahoIdaho State Bengalsnone
1988Holt Arena
1989–1991Paulson StadiumStatesboro, GeorgiaGeorgia Southern Eagles2: 1989, 1990
1992–1996Marshall University StadiumHuntington, West VirginiaMarshall Thundering Herd4: 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996
1997–2009Finley StadiumChattanooga, TennesseeChattanooga Mocsnone
2010–2011Pizza Hut ParkFrisco, TexasnoneN/A
2012FC Dallas Stadium
2013–presentToyota Stadium

at the time games were played
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.[19][20] 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 championship game in December) has not sent a team to the tournament since 1997.[21] 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

Conference Nickname Founded Football members Sports Headquarters
Big Sky Conference Big Sky 1963 12 16 Ogden, Utah
Big South Conference Big South 1983 10 19 Charlotte, North Carolina
Colonial Athletic Association CAA 1979 10 21 Richmond, Virginia
Ivy League % 1954 8 33 Princeton, New Jersey
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference MEAC 1970 13 16 Norfolk, Virginia
Missouri Valley Football Conference MVFC 1982 10 1 St. Louis, Missouri
Northeast Conference NEC 1981 10 22 Somerset, New Jersey
Ohio Valley Conference OVC 1948 12 18 Brentwood, Tennessee
Patriot League 1986 10 24 Center Valley, Pennsylvania
Pioneer Football League PFL 1991 11 1 St. Louis, Missouri
Southern Conference SoCon 1921 10 20 Spartanburg, South Carolina
Southland Conference 1963 11 17 Frisco, Texas
Southwestern Athletic Conference SWAC 1920 10 18 Birmingham, Alabama

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

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).

The SWAC abstains from the championship tournament to allow for a longer regular season, a conference championship game, 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.[22] The score and runner-up are also noted, along with the host city, game attendance, and head coach of the championship team.

Season Date (notes) Champion Score Runner-up Location Attendance Winning
head coach
1978December 16, 1978 Florida A&M35–28UMassWichita Falls, TX13,604Rudy Hubbard
1979December 15, 1979Eastern Kentucky30–7LehighOrlando, FL5,200Roy Kidd
1980December 20, 1980Boise State31–29Eastern KentuckySacramento, CA8,157Jim Criner
1981December 19, 1981Idaho State34–23Eastern KentuckyWichita Falls, TX11,002Dave Kragthorpe
1982December 18, 1982Eastern Kentucky (2)17–14DelawareWichita Falls, TX11,257Roy Kidd (2)
1983December 17, 1983Southern Illinois43–7Western CarolinaCharleston, SC15,950Rey Dempsey
1984December 15, 1984Montana State19–6Louisiana TechCharleston, SC9,125Dave Arnold
1985December 21, 1985Georgia Southern44–42FurmanTacoma, WA5,306Erk Russell
1986December 19, 1986Georgia Southern (2)48–21Arkansas StateTacoma, WA4,419Erk Russell (2)
1987December 19, 1987Northeast Louisiana43–42MarshallPocatello, ID11,513Pat Collins
1988December 17, 1988Furman17–12Georgia SouthernPocatello, ID9,714Jimmy Satterfield
1989December 16, 1989Georgia Southern (3)37–34Stephen F. AustinStatesboro, GA25,725Erk Russell (3)
1990December 15, 1990Georgia Southern (4)36–13NevadaStatesboro, GA23,204Tim Stowers
1991December 21, 1991Youngstown State25–17MarshallStatesboro, GA12,667Jim Tressel
1992December 19, 1992Marshall31–28Youngstown StateHuntington, WV31,304Jim Donnan
1993December 18, 1993Youngstown State (2)17–5MarshallHuntington, WV29,218Jim Tressel (2)
1994December 17, 1994Youngstown State (3)28–14Boise StateHuntington, WV27,674Jim Tressel (3)
1995December 16, 1995Montana22–20MarshallHuntington, WV32,106Don Read
1996December 21, 1996Marshall (2)49–29MontanaHuntington, WV30,052Bob Pruett
1997December 20, 1997Youngstown State (4)10–9McNeese StateChattanooga, TN14,771Jim Tressel (4)
1998December 19, 1998UMass55–43Georgia SouthernChattanooga, TN17,501Mark Whipple
1999December 18, 1999Georgia Southern (5)59–24Youngstown StateChattanooga, TN20,052Paul Johnson
2000December 16, 2000Georgia Southern (6)27–25MontanaChattanooga, TN17,156Paul Johnson (2)
2001December 21, 2001Montana (2)13–6FurmanChattanooga, TN12,698Joe Glenn
2002December 20, 2002Western Kentucky34–14McNeese StateChattanooga, TN12,360Jack Harbaugh
2003December 19, 2003Delaware40–0ColgateChattanooga, TN14,281K. C. Keeler
2004December 17, 2004James Madison31–21MontanaChattanooga, TN16,771Mickey Matthews
2005December 16, 2005Appalachian State21–16Northern IowaChattanooga, TN20,236Jerry Moore
2006December 15, 2006Appalachian State (2)28–17UMassChattanooga, TN22,808Jerry Moore (2)
2007December 14, 2007Appalachian State (3)49–21DelawareChattanooga, TN23,010Jerry Moore (3)
2008December 19, 2008Richmond24–7MontanaChattanooga, TN17,823Mike London
2009December 18, 2009Villanova23–21MontanaChattanooga, TN14,328Andy Talley
2010January 7, 2011Eastern Washington20–19DelawareFrisco, TX13,027Beau Baldwin
2011January 7, 2012North Dakota State17–6Sam Houston StateFrisco, TX20,586Craig Bohl
2012January 5, 2013North Dakota State (2)39–13Sam Houston StateFrisco, TX21,411Craig Bohl (2)
2013January 4, 2014North Dakota State (3)35–7TowsonFrisco, TX19,802Craig Bohl (3)
2014January 10, 2015North Dakota State (4)29–27Illinois StateFrisco, TX20,918Chris Klieman
2015January 9, 2016North Dakota State (5)37–10Jacksonville StateFrisco, TX21,836Chris Klieman (2)
2016January 7, 2017James Madison (2)28–14Youngstown StateFrisco, TX14,423Mike Houston
2017January 6, 2018North Dakota State (6)17–13James MadisonFrisco, TX19,090Chris Klieman (3)
2018January 5, 2019North Dakota State (7)38–24Eastern WashingtonFrisco, TX17,802Chris Klieman (4)
2019January 11, 2020   Frisco, TX  

Note: 1987 champion Northeast Louisiana has been known as the University of Louisiana at Monroe (Louisiana–Monroe) since 1999.


Since 2009, a Most Outstanding Player has been named for each championship game.[23]

Season Player Team Position
2009Matt SzczurVillanovaWR
2010Bo Levi MitchellEastern WashingtonQB
2011Travis BeckNorth Dakota StateLB
2012Brock JensenNorth Dakota StateQB
2013Brock JensenNorth Dakota StateQB
2014Carson WentzNorth Dakota StateQB
2015Carson WentzNorth Dakota StateQB
2016Bryan SchorJames MadisonQB
2017Easton StickNorth Dakota StateQB
2018Darrius ShepherdNorth Dakota StateWR

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

Most appearances

The following table summarizes appearances in the championship game, by team, since the 1978 season, the first year of Division I-AA (the predecessor of FCS). Updated through completion of the 2018 season (41 championship games, 82 total appearances).

Team Record Appearances by season
GamesWLWin pct.WonLost
Georgia Southern^
62.750 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1999, 2000 1988, 1998
North Dakota State
701.000 2011*, 2012*, 2013*, 2014*, 2015*, 2017*, 2018*
Youngstown State
43.571 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997 1992, 1999, 2016*
25.286 1995, 2001 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009
24.333 1992, 1996 1987, 1991, 1993, 1995
Eastern Kentucky
22.500 1979, 1982 1980, 1981
13.250 2003 1982, 2007, 2010*
Appalachian State^
301.000 2005, 2006, 2007
James Madison
21.667 2004, 2016* 2017*
12.333 1988 1985, 2001
12.333 1998 1978, 2006
Boise State^
11.500 1980 1994
Eastern Washington
11.500 2010* 2018*
McNeese State
02.000 1997, 2002
Sam Houston State
02.000 2011*, 2012*
Florida A&M
101.000 1978
Idaho State
101.000 1981
Northeast Louisiana^
101.000 1987
Montana State
101.000 1984
101.000 2008
Southern Illinois
101.000 1983
101.000 2009
Western Kentucky^
101.000 2002
Arkansas State^
01.000 1986
01.000 2003
Illinois State
01.000 2014*
Jacksonville State
01.000 2015*
01.000 1979
Louisiana Tech^
01.000 1984
01.000 1990
Northern Iowa
01.000 2005
Stephen F. Austin
01.000 1989
01.000 2013*
Western Carolina
01.000 1983
* Denotes championship games played in January of 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.

Georgia Southern
Youngstown State
Appalachian State

Eastern Washington
Florida A&M
Montana State
Southern Illinois
Schools with FCS championships
– 7 championships, – 6 championships, – 4 championships
– 3 championships, – 2 championships, – 1 championship
Italics indicate schools that have since moved to FBS

Appearances by conference

The following table summarizes appearances in the championship game, by conference, since the 1978 season, the first year of Division I-AA (the predecessor of FCS). Updated through completion of the 2018 season (41 championship games, 82 total appearances). Records reflect conference affiliations at the time each game was played.

Conference Record Appearances by season
GamesWLWin pct.WonLost
SoCon1688.5001988, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 20071983, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2001
Big Sky1468.4291980, 1981, 1984, 1995, 2001, 2010*1990, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2018*
MVFC1394.6921997, 2002, 2011*, 2012*, 2013*, 2014*, 2015*, 2017*, 2018*1999, 2005, 2014*, 2016*
Independent1174.6361985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 19941979, 1982, 1988, 1992
Southland817.12519871984, 1986, 1989, 1997, 2002, 2011*, 2012*
CAA734.4292008, 2009, 2016*2007, 2010*, 2013*, 2017*
OVC523.4001979, 19821980, 1981, 2015*
A-10431.7501998, 2003, 20042006
Patriot League101.000 2003
Yankee101.000 1978
  • Games marked with an asterisk (*) were played in January of the following calendar year.
  • The Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) and Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) are historically related but independently operating entities. MVFC was known as the Gateway Football Conference until June 2008.
  • The only time two teams from the same conference have met in the championship game was the 2014 contest between MVFC teams.

Game records

  Record Team Opponent Year
Most points scored (one team) 66 James Madison Monmouth 2019
Most points scored (losing team) 43 Georgia Southern UMass 1998
Most points scored (both teams) 98 UMass (55) Georgia Southern (43) 1998
Fewest points allowed 0 Delaware Colgate 2003
Largest margin of victory 58 James Madison (65) Sam Houston St. (7) 2016
Attendance 32,106 Montana vs. Marshall 1995

Media coverage

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

1978–1981ABC Sports
1982CBS Sports
1983ABC Sports
1984Satellite Program Network
1990–1994CBS Sports
2019–presentESPN on ABC[24]

See also

Other college football championships


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  2. "Recommends expansion for I-AA playoffs". The Des Moines Register. AP. April 10, 1982. p. 8. Retrieved January 6, 2019 via
  3. Sutton, Stan (November 29, 1981). "Delaware will be Eastern's playoff foe". The Courier-Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. p. C9. Retrieved February 6, 2019 via
  4. "Blue Hens Get Berth; Earn Opening Bye". The Daily Times. Salisbury, Maryland. AP. November 22, 1982. p. 10. Retrieved February 6, 2019 via
  5. Sutton, Stan (September 9, 1982). "Will I-AA numbers hamper Eastern's playoff bid?". The Courier-Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. p. 11. Retrieved January 6, 2019 via
  6. "SWAC loses automatic bid". The Times. Shreveport, Louisiana. October 28, 1983. p. 6. Retrieved January 6, 2019 via
  7. "I-AA playoffs". Daily Press. Newport News, Virginia. November 24, 1986. p. C5. Retrieved February 6, 2019 via
  8. Kasper, Jon (November 12, 2001). "NCAA changes format for playoff pairings". Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. p. D1. Retrieved February 2, 2019 via
  9. Kasper, Jon (November 12, 2001). "NCAA changes format for playoff pairings (cont'd)". Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. p. D6. Retrieved February 2, 2019 via
  10. Graham, Tony (April 26, 2008). "NEC granted access to playoffs". Asbury Park Press. Asbury Park, New Jersey. p. 28. Retrieved January 6, 2019 via
  11. Moorman, Chris (August 4, 2013). "Flyers set sights on playoff prize". Dayton Daily News. Dayton, Ohio. p. 37. Retrieved January 6, 2019 via
  12. Barnett, Zach (November 15, 2018). "With one week to go, here's your FCS playoff primer". Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  13. "Dr. Brad Teague - Staff Directory". Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  14. "I-AA championship moved to Tacoma". Billings Gazette. Billings, Montana. AP. January 5, 1985. p. 2-C. Retrieved May 1, 2019 via
  15. Caplan, Jeff (2010-02-26). "20 teams to compete for FCS crown". Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  16. "NCAA inks three-year extension to keep FCS title game in Frisco, Texas" (Press release). NCAA. December 19, 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-02-20. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  17. "NCAA keeping FCS title game in Frisco through at least 2020". USA Today. Associated Press. January 8, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  18. "FCS Championship Will Stay in Frisco Through 2025 With Option for 2026" (Press release). Southland Conference. January 4, 2019. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  19. Torre, Pablo (2007-11-29). "No playoffs for you!". SI. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
  20. David Burrick (2003-09-18). "Ivy League not likely to see I-AA playoffs". The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
  21. Craig T. Greenlee (2000-01-06). "Not Exactly for THE SPORT OF IT". Black Issues in Higher Education. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
  22. "FCS Football Championship History". January 2019. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  23. "Outstanding players of FCS championship game". ESPN. AP. January 5, 2019. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  24. "Broadcast Info". 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
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