Pioneer Football League

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.

Pioneer Football League
DivisionDivision I
Members9 (10 in 2021)
Sports fielded
  • 1 (football)
    • men's: 1
    • women's: 0
HeadquartersSt. Louis, Missouri
CommissionerPatty Viverito (since 1994)

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 reduced to five members when the University of Evansville downgraded football from Division I to club status; Evansville explored upgrading football back to Division I in 2007, but decided against it.

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 will return 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 will remain in the Big South Conference for all other sports.[9]

2019 Jacksonville discontinues football program

On December 3, 2019 Jacksonville University announced that they were discontinuing their football program immediately.[10] According to a university release, the university employed independent consultants who conducted a data-driven evaluation of how it invested in Division I athletics to arrive at the decision.

Member schools

Current members

Institution Location Founded First
Type Enrollment Joined Nickname Primary
the PFL
Butler University Indianapolis, Indiana 1855 1887 Private 3,897 1991 Bulldogs Horizon Big East
Davidson College Davidson, North Carolina 1837 1897 Private 1,950 2001 Wildcats SoCon Atlantic 10 (A-10)
University of Dayton Dayton, Ohio 1850 1905 Private 8,353 1991 Flyers Horizon Atlantic 10 (A-10)
Drake University Des Moines, Iowa 1881 1883 Private 3,164 1991 Bulldogs Missouri Valley
Marist College Poughkeepsie, New York 1929 1978 Private 6,200 2009 Red Foxes MAAC
Morehead State University Morehead, Kentucky 1922 1927 Public 11,358 2001 Eagles OVC
University of San Diego San Diego, California 1949 1956 Private 4,904 1992 Toreros WCC
Stetson University DeLand, Florida 1883 1901 (2013) Private 4,330 2013 Hatters Atlantic Sun (ASUN)
Valparaiso University Valparaiso, Indiana 1859 1919 Private 2,917 1991 Crusaders Summit Missouri Valley

Former members

Institution Location Founded First
Type Enrollment Joined Left Nickname Primary
the PFL
Austin Peay State University Clarksville, Tennessee 1927 1930 Public 8,650 2001 2006 Governors OVC
Campbell University Buies Creek, North Carolina 1887 1925 (2008) Private 9,471 2008 2017 Fighting Camels/Lady Camels Atlantic Sun (ASUN) Big South
University of Evansville* Evansville, Indiana 1854 1898 Private 3,050 1991 1998 Purple Aces Missouri Valley
Jacksonville University* Jacksonville, Florida 1934 1934 (1998) Private 7,426 2001 2019 Dolphins Atlantic Sun (ASUN)
Mercer University Macon, Georgia 1833 1892 (2013) Private 8,300 2013 2014 Bears Atlantic Sun (ASUN) Southern

Future Members

Institution Location Founded First
Type Enrollment Year Joining Nickname Current
Presbyterian College Clinton, South Carolina 1880 1913 Private 1,172 2021 Blue Hose Big South
  • Evansville dropped football following the 1997–98 season.
  • Jacksonville dropped football following the 2019–20 season.

Membership timeline


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 2007–2012.

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

Morehead State
San Diego
Locations of Pioneer Football League schools; Green=Future Member

PFL champions

Season Champion Record
2001DaytonChampionship Game
2002DaytonChampionship Game
2003ValparaisoChampionship Game
2004DrakeChampionship Game
2005San DiegoChampionship Game
2006San Diego7–0
San Diego6–1
2011San Diego7–1
San Diego7–1
2014San Diego7–1[11]
San Diego7–1
2016San Diego8–0
2017 San Diego 8–0
2018 San Diego 8–0
2019 San Diego 8–0

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
1995, 1998, 2000, 2004*, 2011, 2012
1994, 2009, 2012, 2013
2008, 2010
2000, 2003*
Morehead State
Austin Peay

* – Won at PFL Championship Game

PFL Championship Game

Season North Division Score South Division Location
2001Dayton46–14JacksonvilleDayton, Ohio
2002Dayton28–0Morehead StateMorehead, Kentucky
2003Valparaiso54–42Morehead StateValparaiso, Indiana
2004Drake20–17Morehead StateMorehead, Kentucky
2005San Diego47–40Morehead StateSan 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 Drake13 Fresno State12 Raisin Bowl
1946 Evansville19 Northern Illinois7 Turkey Bowl
1947 Evansville20 Northern Illinois0 Hoosier Bowl
1948 Drake14 Arizona13 Salad Bowl
1948 Evansville13 Missouri Valley7 Refrigerator Bowl
1949 Evansville22 Hillsdale7 Refrigerator Bowl
1950 Wisconsin-La Crosse47 Valparaiso14 Cigar Bowl
1951 Houston26 Dayton21 Salad Bowl
1957 Louisville34 Drake20 Sun Bowl
1969 Arkansas State29 Drake21 Pecan Bowl
1969 Toledo56 Davidson33 Tangerine Bowl
1972 Tennessee State29 Drake7 Pioneer Bowl
1973 Wittenberg21 San Diego14 Division III Playoffs
1974 Central (IA)31 Evansville14 Division III Playoffs
1980 Dayton63 Ithaca0 Stagg Bowl
1981 Widener17 Dayton10 Stagg Bowl
1983 Cal Davis25 Butler3 Division II Playoffs
1987 Wagner19 Dayton3 Stagg Bowl
1988 Tennessee-Martin23 Butler3 Division II Playoffs
1989 Dayton17 Union (NY)7 Stagg Bowl
1991 Ithaca34 Dayton20 Stagg Bowl
1991 Pittsburg State26 Butler16 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 Diego27 Monmouth7
2007 Dayton42 Albany21
2008 Albany28 Jacksonville0
2009 Butler28 Central Connecticut23

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

Historical standings

* Butler granted automatic qualifier for FCS playoffs over Marist.[25][26]
San Diego self-disqualified due to violation of league rules.[27]
° Jacksonville ineligible for PFL title, FCS playoffs.[28]

Conference facilities

School Football Stadium Capacity
Butler Bud and Jackie Sellick Bowl 7,500[29]
Davidson Richardson Stadium 6,000
Dayton Welcome Stadium 11,000
Drake Drake Stadium 14,557[30]
Jacksonville D. B. Milne Field 5,500
Marist Leonidoff Field 5,000[31]
Morehead State Jayne Stadium 10,000
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. Des Moines, Iowa. November 22, 1991. pp. Page 1B. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  2. Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  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.
  6. Birch, Tommy (August 23, 2012). "Pioneer Football League officially announces automatic bid". Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  7. "VMI, ETSU, Mercer to join SoCon". College Football. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  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. 2017-11-19. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  10. Jacksonville to discontinue football immediately, December 3, 2019 |
  11. "Football Program Compliance Update". Jacksonville University. November 14, 2014. Archived from the original on November 19, 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  12. "Official Homepage of the Pioneer Football League". Archived from the original on 2001-12-12. Retrieved 2002-06-02.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  13. "Wayback Machine". 3 April 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2003.
  14. "Official Internet Home of the Pioneer Football League". Archived from the original on 2003-12-06. Retrieved 2003-12-06.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  15. "Official Internet Home of the Pioneer Football League". Archived from the original on 2004-12-04. Retrieved 2005-03-18.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  16. "Official Internet Home of the Pioneer Football League". Archived from the original on 2005-12-02. Retrieved 2006-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  17. "Pioneer Football League – Standings/Schedules". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  18. "Pioneer Football League". Archived from the original on 2008-12-16. Retrieved 2008-12-16.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  19. Archived November 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  20. Archived November 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  21. Template:2004 Pioneer Foosball League
  22. "Standings – 2015 PFL Standings – Pioneer Football League Official Site".
  23. "Standings – 2013 PFL Standings – Pioneer Football League Official Site".
  24. "Standings – 2015 PFL Standings – Pioneer Football League Official Site".
  25. "Butler football earns its first FCS playoff bid". The Indianapolis Star. 2013-11-19.
  26. "Butler University wins PFL tiebreaker, Division I Football Championship automatic qualification". Pioneer Football League. 2013-11-19.
  27. Norcross, Dan (14 November 2013). "USD forgoes consideration for PFL title". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  28. "Jacksonville ineligible for PFL title, FCS playoffs". Fox News. 2014-11-14.
  30. "Drake Stadium History".
  31. "Tenney Stadium at Leonidoff Field". Marist Athletics. Archived from the original on 2014-12-08. Retrieved 2014-12-05.
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