The NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, is the top level of college football in the United States. The FBS is the most competitive subdivision of NCAA Division I, which itself consists of the largest and most competitive schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). As of 2018, there are 10 conferences and 130 schools in FBS.|
Unlike other NCAA divisions and subdivisions, the NCAA does not officially award an FBS football national championship, nor does it sanction a playoff tournament to determine such a champion on the field. Instead, organizations such as the Associated Press and AFCA have historically sought to rank the teams and crown a national champion, by taking a vote of sports writers and coaches, respectively. In place of such a playoff, various cities across the United States hold their own post-season contests, called bowl games, in which they traditionally invite teams to participate in them. Historically, these bowl games were mostly considered to be exhibition games involving a payout to participating teams. However, in the modern era they are considered the de facto post-season. There have been agreements in recent decades (such as the Bowl Coalition from 1992 to 1994, the Bowl Alliance from 1995 to 1997, the Bowl Championship Series from 1998 to 2013, and the College Football Playoff from 2014 to the present) by the premier FBS conferences and bowl games to organize matchups so that the FBS national championship is decided on the field.
In order to retain FBS membership, schools must meet several requirements. FBS schools must have an average home attendance of at least 15,000 (over a rolling two-year period). An FBS school must sponsor a minimum of 16 varsity intercollegiate teams (including football), with at least six men's or coeducational teams and at least eight all-female teams. Across all sports, each FBS school must offer at least 200 athletic scholarships (or spend at least $4 million on athletic scholarships) per year, and FBS football teams must provide at least 90% of the maximum number of football scholarships (which is currently 85).
The Football Bowl Subdivision gets its name from the bowl games that many FBS teams play at the end of the year, although other college divisions also have their own bowl games. FBS bowl games are played at the end of the season in December or January, and collectively generate over $400 million per year as of 2012. For the 201718 bowl season, there were 40 bowl games. In order to be bowl eligible, an FBS team must have a winning record. In certain cases, 5-7 and 6-7 teams can also be selected to bowls, usually to fill bowl vacancies.
The NCAA does not officially award an FBS football championship, but several teams have claimed national championships. Other organizations have also sought to rank the teams and crown a national champion. The Dickinson System and other methods were formed in the early 20th century to select the best team in the country, and the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll began rankings teams in the middle of the 20th century. In many seasons, selectors such as the AP and the Coaches Poll designated different teams as national champions. Often, more than one team would finish undefeated, as the top teams were not guaranteed to play each other during the regular season or in bowl games. In 1992, five major conferences established the Bowl Coalition in order to determine the FBS champion. In 1998, the two remaining major conferences joined with the other five conferences to form the Bowl Championship Series. The BCS used a rankings system to match up the top two teams in the BCS National Championship Game. However, even the BCS era saw split national championships, as in 2003 the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll selected different national champions. The College Football Playoff, with a four-team field, replaced the BCS starting with the 2014 season.
National networks such as CBS, ABC, NBC, several ESPN networks, several Fox networks have all covered the FBS, as have several regional and local networks. As conferences negotiate their own television deals, each conference is affiliated with a network that airs its home games. In the mid-2000s, college and conferences began to create their own television networks; such networks include the Big Ten Network, BYUtv, the Longhorn Network, and the Pac-12 Network. In 2012, college football games drew over 400 million viewers.
College football underwent another major conference realignment in the first half of the 2010s. Members of the Big East left the conference to join the Big 12 and ACC. The Big 12 lost members to the SEC, the Pac-12, and the Big Ten, while the Big Ten also gained one former ACC member. The remaining members of the Big East split into two conferences: the American Athletic Conference ("The American") and a new conference that assumed the Big East name but does not sponsor football. The American added several schools from C-USA, but lost one school each to the ACC and Big Ten after its first season. In turn, C-USA added FCS schools and schools from the Sun Belt Conference. The Sun Belt Conference replenished its membership by adding FCS schools and schools from the Western Athletic Conference. The Mountain West lost schools to the Big 12, Pac-12 and the FBS independent ranks, and added several schools from the WAC. After several defections, the WAC dropped its sponsorship of football.
Realignment has continued to this day, though at a considerably lower level. The 2016 season saw FCS Coastal Carolina join the Sun Belt Conference for non-football sports while beginning a transition to FBS football; the football team joined the Sun Belt in 2017. That season was also the last for Idaho and New Mexico State as Sun Belt football members. After 2017, New Mexico State returned to independent status, while Idaho downgraded to FCS footballŽbecoming the first program ever to voluntarily do soŽand added football to its all-sports membership in the Big Sky Conference. Also in 2016, UMass went independent after turning down an offer of full membership in the Mid-American Conference.