Six years after the NCAA Division-I Board of Directors voted to allow schools in the Power Five conference to write many of their own rules (i.e. Power Five autonomy), we’re still asking the question: Would the Power Five split from the rest of the FBS?
“Is there a potential out there for the top-tier Power 5 schools to break off and do their own thing, and what might be perceived as a lower-tier Power 5 group sustain with everybody else?” Louisiana athletics director Bryan Maggard asked himself last year. “I think anything’s possible.”
Maggard’s comments echo a similar sentiment by most athletics directors, coaches, and others in and around college football over the last six years: It’s possible the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC (and Notre Dame) split from the Group of Five to form their own division.
What if that happened now? Right now.
What if Power Five power brokers announced the split today and unleashed a firestorm of realignment and desperation scrambling across the FBS…and the FCS. A split could ignite often-mentioned musings of North Dakota State, James Madison, and other strong FCS programs joining left-behind Group of Five programs in a new subdivision.
HERO Sports FCS writer Sam Herder and I asked and answered that question: What if the Power Five split and strong FCS programs joined the Group of Five in a new subdivision?
This a football-only exercise with football-only conferences. For example, James Madison is now an American football member but remains a full CAA member for men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and all other sports.
Scroll through for a conference-by-conference breakdown (including interactive maps) of the three new NCAA Division-I football subdivisions: Power Five, Group of Six, and FCS.
The ACC, Big Ten, and SEC don’t change; each conference remains at 14 members. And Notre Dame remains an Independent, continuing its scheduling affiliation with the ACC.
The Big 12, however, expands to 14 teams after accepting desperation pitches from Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, and UCF, all of whom have been floated as potential Big 12 additions over the last decade. This expands the Big 12’s footprint to eight states and, unfortunately, eliminates the round-robin football schedule.
The Pac-12 added Boise State and negotiated with BYU but couldn’t agree to terms of scheduling and media rights, leaving the conference to pluck San Diego State, who lands in the Power Five four years after failing to woo the Big 12. -Andrew Doughty
Group of Six
The American has a new look with some current teams remaining along with a number of FCS teams making the jump up.
James Madison, Delaware and Villanova make the most sense coming out of the CAA. Kennesaw State is a rapidly growing young program. And North Carolina A&T has big aspirations for its program and would certainly join the new-look Group of Six subdivision. -Sam Herder
|Appalachian State||Sun Belt|
|Kennesaw State||Big South|
|North Carolina A&T||MEAC*|
*North Carolina A&T was scheduled to join the Big South in 2021.
After Charlotte bolted for the new American, Conference USA landed one of the most sought-after realignment free agents, SMU, a former Conference USA member and natural geographical fit who becomes the fifth Texas school in the 14-team conference.
It will be the fifth conference in the last 26 seasons for SMU, who played in Conference USA from 2005-12. -Andrew Doughty
|Florida Atlantic||Conference USA|
|Florida International||Conference USA|
|Louisiana Tech||Conference USA|
|Middle Tennessee||Conference USA|
|North Texas||Conference USA|
|Old Dominion||Conference USA|
|Southern Miss||Conference USA|
|Western Kentucky||Conference USA|
Andrew and I are from Minnesota, went to college in Kansas and North Dakota, respectively, and currently live in Minnesota, so we hope folks get a kick out of the Flyover States Conference name instead of being offended.
This conference would be a blast as the two MAC schools are joined by some of the strongest FCS programs from the Big Sky and MVFC. -Sam Herder
|Illinois State||Missouri Valley|
|Montana State||Big Sky|
|North Dakota State||Missouri Valley|
|Northern Iowa||Missouri Valley|
|South Dakota State||Missouri Valley|
|Weber State||Big Sky|
Ball State and Northern Illinois aren’t founding MAC members — Ball State joined in 1973, Northern Illinois joined in 1975 (and left in 1986 before returning in 1997 — but it still hurt to watch them bail for the high-potential Flyover States Conferences.
The MAC reportedly wasn’t interested in UConn as a football-only member when the Huskies announced their American departure last year. They rethink during this wave of realignment and expand their footprint into Connecticut and Tennessee. -Andrew Doughty
Dan Hawkins was long gone from Boise State when the Broncos jumped from the WAC to Mountain West in 2011 but now the fourth-year UC Davis head coach gets to replace his former program in the Mountain West.
The Mountain West took a few body blows in losing Boise State and San Diego State (and failing to rekindle an old romance with BYU) but retained 10 members and added a strong FCS program in UC Davis. -Andrew Doughty
|Air Force||Mountain West|
|Colorado Sate||Mountain West|
|Fresno State||Mountain West|
|New Mexico||Mountain West|
|New Mexico State||FBS Independent|
|San Jose State||Mountain West|
|UC Davis||Big Sky|
|Utah State||Mountain West|
Jacksonville State, Nicholls and Sam Houston State join the Sun Belt and realistically would compete very well. They already beat out some of these schools for recruits. -Sam Herder
|Arkansas State||Sun Belt|
|Coastal Carolina||Sun Belt|
|Georgia Southern||Sun Belt|
|Georgia State||Sun Belt|
|Jacksonville State||Ohio Valley|
|Sam Houston State||Southland|
|South Alabama||Sun Belt|
|Texas State||Sun Belt|
Liberty jumped at a conference invite, as did New Mexico State with a more geographically compatible Mountain West after leaving the Sun Belt two years ago. UConn found a football-only membership in the MAC, and Notre Dame is the only Independent in the new Power Five.
That leaves Army, BYU, and UMass as the lone Independents. Army passed on the American, BYU couldn’t agree to terms with the Pac-12 and passed on the Mountain West, and UMass rejected an unattractive pity offer from the MAC. -Andrew Doughty
For the most part, the FCS conferences look the same but decreased in size when 18 FCS programs bolted for the Group of Six. Unfortunately, with Kennesaw State and NC A&T making the jump, the Big South dissolved and the remaining members joined the Southland, SoCon or OVC.
Other movement included Eastern Illinois joining the MVFC from the OVC for number of teams purposes. Also, current independents Dixie State (Utah) joined the Big Sky and Tarleton State (Texas) joined the Southland. -Sam Herder
|Cal Poly||Big Sky|
|Dixie State||FCS Independent|
|Eastern Washington||Big Sky|
|Idaho State||Big Sky|
|Northern Arizona||Big Sky|
|Northern Colorado||Big Sky|
|Portland State||Big Sky|
|Sacramento State||Big Sky|
|Southern Utah||Big Sky|
|William & Mary||CAA|
|North Carolina Central||MEAC|
|South Carolina State||MEAC|
|Eastern Illinois||Ohio Valley|
|Indiana State||Missouri Valley|
|Missouri State||Missouri Valley|
|North Dakota||Missouri Valley|
|South Dakota||Missouri Valley|
|Southern Illinois||Missouri Valley|