The NCAA Division I Football Championship is an American college football tournament played each year to determine the champion of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Prior to 2006, the game was known as the NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship. 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 playoff system used by the Bowl Subdivision is not sanctioned by the NCAA.
The reigning national champions are the North Dakota State Bison, who won their sixth championship in seven years after winning five consecutive titles from 2011-2015.
When Division I-AA was formed for football in 1978, the playoffs included just four teams, doubling to eight teams in its fourth season of 1981. In 1982, the I-AA playoffs were expanded to 12 teams, with each of the top four seeds receiving a first-round bye and a home game in the quarterfinals. In its ninth season of 1986, the playoffs expanded to a 16-team format, requiring four post-season victories to win the title. Eight conference champions received automatic bids, with the remaining eight bids available on an at-large basis. The field is traditionally set the Sunday before Thanksgiving and play begins that weekend. The top four teams are seeded; however, the matchups are not strictly set up by these seedings as geographic considerations are also taken into account to minimize travel.
In April 2008, the NCAA announced that the playoff field would expand to twenty teams in 2010, with the number of conferences receiving automatic bids increasing to ten. The structure then adopted included eight teams playing in four first-round games. The four first round winners advance to the second Round of Sixteen where they play the top four seeds. The playoffs expanded to 24 teams beginning with the 2013 season. The number of conferences whose champions receive automatic bids increased to eleven with the addition of a bid for the Pioneer Football League and the number of first-round games increased from four to eight.
The tournament was historically played in December; with the expansion to twelve teams in 1982, earlier rounds were held in late November. With the 2010 expansion to a 20-team field, the championship game moved from December to January, with several weeks between the semifinals and finals. From 1997 through 2009, the title game was played at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the home field of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In the five previous years (1992-1996) it was at Marshall University Stadium (now Joan C. Edwards Stadium) in Huntington, West Virginia.
Since 2010, the title game has been played in Frisco, Texas, a suburb north of Dallas, at Toyota Stadium (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), a multi-purpose stadium primarily used by FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. The original contract with Frisco began in the 2010 season and ran through the 2012 season. The contract has since been extended twice, first through the 2015 season and later through the 2019 season.
Three Football Championship Subdivision 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 post-season football, citing academic concerns. The Southwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 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; the MEAC gave up its automatic spot in the tournament prior to the 2015 season, while the 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. Both the MEAC and SWAC accept at-large bids, and the elimination of the SWAC championship game after 2017 will allow the second-best team in that conference to accept a bid (with the championship game, the SWAC was limited to sending its third-best or worse team not counting the three teams in the Turkey Day and Bayou Classics, hence why it did not receive at-large bids).
Historically, conferences in the Championship Subdivision 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, received its at-large bid in 2013.
The teams that make the playoffs are determined by the FCS Playoff Selection Committee, which consists of one athletic director from each of the 10 conferences which have automatic bids. The current committee chairman is Mark Wilson (Tennessee Tech). The others who serve on the selection committee are Chuck Burch (Gardner-Webb), Troy Dannen (Northern Iowa), Brian Hutchinson (Morehead State), Richard Johnson (Wofford), Nathan Pine (Holy Cross), Marty Scarano (New Hampshire), Paul Schlickmann (Central Connecticut State), Dr. Brad Teague (Central Arkansas) and Jeff Tingey (Idaho State).
|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, an in-conference championship game (until 2017), and (since 2015) participation in the Celebration Bowl. Beginning 2018, the SWAC will discontinue its championship game and send its regular season champion to the Celebration Bowl, freeing up the conference's second-place finisher (if it is not Grambling State, Alabama State or Southern) to accept an at-large bid.
|Year||Champion||Runner-up||Score||Venue||Location||Attendance||Winning head coach|
|1978||Florida A&M||Massachusetts||35-28||Memorial Stadium||Wichita Falls, Texas||13,604||Rudy Hubbard|
|1979||Eastern Kentucky||Lehigh||30-7||Orlando Stadium||Orlando, Florida||5,500||Roy Kidd|
|1980||Boise State||Eastern Kentucky||31-29||Hughes Stadium||Sacramento, California||8,157||Jim Criner|
|1981||Idaho State||Eastern Kentucky||34-23||Memorial Stadium||Wichita Falls, Texas||11,003||Dave Kragthorpe|
|1982||Eastern Kentucky (2)||Delaware||17-14||Memorial Stadium||Wichita Falls, Texas||11,257||Roy Kidd (2)|
|1983||Southern Illinois||Western Carolina||43-7||Johnson Hagood Stadium||Charleston, South Carolina||15,950||Rey Dempsey|
|1984||Montana State||Louisiana Tech||19-6||Johnson Hagood Stadium||Charleston, South Carolina||9,125||Dave Arnold|
|1985||Georgia Southern||Furman||44-42||Tacoma Dome||Tacoma, Washington||5,306||Erk Russell|
|1986||Georgia Southern (2)||Arkansas State||48-21||Tacoma Dome||Tacoma, Washington||4,419||Erk Russell (2)|
|1987||Northeast Louisiana+||Marshall||43-42||Minidome||Pocatello, Idaho||11,513||Pat Collins|
|1988||Furman||Georgia Southern||17-12||Holt Arena||Pocatello, Idaho||11,500||Jimmy Satterfield|
|1989||Georgia Southern (3)||Stephen F. Austin||37-34||Paulson Stadium||Statesboro, Georgia||25,725||Erk Russell (3)|
|1990||Georgia Southern (4)||Nevada||36-13||Paulson Stadium||Statesboro, Georgia||23,204||Tim Stowers|
|1991||Youngstown State||Marshall||25-17||Paulson Stadium||Statesboro, Georgia||12,667||Jim Tressel|
|1992||Marshall||Youngstown State||31-28||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||31,304||Jim Donnan|
|1993||Youngstown State (2)||Marshall||17-5||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||29,218||Jim Tressel (2)|
|1994||Youngstown State (3)||Boise State||28-14||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||27,674||Jim Tressel (3)|
|1995||Montana||Marshall||22-20||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||32,106||Don Read|
|1996||Marshall (2)||Montana||49-29||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||30,052||Bob Pruett|
|1997||Youngstown State (4)||McNeese State||10-9||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||14,771||Jim Tressel (4)|
|1998||Massachusetts||Georgia Southern||55-43||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||17,501||Mark Whipple|
|1999||Georgia Southern (5)||Youngstown State||59-24||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||20,052||Paul Johnson|
|2000||Georgia Southern (6)||Montana||27-25||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||17,156||Paul Johnson (2)|
|2001||Montana (2)||Furman||13-6||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||12,698||Joe Glenn|
|2002||Western Kentucky||McNeese State||34-14||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||12,360||Jack Harbaugh|
|2003||Delaware||Colgate||40-0||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||14,281||K. C. Keeler|
|2004||James Madison||Montana||31-21||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||16,771||Mickey Matthews|
|2005||Appalachian State||Northern Iowa||21-16||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||20,236||Jerry Moore|
|2006||Appalachian State (2)||Massachusetts||28-17||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||22,808||Jerry Moore (2)|
|2007||Appalachian State (3)||Delaware||49-21||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||23,010||Jerry Moore (3)|
|2008||Richmond||Montana||24-7||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||17,823||Mike London|
|2009||Villanova||Montana||23-21||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||14,328||Andy Talley|
|2010||Eastern Washington||Delaware||20-19||Pizza Hut Park?||Frisco, Texas||13,027||Beau Baldwin|
|2011||North Dakota State||Sam Houston State||17-6||Pizza Hut Park?||Frisco, Texas||20,586||Craig Bohl|
|2012||North Dakota State (2)||Sam Houston State||39-13||FC Dallas Stadium?||Frisco, Texas||21,411||Craig Bohl (2)|
|2013||North Dakota State (3)||Towson||35-7||Toyota Stadium||Frisco, Texas||19,802||Craig Bohl (3)|
|2014||North Dakota State (4)||Illinois State||29-27||Toyota Stadium||Frisco, Texas||20,918||Chris Klieman|
|2015||North Dakota State (5)||Jacksonville State||37-10||Toyota Stadium||Frisco, Texas||21,836||Chris Klieman (2)|
|2016||James Madison (2)||Youngstown State||28-14||Toyota Stadium||Frisco, Texas||14,423*||Mike Houston|
|2017||North Dakota State (6)||James Madison||17-13||Toyota Stadium||Frisco, Texas||19,090*||Chris Klieman (3)|
+ Known as University of Louisiana at Monroe since 1999.
? Now Toyota Stadium
* Toyota Stadium capacity reduced due to construction
|Team||Titles||Appearances||Years Won||Years Lost|
|Georgia Southern^||6||8||1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1999, 2000||1988, 1998|
|North Dakota State||6||6||2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017|
|Youngstown State||4||7||1991, 1993, 1994, 1997||1992, 1999, 2016|
|Appalachian State^||3||3||2005, 2006, 2007|
|Montana||2||7||1995, 2001||1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009|
|Marshall^||2||6||1992, 1996||1987, 1991, 1993, 1995|
|Eastern Kentucky||2||4||1979, 1982||1980, 1981|
|James Madison||2||3||2004, 2016||2017|
|Delaware||1||4||2003||1982, 2007, 2010|
|McNeese State||0||2||1997, 2002|
|Sam Houston State||0||2||2011, 2012|
|Stephen F. Austin||0||1||1989|
^ Now a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).