NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision independent schools are four-year institutions whose football programs are not part of an NCAA-affiliated conference. This means that FBS independents are not required to schedule each other for competition like conference schools do. There are many fewer independent schools than in years past; many independent schools join, or attempt to join, established conferences, usually in order to gain a share of television revenue and access to bowl games that agree to take teams from certain conferences, and in order to help deal with otherwise potentially difficult challenges in scheduling opponents to play throughout the season.
All Division I FBS independents are eligible for the College Football Playoff (CFP), or for the so-called "access bowls" associated with the CFP, if they are chosen by the CFP selection committee. Notre Dame has a potential tie-in with the Orange Bowl. Navy and Army have agreements with the Military Bowl (formerly the EagleBank Bowl), and Notre Dame, in addition to its CFP agreement, has other bowl agreements as part of its affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). (Notre Dame had similar agreements with its previous conference, the Big East.) BYU had an agreement with the Armed Forces Bowl for 2011.
The ranks of football independents increased by one starting with the 2011 season with the announcement that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference to become a football independent starting with that season. The ranks increased by two in 2013 when the WAC dropped football and New Mexico State and Idaho did not have a conference for football. The ranks of football independents decreased by two in 2014 with the return of Idaho and New Mexico State as football-only members of the Sun Belt Conference, and will decrease by one more in 2015 with the announcement that Navy will join the American Athletic Conference as a football only member. UMass is expected to become an FBS independent beginning in 2016.
2014 Independent Football Sports Betting Preview (Notre Dame, Army, Navy, BYU) - Jeff Saad and John Cranton examine the upcoming football season, looking at the 2014 Independents, all from a Las Vegas betting perspective. Catch up on ...
Reasons for independence
In recent years, most independent FBS schools have joined a conference for two primary reasons: A guaranteed share of television and bowl revenues, and ease of scheduling. The four remaining independent FBS schools have unique circumstances that circumvent their need for conference affiliation.
Notre Dame unsuccessfully attempted on three occasions to join an athletic conference in the early 20th century, including the Big Ten in 1926 reportedly due to anti-Catholicism. Notre Dame is now one of the most prominent programs in the country. Because of its national popularity built over several decades, Notre Dame is the only individual school to have its own national television contract, declined a subsequent invitation by the Big Ten to join the conference, and was the only independent program to be part of the Bowl Championship Series coalition and its guaranteed payout. These factors help make Notre Dame one of the most financially valuable football programs in the country, thus negating the need for Notre Dame to secure revenue by joining a conference.
Previously, Notre Dame had easily filled its annual schedule without needing conference games to do so. It has longstanding rivalries with many different programs around the country, including annual rivalry games with USC, Navy, Michigan, Stanford, Michigan State, Boston College, and Purdue as well as Pitt. All Notre Dame home games and most away games are on national television, so other teams have a large financial incentive to schedule the university. If Notre Dame were to join a conference, it would likely have to eliminate or reduce the frequency of several rivalries. Nonetheless, for all sports except football and men's ice hockey, Notre Dame joined the ACC in 2013 and, as part of this agreement, plays five of its football games each season against ACC members. (The ACC does not sponsor ice hockey for either sex; the only other ACC member with a men's ice hockey varsity team is Boston College, which plays alongside Notre Dame in Hockey East.)
Two of the remaining independent programs are two of the service academies, Army and Navy. Whereas television and bowl appearances are important sources of revenue and advertising for most other universities and their football games, the United States federal government fully funds essential scholastic operations of the service academies (athletics are funded by non-profit associations), effectively rendering such income superfluous.
Both service academies have annual games guaranteed with each other and with Air Force. Both also have historic rivalries with Notre Dame; the Navy game has been continuous since 1927, while the Army game is semi-regular. Television rights for the longstanding Armyâ"Navy Game, which is the last regular season game in the NCAA, serve as a significant revenue source for the programs. The academies also use their football programs to recruit for their services; without a conference schedule, the service academies are able to more easily schedule games around the country.
However, Navy will join the American Athletic Conference for college football in 2015, citing that it wanted to maintain competitiveness, had concerns about scheduling and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make more money. It should also be noted that Navy's arrival in The American will bring the league's football membership to 12 schools, allowing it to play a conference championship game.
During the conference realignment that saw the university choose football independence in August 2010, some saw BYU as a potential future "Notre Dame of the West". Both are prominent faith-based schools; Notre Dame is arguably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S., while BYU is the flagship university of the LDS Church. The 1984 team's national championship is the most recent by a university that is not a current member of the College Football Playoff coalition.
BYU was getting less than $2 million a year through its contract with The MTN, the now-defunct TV network of the Mountain West Conference. BYU has its own cable channel, but had a very restrictive contract which did not allow BYU to broadcast its own football games. The new contract with ESPN will pay BYU an estimated $800,000 to $1.2 million per home game, and allow for greater freedom with its own channel.
The following is a complete list of teams which have been Division I-A (FBS) Independents since the formation of Division I-A in 1978.
- College football national championships in NCAA Division I FBS
- NCAA Division I FCS independent schools
- NCAA Division I independent schools (basketball)
- NCAA Division I independent schools (ice hockey)
- NCAA Division II independent schools
- NCAA Division III independent schools
- NAIA independent schools
- FBS Independents
- Notre Dame