Division I Sports Conferences

Explore the biggest NCAA conferences, including the Big East, Big 10, Big 12, ACC, and SEC.

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They’re the best of the best in college sports. Division I conferences are home to schools like UCLA, Ohio State, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Florida. But how did these conferences come about, and why are they organized in this way? This article will give you the details on D-I sports, including some recent changes to the organization of Division I football conferences.

There are 346 colleges in Division I. That’s a lot of teams!

Why Do Conferences Exist?

With 1,281 member schools, the NCAA is a big organization. Even when you break it down into divisions, there are still 346 colleges in Division I. That’s a lot of teams!

Conferences exist to break competition down by region. So, instead of having 346 teams scheduled randomly against each other, you have groups of 10 or 12 (or 16, in the case of the Big East) competing regionally.

Football Conferences

Football is the only sport that subdivides its conferences. There’s the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly I-A) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly I-AA).

In the FCS, much like any sport, each season ends with a championship tournament. In the FBS, however, each season ends with a series of bowl games.

Many of these games’ participants are by invite only, but the National Championship Game, the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Orange Bowl are determined by a computerized system called the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

Of the FBS conferences, six subdivisions get an automatic BCS bid each season: the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Big East.

FBS Conferences:

  • Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
  • Big East
  • Big Ten
  • Big 12
  • Conference USA (C-USA)
  • FBS Independents (Notre Dame, Army, Navy, BYU)
  • Mid-American Conference (MAC)
  • Mountain West Conference (MWC)
  • Pacific-12 (Pac-12)
  • Southeastern Conference (SEC)
  • Sun Belt Conference
  • Western Athletic Conference (WAC)

FCS Conferences:

  • Big Sky Conference
  • Big South Conference
  • Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA)
  • FCS Independents (Georgia State University, University of South Alabama, University of Texas at San Antonio)
  • Great West Conference
  • Ivy League
  • Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)
  • Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC)
  • Northeast Conference (NEC)
  • Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)
  • Patriot League
  • Pioneer Football League (PFL)
  • Southern Conference (SoCon)
  • Southland Conference
  • Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC)

In the 2011 season, there will be some changes in a few of the FBS conferences. The University of Nebraska will move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, and the University of Colorado will move from the Big 12 to the Pac-10. The Pac-10 will also pick up the University of Utah from the MWC.

Other Sports and Non-Football Conferences

Generally sports like basketball and baseball follow the same conference lines as football. So the same 10 schools from the Big 12 will play each other in basketball, football, baseball, and all other varsity sports.

But conference divisions can get confusing because some schools don’t have some sports. For example the Big East schools DePaul, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John’s all discontinued their college football programs. Georgetown and Villanova, who are also Big East members, play in a smaller division of college football. And Notre Dame is an independent school in football but is a member of the Big East in other sports.

Confusing isn’t it?

But these seemingly confusing details exist for a reason. Some schools don’t have some sports because of weather (it’s difficult for Colgate University to have a baseball team when upstate New York’s weather is so atrocious) and others must cut and rearrange teams to fit within Title IX, which states that male and female athletes must have equal opportunities in college.

Ice Hockey Conferences

Because ice hockey is not played as widely as football and basketball, its conference layout is different:

  • Atlantic Hockey
  • Central Collegiate Hockey Assocation (CCHA)
  • College Hockey America (CHA)
  • ECAC Hockey
  • Hockey East
  • Western Collegiate Hockey Assocation (WCHA)

Other Conferences

There are also some conferences that exist for specific sports. Here’s a list of those conferences:

  • Atlantic Soccer Conference
  • American Lacrosse Conference
  • Coastal Collegiate Swim Association
  • Collegiate Water Polo Association
  • ECAC Lacrosse League
  • East Atlantic Gymnastics League
  • Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges
  • Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League
  • Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association
  • Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association
  • Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association
  • Eastern Wrestling League
  • Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association
  • Mountain Pacific Sports Federation
  • National Lacrosse Conference
  • Northern Pacific Field Hockey Conference
  • Pacific Coast Softball Conference
  • Pacific Coast Swim Conference
  • Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association
  • Western Water Polo Association
  • Western Wrestling Conference


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