FCS Automatic Bids For 2022-23 Playoffs, Conference Realignment

July 8, 2022 by Dave Congrove

Much has been made about the realignment of teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), but there has also been a lot of movement of in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). As a result, some conferences have had to form alliances to increase their roster of teams to six or more which is a requirement to receive an auto bid.

10 conference champions will receive automatic bids to the 2022-2023 FCS Championship Playoffs with the remaining best 14 teams being selected on an at-large basis by the Division I Football Championship Committee. The top eight teams in the 24-team bracket for the championship are seeded and receive First Round byes.

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For 2022, AQ Bids Will Go To These Conference Champs:
A-SUN / WAC Alliance
Big Sky
Big South
OVC / Southland Alliance

The Ivy League, the MEAC and the SWAC do NOT receive auto bids and the IVY forbids postseason play. The MAC and SWAC have their champions square off in the Celebration Bowl, but the SWAC also saw Florida A&M nab an at-large playoff bid last year.

The ASUN and WAC will each have their own 'seasons', but a tie-breaking scenario will determine one AQ bid recipient from the alliance at the end of the season. These two conferences operated as the AQ7 last year.

The same above scenario will be in effect for the OVS/Southland Alliance.

Conference Realignment

This will be the first season of the ASUN and the re-constituted WAC operating as independent conferences. The ASUN is comprised of Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Kennesaw State and North Alabama. Jacksonville State is also in the ASUN but is ineligible for FCS postseason play as the Gamecocks begin their transition to the FBS.

The WAC is comprised of Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word (UIW), Lamar, Southern Utah, and Stephen F Austin. Tarleton and Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State) are also in this conference but are ineligible for the FCS playoffs until 2024. Sam Houston is here for the sake of scheduling purposes, but is also ineligible as the Bearkats begin their transition to the FBS.

Southern Utah migrates to the WAC from the Big Sky, a conference that otherwise remains intact. The 2022-24 Big Sky schedules will still feature eight league games that include two annual opponents, some of whom have changed since the last time, and six rotating opponents. This format was selected in part based on feedback from the league membership about wanting to make sure teams did not go a long time during the three-year slate without playing a fellow conference opponent.

The OVC (Ohio Valley Conference) has a 7-team roster of Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood, Murray State, SE Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT-Martin.

Lindenwood's transition to the FCS makes the school ineligible for the playoffs but is eligible for the conference title. Austin Peay left for the ASUN.

The OVC's alliance conference, the Southland has been decimated and now contains just five teams with FCS playoff eligibility - Houston Baptist, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State (La.) and Southeastern Louisiana. Texas A&M-Commerce enters from D2 and is ineligible for FCS playoffs until 2026.

“The Big Sky’s new football scheduling model preserves so many of our most historic annual rivalries while ensuring a balanced rotation of playing each conference opponent,” Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said. “For this three-year scheduling block that begins in 2022, our 12 football programs and their supporters will enjoy knowing that each school will play every other Big Sky school at least twice – once at home and once on the road – so each player will have the opportunity to compete in every stadium and each local fan base will have the chance to see every conference team come to their town.”

League schools also had increased input into the scheduling process, with each institution allowed to request their preferred annual opponents (every school was granted at least one of their requests) and one week per season during which they would like to be home or not at home (either away or open). The nine non-California-based teams will play one game each season at either Cal Poly, Sacramento State, or UC Davis, and will host one of those three every year as well.

The Big South barely meets the 6-team qualification to receive a conference AQ bid after four teams moved elsewhere and only Bryant was added. Hampton and Monmouth both moved to the CAA while North Alabama and Kennesaw State flipped to the ASUN.

The holdover Big South members are Campbell, Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, North Carolina A&T and Robert Morris.

The CAA's big loss was James Madison which begins play this season in the Sun Belt of the FBS. The conference is still strong, however, with Big South defector Monmouth joining 12 holdovers - Albany, Delaware, Elon, Hampton, Maine, Monmouth, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Richmond, Stony Brook, Towson, Villanova and William & Mary.

It is worth noting that at least one CAA Football team has reached the semifinals of the FCS playoffs for nine consecutive seasons and the conference has had a team make the FCS championship game 11 times since 2003.

Speaking of champions, defending national champ North Dakota State has dominated the strong MVFC (Missouri Valley Football Conference) and captured 9 of the last 11 national titles. The conference's 11-member roster remains intact with the Bison joined by Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, North Dakota, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, Youngstown State.

The NEC (Northeast Conference) sees the loss of Bryant to the Big South. The 6 members eligible for the conference title are Central Connecticut State, Duquesne, LIU, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (Pa.) and Wagner.

Merrimack and Stonehill are ineligible as they transition from D2. Merrimack is set for its fourth season at the Division I FCS level and the final one of its reclassification period. Stonehill's first transition year to the FCS level will feature a 9-game schedule, including a full slate of NEC games.

The Patriot, Pioneer and SoCOn escaped all the upheaval.

The Patriot welcomes back Bucknell, Colgate, Fordham, Georgetown, Holy Cross, Lafayette and Lehigh.

The Pioneer continues to be populated by an 11-team field of Butler, Davidson, Dayton, Drake, Marist, Morehead State, Presbyterian, St. Thomas, San Diego, Stetson, and Valparaiso. The St. Thomas Tommies are ineligible for the conference title or FCS playoffs until 2025 as the program enters its second transition season from D3.

The SoCon brings back nine teams that are all eligible for the playoffs - Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Furman, Mercer, Samford, The Citadel, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford.

The Ivy League membership is still Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale.

The MEAC (Mideastern Athletic Conference) has Delaware State, Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central and South Carolina State.

The SWAC will still play in two divisions (east and west) with the same 12 teams. The east members are Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, Jackson State and MVSU, while the west holds Alcorn State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Grambling State, Prairie View A&M, Southern and Texas Southern.