Major College Football Classifications

 

In the year 2012 it’s easy to determine the major programs in college football; it’s any school playing football in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).  But determining who is or isn’t a major college football program hasn’t always been so easy.

From 1937 to 1972, the NCAA had two divisions, the University Division (Major College) and the College Division (Small College).   From 1973 to 1977 the NCAA had three divisions, Division I, II, and III.  In 1978 the NCAA split Division I into two classifications, I-A (later named the FBS) and the I-AA (later named the FCS).

It would be easy to follow the NCAA’s classifications to determine major programs, but sometimes those classifications, or least the ones printed in the record books haven’t always made a lot of sense.  For example the NCAA Division I Record Book lists Army and Notre Dame (among many others) as minor programs from 1941-45.  Meanwhile Denver and Detroit are listed as major programs during that same period.

The NCAA’s classifications of “major” programs have some flaws, but there mostly correct from 1978 (Division I split) and on.

To compensate for their errors or omissions (pre-1937), college football fans could follow the classifications developed by college football historian James Howell.  The classifications from Howell are excellent from 1869 to 1977, but his formula for determining major programs starts to produce strange results from 1978 and on.

For example he lists Southern Illinois as a major program in 1983, despite the fact that they were in the I-AA playoffs that year.  It’s my guess he lists Southern Illinois as a major program, because the Salukis were in the Missouri Valley Conference.  At the time the MVC consisted of teams from the I-A and I-AA divisions, making it a quasi “major” conference.  None the less I don’t agree with them being listed as a major program.

To determine who was or wasn’t a major for this website, I used a mix of my research, the classifications listed in the NCAA Division I Record Book, and James Howell’s classifications.

From 1869-1977, I closely followed James Howell’s classifications. From 1978-2011, I followed the classifications listed in the 2007 NCAA Division I Football Record Book, and some of my research on the topic. Programs that were “probationary” FBS/I-A members were counted as major programs.

Listed below are the current and former college football programs FootballGeography.com considers major programs.

Major College Football Programs (1869-2012)

Current Major College Football Programs
Air Force (CO) 1957-
Akron (OH) 1987-
Alabama 1902-17, 1919-42, 1944-
Alabama-Birmingham 1996-
Arizona 1931-42, 1946-
Arizona St. 1931-42, 1946-
Arkansas 1906-
Arkansas St. 1974-81, 1992-
Army (NY) 1891-1917, 1919, 1922-
Auburn (AL) 1902-42, 1944-
Ball State (IN) 1975-81, 1983-
Baylor (TX) 1903-05, 1907-42, 1945-
Boise St. (ID) 1996-
Boston College (MA) 1901-02, 1919, 1937-42, 1944-
Bowling Green (OH) 1962-81, 1983-
Brigham Young (UT) 1922-42, 1946-
Buffalo (NY) 1962-70, 1999-
California 1916-
Central Florida 1996-
Central Michigan 1975-
Cincinnati (OH) 1954-82, 1984-
Clemson (SC) 1902-
Colorado 1902-
Colorado St. 1902-05, 1910-42, 1945-
Connecticut 2000-
Duke (NC) 1922-
East Carolina (NC) 1965-
Eastern Michigan 1975-81, 1983-
Florida 1911-17, 1919-42, 1944-
Florida Atlantic 2005-
Florida International 2005-
Florida St. 1954-
Fresno St. (CA) 1969-
Georgia 1902-16, 1919-
Georgia Tech 1902-
Hawaii 1974-
Houston (TX) 1949-
Idaho 1917, 1921-42, 1945-77, 1996-
Illinois 1892-
Indiana 1899-
Iowa 1899-
Iowa St. 1895, 1899-
Kansas 1901-
Kansas St. 1912-
Kent St. (OH) 1962-81, 1983-
Kentucky 1915-42, 1944-
Louisiana St. 1902, 1904, 1906-17, 1919-
Louisiana Tech 1975-81, 1989-
Louisiana-Lafayette 1973-
Louisiana-Monroe 1975-81, 1994-
Louisville (KY) 1962-
Marshall (WV) 1962-81, 1997-
Maryland 1917-
Massachusetts 1882, 1891-95, 1899-1906, 2012-
Memphis (TN) 1960-
Miami (FL) 1936-42, 1944-
Miami (OH) 1962-81, 1983-
Michigan 1881, 1883, 1892-
Michigan St. 1918, 1925-42, 1944-
Middle Tennessee 1999-
Minnesota 1892-
Mississippi 1902, 1904, 1906-1919, 1921-42, 1944-
Mississippi St. 1902, 1904, 1906-42, 1944-
Missouri 1901-17, 1919-
Navy (MD) 1891-92, 1896-
Nebraska 1900-
Nevada 1946-50, 1992-
Nevada-Las Vegas 1978-
New Mexico 1931-42, 1944-
New Mexico St. 1931-42, 1946-
North Carolina 1902-16, 1919-
North Carolina St. 1902, 1904, 1908-
North Texas 1953-81, 1995-
Northern Illinois 1968-81, 1983-
Northwestern (IL) 1892-1905, 1908-
Notre Dame (IN) 1899-1902, 1904-05, 1913-
Ohio 1962-81, 1983-
Ohio State 1904, 1913-
Oklahoma 1903, 1905, 1909, 1912-
Oklahoma St. 1914-
Oregon 1916-42, 1945-
Oregon St. 1916-42, 1945-
Penn St. 1889, 1891, 1896-
Pittsburgh (PA) 1905-
Purdue (IN) 1892-
Rice (TX) 1914-
Rutgers (NJ) 1869-70, 1872-84, 1886-92, 1914, 1916-23, 1946-
San Diego St. (CA) 1969-
San Jose St. (CA) 1950-
South Alabama 2012
South Carolina 1903, 1909-
South Florida 2000-
Southern California 1922-
Southern Methodist (TX) 1916-86, 1989-
Southern Mississippi 1963-
Stanford (CA) 1919-42, 1946-
Syracuse (NY) 1899-1902, 1905-42, 1944-
Temple (PA) 1930-52, 1971-
Tennessee 1902-16, 1919-42, 1944-
Texas 1902-
Texas A&M 1903-
Texas Christian 1903-10, 1914-
Texas St. 2012-
Texas Tech 1932-
Texas-El Paso 1935-42, 1946-
Texas-San Antonio 2012-
Toledo (OH) 1962-
Troy (AL) 2001-
Tulane (LA) 1902, 1904, 1906-1917, 1919-
Tulsa (OK) 1917, 1933-
UCLA 1928-
Utah 1905-08, 1910-17, 1919-
Utah St. 1912, 1914-17, 1919-42, 1944-
Vanderbilt (TN) 1902-42, 1945-
Virginia 1890, 1902-05, 1907-16, 1919-
Virginia Tech 1902-42, 1945-
Wake Forest (NC) 1908-
Washington 1916-42, 1944-
Washington St. 1917, 1919-42, 1945-
West Virginia 1909, 1913-17, 1919-
Western Kentucky 2007-
Western Michigan 1962-81, 1983-
Wisconsin 1892-
Wyoming 1905, 1909-17, 1919-42, 1946-
   
Former Major College Football Programs
2nd Air Force (CO) 1944
4th Air Force (CA) 1943-44
Alameda Coast Guard (CA) 1943-44
Alcorn State (MS) 1977
Amarillo AAF (TX) 1944
Amherst (MA) 1877-78, 1881-82, 1886-1906
Appalachian State (NC) 1972-81
Bates (ME) 1901, 1904-05
Beloit (WI) 1894, 1898-1905
Birmingham-Southern (AL) 1920-22, 1924
Boston (MA) 1923-24, 1947-64
Bowdoin (ME) 1896, 1898-1901, 1904-05
Bradley (IL) 1949-51
Brown (RI) 1878, 1880, 1891-1981
Bucknell (PA) 1888-91, 1896-1917, 1919, 1930-39, 1944-46
Butler (IN) 1932-33
Cal St.-Fullerton 1975-92
Cal St.-Long Beach 1969-91
Cal St.-Los Angeles 1969-71
California-Santa Barbara 1969-71
Camp Grant (IL) 1943
Carlisle Indian School (PA) 1896-1915, 1917
Carnegie Mellon (PA) 1910, 1922-40
Centenary (LA) 1930-41
Centre (KY) 1919-25, 1935
Chattanooga (TN) 1909-10, 1920-24, 1945-48, 1971-81
Chicago (IL) 1892-1939
Citadel (SC) 1909-1926, 1932-42, 1946-81
Coast Guard (CT) 1944-45
Coe (IA) 1905
Colby (ME) 1904
Colgate (NY) 1905-17, 1919-81
Colorado College 1902-37, 1943-45
Colorado School of Mines 1902-37
Columbia (NY) 1870, 1872-83, 1889-91, 1899-1905, 1921-81
Cornell (NY) 1888-1917, 1919-81
Cornell College (IA) 1903
Creighton (NE) 1927-42
Cumberland (TN) 1903, 1905
Dartmouth (NH) 1881-82, 1886-1906, 1912-81
Davidson (NC) 1902, 1906-42, 1946-76
Dayton (OH) 1956-76
Del Monte Pre-Flight (CA) 1943
Denver (CO) 1902-60
Detroit (MI) 1927-42, 1945-64
Dickinson (PA) 1889-91, 1896-1910
Drake (IA) 1900-42, 1944-58, 1971-81
Drury (MO) 1907
Duquesne (PA) 1933-42, 1947-50
East Tennessee St. 1978-81
Erskine (SC) 1919, 1921-22, 1924, 1936
Fordham (NY) 1909, 1928-42, 1946-54
Fort Benning (GA) 1922
Fort Riley (KS) 1943
Fort Warren (WY) 1944
Franklin & Marshall (PA) 1889-91, 1896-98, 1904-
Furman (SC) 1902, 1915-28, 1933-42, 1946-81
George Washington (DC) 1908, 1932-42, 1946-66
Georgetown (DC) 1902-05, 1908-17, 1919, 1927-42, 1946-50
Georgia Navy Pre-Flight 1942-43
Gonzaga (WA) 1922-25, 1930-41
Grambling St. (LA) 1977
Great Lakes NTS (IL) 1918, 1942-45
Grinnell (IA) 1899-1905, 1907, 1919-36
Hamilton (NY) 1907
Hampden-Sydney (VA) 1922, 1925, 1938-40
Hardin-Simmons (TX) 1939-42, 1946-62
Harvard (MA) 1875-84, 1886-1916, 1918-42, 1945-81
Haskell Institute (KS) 1902-10, 1914-16
Haverford (PA) 1891
Holy Cross (MA) 1899-1906, 1936-68, 1970-81
Idaho St. 1944
Illinois St. 1975-81
Indiana St. 1975-81
Iowa Navy Pre-Flight 1942-44
Jackson St. (MS) 1977
Jacksonville NAS (FL) 1942
Knox (IL) 1899-1900, 1902-03, 1905
Lafayette (PA) 1882-1923, 1927, 1932-33, 1945-46
Lake Forest (IL) 1893-96, 1899
Lamar (TX) 1973-81
Lawrence (WI) 1905
Lehigh (PA) 1884-1923, 1963-65
Lombard (IL) 1903
Loyola (LA) 1934-36
Loyola Marymount (CA) 1933-42, 1949-51
Lubbock AAB (TX) 1944
Maine 1904-05
Manhattan (NY) 1936-42
Mare Island NTS (CA) 1917-18
Marquette (WI) 1927-60
Maryville (TN) 1906-07
McNeese St. (LA) 1975-81
Mercer (GA) 1909-13, 1920-25, 1933-36
Merchant Marine (NY) 1945-47
Millsaps (MS) 1924
Mississippi College 1911-12, 1915-16, 1919-24
MIT (MA) 1882, 1886-89, 1891-95, 1898-99
Montana 1917, 1923-42, 1946-62
Montana St. 1923-37, 1946-47
Nashville (TN) 1904
New Hampshire 1904-05
New York (NY) 1927-41, 1944-52
Newberry (SC) 1914-17, 1919-25
Norman NAS (OK) 1944
North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight 1942-43
Northern Arizona 1931-42, 1946-52
Northern Colorado 1923-37
Northwestern St. (LA) 1976-77
Oglethorpe (GA) 1919-25
Pacific (CA) 1943, 1950-95
Pennsylvania 1876, 1878-1981
Phillips (OK) 1920-21
Portland (OR) 1946-47
Presbyterian (SC) 1915-26, 1935-36, 1944-45
Princeton (NJ) 1869-70, 1872-1916, 1919-43, 1945-81
Randolph Field (TX) 1944
Regis (CO) 1924, 1929-30
Rhodes (TN) 1939
Richmond (VA) 1909, 1921-25, 1932-81
Saint Louis (MO) 1907-08, 1932-42, 1945-49
Saint Mary’s (CA) 1930-43, 1945-50
Saint Mary’s Pre-Flight (CA) 1942-44
Samford (AL) 1907, 1909-12, 1919-24
San Francisco (CA) 1932-43, 1946-51
Santa Clara (CA) 1932-42, 1946-52
Sewanee (TN) 1902-41
Simpson (IA) 1902-03
Southern (LA) 1977
Southern Illinois 1972-81
Southwestern (TX) 1910-21
Spring Hill (AL) 1919, 1921-22
Springfield (MA) 1891-92
Stevens Tech (NJ) 1872-89, 1891
Swarthmore (PA) 1888-89, 1903-07, 1912
Tampa (FL) 1966-68, 1971-74
Tennessee Medical College 1904
Tennessee St. 1977-80
Texas Southern 1977
Texas-Arlington 1971-81
Trinity (CT) 1887-1901
Tufts (MA) 1877, 1886-87, 1892-1905
Union (NY) 1894-95, 1902
Vermont 1901-05
Villanova (PA) 1905-12, 1930-80
Virginia Military Institute 1904, 1913-81
Wabash (IN) 1904-05
Washburn (KS) 1905, 1935-40
Washington & Jefferson (PA) 1905-34
Washington & Lee (VA) 1907-42, 1946-53
Washington (MO) 1902-05, 1907-42
Wesleyan (CT) 1882-1905
West Texas A&M 1941-42, 1944-81
West Virginia Wesleyan 1913-16
Western Carolina (NC) 1977-81
Western St. (CO) 1924-37
Whitman (WA) 1923-24
Wichita St. (KS) 1945-82, 1984-86
William & Mary (VA) 1922-25, 1932-42, 1944-81
Williams (MA) 1886-1906
Wofford (SC) 1914-26, 1933, 1936
Worcester Tech (MA) 1888, 1893
Xavier (OH) 1935, 1959-73
Yale (CT) 1872-1916, 1919-81

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