Editor’s note: This list has been updated as of Tuesday, February 23, 2021 with the ASUN confirming the addition of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State as well as the ASUN-WAC Partnership for the 2021 season. This list will continue to be updated through the 2020-21 academic year if more changes occur.
It’s been a wild past few months in terms of the college football realignment landscape. Nearly all of it has focused on the FCS and lower levels of Division I. Below is a recap of the moves we know about including the old conference, new conference, and when the change will take effect. If you simply want a list, scroll down to the table below for a summary. More detailed information on each conference is provided below the table.
We include teams who began the 2020-21 academic year in the list to show how extensive the changes have been across the different conferences. We will go through all the changes below as well as note which teams do not sponsor football.
There will not be a lot of analysis nor any in-depth look at how the dominoes may fall. We save that thinking for more extensive articles and some examples of those can be found here. We simply wanted to provide a resource for the recent movement throughout the collegiate landscape in all divisions.
|Team||Old Conference||New Conference||First season in|
|Alderson Broaddus||G-MAC (D-II)||Mountain East (D-II)||2020-21|
|Allen University||AAC (NAIA)||SIAC (D-II)||2020-21|
|Ashland||GLIAC (D-II)||G-MAC (D-II)||2021-22|
|Bellarmine||GLVC (D-II)||Atlantic Sun||2020-21||Does not have
|Bob Jones University||NCCAA||TBD (D-III)||TBD||Does not have
|Cal State Bakersfield||WAC||Big West||2020-21||Does not have
|Central Arkansas||Southland||ASUN/WAC||2021-22||WAC football
only for 2021
|Chicago State||WAC||TBD||TBD||Leaving WAC after
|Connecticut||American Athletic||Big East||2020-21||Football is FBS
|D'Youville||AMCC (D-III)||East Coast (D-II)||2020-21||Does not have
|Dixie State||Lone Star (D-II)||WAC||2020-21|
|Eastern Kentucky||Ohio Valley||ASUN/WAC||2021-22||WAC football
only for 2021
|Edward Waters||GCAC (NAIA)||SIAC (D-II)||TBD|
|Emory and Henry||ODAC (D-III)||SAC (D-II)||2022-23||Will spend 21-22
as D2 independent
|Frostburg State||NJAC (D-III)||Mountain East (D-II)||2019-20|
|Iowa Wesleyan||SLIAC (D-III)||TBD (NAIA)||2021-22||Football team
played in UMAC
|Jacksonville State||Ohio Valley||ASUN/WAC||2021-22||WAC football
only for 2021
|Kansas City||WAC||Summit League||2020-21||Does not have
|Kennesaw State||Big South||Atlantic Sun||2022-23||Football only move|
|Louisiana College||ASC (D-III)||RRAC (NAIA)||2021-22|
|NJIT||Atlantic Sun||America East||2020-21||Does not have
|North Alabama||Big South||Atlantic Sun||2022-23||Football only move|
|North Carolina A&T||MEAC||Big South||2021-22|
|Ohio Valley||G-MAC (D-II)||RSC (NAIA)||2021-22|
|Pine Manor College||Independent (D-III)||Merging with|
|2021-22||Does not have
|Purdue Fort Wayne||Summit League||Horizon League||2020-21||Does not have
|Robert Morris||Northeast||Horizon/Big South||2020-21||Big South
|USCAA||RSC (NAIA)||2020-21||Does not have
|Sam Houston State||Southland||WAC||2021-22|
|Shepherd||Mountain East (D-II)||PSAC (D-II)||2019-20|
|Southern Utah||Big Sky||WAC||2022-23|
|St. Thomas||MIAC (D-III)||Summit League/|
Pioneer FB League
|Stephen F. Austin||Southland||WAC||2021-22|
|Tarleton State||Lone Star (D-II)||WAC||2020-21|
|UC San Diego||CCAA (D-II)||Big West||2020-21||Does not have
|Urbana||Mountain East (D-II)||Closed||2019-20|
|UT-Rio Grande Valley||WAC||WAC||2024-25||Potential New
|Wesley College||AEC (D-III)||Merging with|
American Athletic/Mountain West
The FBS has been untouched by realignment but that might change if recent reports turn out to be true. Boise State and San Diego State have been linked with a move from the Mountain West Conference to the American Athletic Conference. That may set off a smaller chain of events to fill Boise State’s spot as well as the subsequent spots of the teams who leave to fill Boise/SDSU seats. We did not include these teams in the table above but wanted to mention it as it was heavily reported.
The ASUN Conference is one of the beneficiaries of conference realignment. They will add the trio of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State starting in 2021-22. Combined with Kennesaw State and North Alabama from the Big South – both of whom are already in the ASUN for other sports – and the conference will be just one FCS member shy of maintaining an Automatic Qualification (AQ) bid going forward.
Per the ASUN itself, all teams currently have access to an AQ starting in the 2021 fall season due to the “existing and developing agreements” they have (i.e. KSU and UNA in the Big South; UCA, EKU, and JSU in the WAC).
Based on the wording by ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart, this appears to be the way it will work for the 2021 fall football season. Gumbart did not give a concrete answer for 2021 as well in this clip. However, none of this was official until February 23 when the ASUN confirmed the partnership with the WAC as well as the 7 teams eligible for the AQ bid.
The second part of the ASUN’s plan is to get North Alabama to finish its transition period two years early by supporting a proposal that changes the timeframe from 4 years to 2 years. If approved, the proposal would mean that UNA is eligible for postseason play starting in 2021-22 for all sports.
That brings us to the addition of Bellarmine. They joined the ASUN starting with the 2020-21 season from the Great Lakes Valley Conference (Division II). As a transitional team, if the new proposal is passed then they would be eligible for postseason play starting in 2022-23 instead of 2024-25. Bellarmine does not sponsor football.
Finally, let’s get down to the last piece of the puzzle and that is the addition of a 6th FCS team (or more). The ASUN laid out some criteria and ruled out some possibilities already. Liberty will remain an FBS Independent as expected and current ASUN member Stetson will not join the conference for football. The Hatters will stay in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.
Speculation is rampant on who will be the sixth team including Chattanooga and Valdosta State among many others. Per the ASUN, no current member has plans to add a football team so that rules out an internal option (for the time being as plans can always change).
We’ll wrap the ASUN section up by listing the 12 members of the league starting in 2021-22. They are Bellarmine, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida, and Stetson.
As will be mentioned in the Southland Conference section, Southern Utah will be leaving the Big Sky and joining their new home in the WAC starting with the 2022-23 academic year. No other changes have been reported with the remaining Big Sky membership, which will leave the conference with 12 football members though speculation has mentioned Northern Arizona as a potential future WAC member.
The 12 football schools are UC Davis, Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, and Weber State. The duo of UC Davis and Cal Poly are only associate members of the Big Sky for football as they compete in the Big West for the other sports.
The MEAC was not in the most recent changes but the conference was hit hard in 2020 with the news that three teams – Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, and North Carolina A&T – would depart. All three are leaving after this current 2020-21 academic year. Bethune-Cookman and FAMU are heading to the SWAC while NCAT will become a member of the Big South.
The MEAC has been left with 8 members – Coppin State, Delaware State, Howard, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, and South Carolina State. Of those 8, Coppin State and Maryland-Eastern Shore do not sponsor football.
The OVC will lose two members with the departures of Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State after the 2020-21 academic year. The two schools will reportedly play one football season as WAC members in 2021-22 followed by the move to their future conference – the ASUN – starting in 2022-23 for football. Both schools will become ASUN members in other sports starting in the 2021-22 academic year.
Seven teams will remain for the OVC football membership barring any additional losses. Those 7 teams are Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, Murray State, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, and UT Martin. The OVC will also have three additional non-football members in Belmont, Morehead State (they are football members in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League), and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
Like the MEAC and the Southland, the OVC is at a crossroads in attracting new members. Do they focus on building up the basketball side? Or do they try to bring in a football school? Maybe a mixed strategy?
The biggest shift in Division I realignment has been out west with Southland and WAC. 5 teams will leave the Southland Conference and head to greener pastures. Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin are joining the WAC while Central Arkansas will move to the Atlantic Sun Conference. All five teams will leave the Southland conference after the current 2020-21 academic year.
The Southland will have 6 football members and 8 members in the Olympic sports. Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, McNeese, Nicholls, Northwestern State, and Southeastern Louisiana remain for football while New Orleans and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are the two non-football members.
The WAC announced last month that five teams would join the conference with Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin coming over from the Southland and Southern Utah from the Big Sky. The plans call for the four Southland teams to join in 2021 while Southern Utah will join in 2022. The WAC also intends to pursue the reinstatement of football for the fall 2021 season at the FCS level starting.
Those five schools would join current FCS members Dixie State and Tarleton State both of whom are moving up from the Division II Lone Star Conference. As transitional teams, they are ineligible for postseason play and the AQ status for four years unless the new legislation passes cutting the transition time down to 2 years.
New Mexico State is also a member of the WAC but they are currently an FBS independent. Non-football schools currently in the WAC are California Baptist, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Seattle, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and Utah Valley. UTRGV has signaled its intention to start a football program in time for the 2024 season.
In a twist, the WAC will reportedly add the trio of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State in football for only the 2021 season. Those three will then move to the ASUN’s new football conference starting with the 2022 season if the recent rumor mill is correct.
For some slight analysis, this move makes sense for both parties. The WAC can get their Automatic Qualification (AQ) bid in 2021 with 7 members and then retain it in 2022 if they find a sixth team as Dixie State and Tarleton State will not be eligible as Division II transition teams. (This may change for 2022 if the transitional period is shortened from 4 years to 2, which would make both teams eligible for postseason play beginning in 2022-23).
As for the three single year teams, they can be in a conference that has an AQ instead of hoping the selection committee selects them for an at-large spot, which is always difficult as an FCS Independent. They can then join the ASUN in 2022-23 with what is likely to be a 6 or 7 team conference.
One caveat, however, is the NCAA itself. Whether they actually grant the WAC an AQ for the 2021 fall season is up to an organization that hasn’t always been logical nor rational. So stay tuned on that one.
The other piece of news for the WAC is that Chicago State will leave the conference after the 2021-2022 season. The Cougars have long been a geographic outlier and have failed to field competitive athletic teams. Chicago State intends to remain a Division I program after they leave the WAC.
Finally, there is speculation that the WAC will ascend from the FCS to the FBS within 5 – 10 years of returning to the football field. That would reunite them with New Mexico State, which would subsequently move from independent status into the WAC. That timeline – as well as any potential additions to the WAC membership – will remain in flux as the realignment game rolls on.
The past 12 months have seen plenty of other changes in conference membership including some non-football playing schools. We will summarize them below and include moves in Division II, Division III, and NAIA.
Cal State Bakersfield left the WAC to become a member of the Big West. UC San Diego also joined the Big West but is moving up from the Division II CCAA. Both teams started their first season in the Big West in 2020-21.
NJIT found a more geographically suitable home in the America East for 2020-21 after being a member of the Atlantic Sun.
Connecticut left the American Athletic Conference to re-join the Big East starting this season (2020-21). The Huskies have opted to become an FBS Independent in football.
Purdue Fort Wayne moved from the Summit League to the Horizon League. Kansas City went from the WAC back to the Horizon. Robert Morris also moved to the Horizon League from the Northeast Conference. Robert Morris will be a member of the Big South Conference in football. All three made the move in time for the 2020-21 academic year.
Presbyterian’s football team left the Big South Conference to join the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League starting with the 2021-22 season. The other sports will remain in the Big South. They will be joined by St. Thomas in the PFL after the Tommies made the quantum leap from Division III to Division I.
Now for a host of teams moving up to Division II. D’Youville (Buffalo, New York) has moved up from the D-III Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference to become a member of the Division II East Coast Conference this season.
Two teams are making the move from NAIA to the Division II SIAC. Allen University (South Carolina) already made the move starting with the 2020-21 academic year while Edward Waters has received an invitation but has not entirely made the move yet.
Emory and Henry is moving up from the Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference to become a member of the South Atlantic Conference at the Division II level. They will begin in the SAC starting in 2022-23 after spending the 2021-22 season as a Division II Independent.
The Great Midwest Athletic Conference is seeing some movement in its ranks. Ashland University is moving into the conference from the GLIAC starting with the 2021-22 season. Ohio Valley University is leaving the G-MAC to drop to the NAIA level after the 2020-21 academic year. Alderson Broaddus left the G-MAC for the Mountain East after the 2019-20 season.
The Mountain East also welcomed Frostburg State from Division III starting in the 2019-20 season. The MEC lost powerhouse Shepherd University to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference after the 2018-19 season.
Division III, NAIA, and Mergers
Bob Jones University (Greenville, South Carolina) is moving from the NCCAA to Division III at a yet to be determined time. The Bruins are still searching for a conference but began as a provisional D-III member starting with the 2020-21 academic year.
Finally, we come to the unfortunate part with one Division II and two Division III colleges who will be absorbed by other colleges. Urbana University in Ohio closed its doors for good in April 2020 after being a member of the Mountain East Conference.
Wesley, a Division III football power, was acquired by Delaware State in July 2020 and will become one entity with DSU starting in 2021-22. Pine Manor College is a small school located outside of Boston with its athletic teams competing as Division III independents. The Gators will become part of Boston College starting in 2021-22.
Finally, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (Saint Mary’s, Indiana) will start its membership at the NAIA level in 2021-22. They will be members of the River States Conference.
A lot has happened across the college sports landscape and it’s not close to being over. We can expect the ASUN to add at least one FCS team to reach 6 for the AQ and something says the WAC is probably close to another expansion right now given their aggressiveness to potentially obtain the AQ for the 2021 season.
Another interesting aspect to watch is what happens to the conferences currently at 6 or 7 football members? Will we see a Southland + OVC joint conference in football only? Or will the teams in those conferences be picked off with the lure of stability in a new home? Or perhaps a different conference will have a meltdown and set off another chain reaction of moves?
We’ll be here to note any additional moves so be sure to check back for updates and possibly some analysis on the potential changes!
Photo courtesy of Abilene Christian University