The college football landscape is confusing, certainly much more complicated than its professional counterpart, the NFL. So, when you hear terms like “FBS” and “FCS” thrown around while watching college football, it’s easy to get confused. Here’s a brief explanation of what exactly “FBS” and “FCS” mean in College Football.
FBS stands for “Football Bowl Subdivision”. The reason it’s called a subdivision is because both FBS and FCS are technically Division 1 football – but, “FBS” is the more competitive level. The primary difference between FBS and FCS Football is how the championship is played.
FBS Football has bowl games (hence, “Bowl Subdivision”). In the current version of this format, 2 of the New Years Six Bowls (rotating) are semifinal games between the top 4 college football teams, and then the two winners of those championship games go on to play the championship game, run by ESPN.
FCS stands for “Football Championship Subdivision”. In FCS Football, the top 24 FCS Subdivision teams play in a bracket style tournament for the NCAA Championship trophy.
Fun fact – this is the highest level college football championship awarded by the NCAA itself. The ESPN College Football Championship Game is what is almost always used to designate the NCAA champion, but there are technically other championship selectors that could make multiple different teams count as National Champions. For an example of this, see UCF in 2017, in which they were awarded National Champions by the Colley Matrix, even though Alabama won the National Championship game – most everyone refers to Alabama as the champions that year, but UCF technically has a rightful claim.
Another significant difference between the two subdivision is that FBS teams can award 85 football scholarships while FCS teams can only award 63. This contributes to FBS college football teams having an elevated standard of play, but the main driver between the increased competitive level of these schools is that the best conferences in the country form the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The subdivision split traces its roots to 1978, when Division 1 football was split into two subdivisions, 1-A and 1-AA. The main driver of this split was that the smaller D1 schools couldn’t keep up with the largely developed football programs of the largest D1 schools. This is similar to “mid majors” vs Power Conference basketball teams in College Basketball. In 2006, these two subdivisions were given the FBS and FCS names they hold today.
Though FBS is technically the higher level of play, FCS football is spectacular to watch. The large tournament system for the championship is extremely exciting and may even reflect the future state of the FBS playoff. Here at CFB Select, we love college football of all kinds – bookmark our site and follow us at @CFBSelect on Twitter if you do too!