Solving the NCAA puzzle

July 31, 2023
Welcome to another edition of summer school Q&A!
Solving the NCAA puzzle

Q: What does “mid-major” mean? What’s the “Group of Five?”

A: There are well over 1K colleges and universities in the NCAA, but those in DI’s elite Power Five (P5) conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC — tend to grab all the attention (and most of the DI nattys). Outside those conferences are the other DI orgs, falling into labels like “Group of Five” and “mid-major.”

  • The Group of Five — comprised of the AAC, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt conferences — is specific to football. It’s the next-hottest tier of DI competition, just below the P5.
  • Chasing the Group of Five in football and the P5 in nearly every other sport are the “mid-majors,” a catch-all term for highly competitive DI conferences that lack the depth of the very top dogs.

Go deeper: Parity’s on the rise across college sports, and the movement to increase opportunities for mid-majors is gaining steam. With three of the 2023 men’s Final Four hailing from outside the P5, the impending 2024 College Football Playoff (CFP) expansion, and talks to similarly increase other DI tourney fields, mid-majors are on the come up.

Q: What’s the difference between FBS and FCS?

A: The aforementioned Power Five and Group of Five combine (with a handful of independent teams) to make up the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), previously known as Division I-A. Their postseason isn’t organized by the NCAA, but it consists of independent bowl games and, as of next year, an expanded CFP. The most elite players and competitive teams belong to the FBS.

  • The Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly Division I-AA, includes the remaining 14 DI football conferences. The NCAA organizes their championships, just like every other sport and division.

Go deeper: After years of pleas from fans, the FBS is expanding the CFP from four teams to 12 starting with the 2024–25 season, creating a bracket-style tournament more in line with other championships. In other words, there’ll be more thrilling win-or-go-home moments and more contenders for the CFP crown.