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The NCAA Division I Football Championship is an American college football tournament played each year to determine the champion of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Prior to the year 2006, the game was known as the NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship. The FCS has historically the highest division in college football to hold a playoff tournament to determine its champion; its 24-team tournament is still far larger than the four-team playoff system to be used used by the Bowl Subdivision beginning in the 2014 season.
The reigning national champions are the North Dakota State University Bison, which also won the championship in 2011 and in 2012, the first team to win three consecutive titles since Appalachian State accomplished this feat in 2005–2007. In the first two title games the Bison defeated the Sam Houston State University Bearkats, 17–6 on January 7, 2012, and 39–13 on January 5, 2013. The third title was a 35–7 over Towson University on January 4, 2014. All three games were played at Toyota Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas.
When Division I-AA was formed for football in 1978, the playoffs included just four teams, doubling to eight teams in its fourth season of 1981. In 1982 the I-AA playoffs were expanded to 12 teams, with each of the top four seeds receiving a first-round bye and a home game in the quarterfinals. In its ninth season of 1986, the I-AA playoffs were expanded again to a 16-team format, requiring four post-season victories to win the title. Eight conference champions received automatic bids, with the remaining eight bids available on an at-large basis. The field is traditionally set the Sunday before Thanksgiving and play begins that weekend. The top four teams are seeded; however, the matchups are not strictly set up by these seedings as geographic considerations are also taken into account to minimize travel. In April 2008 the NCAA announced that the playoff field would again expand to include 20 teams beginning in 2010. At the same time, it announced that the number of conferences receiving automatic bids would increase to 10. The structure then adopted included eight teams playing in four first round games. The four first round winners advance to the second Round of Sixteen where they play the top four seeds. Eight second round winners will advance to the regional championships (commonly referred to as East Region: Boardwalk Bowl, Midwest Region: Pecan Bowl, Mideast Region: Tangerine Bowl, and West Region: Camellia Bowl), with the winners of the regional championships advancing to the national semifinals. The National Semifinal winners with play in the FCS Championship Bowl in January.
The playoffs expanded to 24 teams beginning with the 2013 season. The number of conferences whose champions receive automatic bids increased to 11 with the addition of a bid for the Pioneer Football League and the number of first-round games increased from four to eight.
The tournament has historically been played in November and December; with the 2010 expansion to a 20-team field, the championship game moved from December to January. From 1997 through 2009, the title game had been played in Chattanooga, Tennessee at Finley Stadium, the home football venue of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and at Marshall University Stadium (now Joan C. Edwards Stadium) on the Marshall University campus in the 5 years prior to that. The title game is now played in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas at Toyota Stadium (known as Pizza Hut Park until the day after the championship game of the 2011 season, and then as FC Dallas Stadium until September 2013), a multi-purpose stadium primarily used by FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. The original contract with Frisco began in the 2010 season and ran through the 2012 season; it has since been extended through the 2015 season.
Two Football Championship Subdivision conferences usually do not participate in the tournament, and a third did not participate until the 2013 season. The Ivy League, I-AA since 1982, plays a strict ten-game regular season and does not participate in any post-season football, citing academic concerns. Three Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) teams have regular seasons that extend into the start of the tournament (Alabama State in the Turkey Day Classic and Grambling and Southern in the Bayou Classic), which in turn prevents the championship of that conference from being decided until December. The SWAC has not sent a team since Jackson State in 1997. The Pioneer Football League (PFL) members did not have an automatic bid into the tournament until 2013 and none of its teams ever received an at-large bid into the tournament before then.
|Year||Champion||Runner-up||Score||Venue||Location||Attendance||Winning Head Coach|
|1978||Florida A&M||Massachusetts||42–28||Memorial Stadium||Wichita Falls, Texas||13,604||Hubbard, RudyRudy Hubbard|
|1979||Eastern Kentucky||Lehigh||30–7||Orlando Stadium||Orlando, Florida||5,500||Kidd, RoyRoy Kidd|
|1980||Boise State||Eastern Kentucky||31–29||Hughes Stadium||Sacramento, California||8,157||Criner, JimJim Criner|
|1981||Idaho State||Eastern Kentucky||34–23||Memorial Stadium||Wichita Falls, Texas||11,003||Kragthorpe, DaveDave Kragthorpe|
|1982||Eastern Kentucky (2)||Delaware||17–14||Memorial Stadium||Wichita Falls, Texas||11,257||Roy Kidd|
|1983||Southern Illinois||Western Carolina||43–7||Johnson Hagood Stadium||Charleston, South Carolina||15,950||Dempsey, ReyRey Dempsey|
|1984||Montana State||Louisiana Tech||19–6||Johnson Hagood Stadium||Charleston, South Carolina||9,125||Dave Arnold|
|1985||Georgia Southern||Furman||44–42||Tacoma Dome||Tacoma, Washington||5,306||Russell, ErkErk Russell|
|1986||Georgia Southern (2)||Arkansas State||48–21||Tacoma Dome||Tacoma, Washington||4,419||Russell, ErkErk Russell|
|1987||Northeast Louisiana†||Marshall||43–42||Mini Dome||Pocatello, Idaho||11,513||Collins, PatPat Collins|
|1988||Furman||Georgia Southern||17–12||Holt Arena||Pocatello, Idaho||11,500||Jimmy Satterfield|
|1989||Georgia Southern (3)||Stephen F. Austin||37–34||Paulson Stadium||Statesboro, Georgia||25,725||Russell, ErkErk Russell|
|1990||Georgia Southern (4)||Nevada||36–13||Paulson Stadium||Statesboro, Georgia||23,204||Tim Stowers|
|1991||Youngstown State||Marshall||25–17||Paulson Stadium||Statesboro, Georgia||12,667||Tressel, JimJim Tressel|
|1992||Marshall||Youngstown State||31–28||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||31,304||Donnan, JimJim Donnan|
|1993||Youngstown State (2)||Marshall||17–5||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||29,218||Jim Tressel|
|1994||Youngstown State (3)||Boise State||28–14||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||27,674||Jim Tressel|
|1995||Montana||Marshall||22–20||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||32,106||Read, DonDon Read|
|1996||Marshall (2)||Montana||49–29||Marshall University Stadium||Huntington, West Virginia||30,052||Pruett, BobBob Pruett|
|1997||Youngstown State (4)||McNeese State||10–9||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||14,771||Jim Tressel|
|1998||Massachusetts||Georgia Southern||55–43||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||17,501||Whipple, MarkMark Whipple|
|1999||Georgia Southern (5)||Youngstown State||59–24||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||20,052||Johnson, PaulPaul Johnson|
|2000||Georgia Southern (6)||Montana||27–25||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||17,156||Johnson, PaulPaul Johnson|
|2001||Montana (2)||Furman||13–6||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||12,698||Glenn, JoeJoe Glenn|
|2002||Western Kentucky||McNeese State||34–14||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||12,360||Harbaugh, JackJack Harbaugh|
|2003||Delaware||Colgate||40–0||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||14,281||Keeler, K. C.K. C. Keeler|
|2004||James Madison||Montana||31–21||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||16,771||Mickey Matthews|
|2005||Appalachian State||Northern Iowa||21–16||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||20,236||Moore, JerryJerry Moore|
|2006||Appalachian State (2)||Massachusetts||28–17||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||22,808||Jerry Moore|
|2007||Appalachian State (3)||Delaware||49–21||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||23,010||Jerry Moore|
|2008||Richmond||Montana||24–7||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||17,823||London, MikeMike London|
|2009||Villanova||Montana||23–21||Finley Stadium||Chattanooga, Tennessee||14,328||Talley, AndyAndy Talley|
|2010||Eastern Washington||Delaware||20–19||Pizza Hut Park‡||Frisco, Texas||13,027||Baldwin, BeauBeau Baldwin|
|2011||North Dakota State||Sam Houston State||17–6||Pizza Hut Park‡||Frisco, Texas||20,586||Bohl, CraigCraig Bohl|
|2012||North Dakota State (2)||Sam Houston State||39–13||FC Dallas Stadium‡||Frisco, Texas||21,411||Bohl, CraigCraig Bohl|
|2013||North Dakota State (3)||Towson||35–7||Toyota Stadium||Frisco, Texas||19,802||Bohl, CraigCraig Bohl|
† Known as University of Louisiana at Monroe since 1999.
‡ Now Toyota Stadium
|Georgia Southern†||6||1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1999, 2000||8||1988, 1998|
|Youngstown State||4||1991, 1993, 1994, 1997||6||1992, 1999|
|Appalachian State†||3||2005, 2006, 2007||3|
|North Dakota State||3||2011, 2012, 2013||3|
|Montana||2||1995, 2001||7||1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009|
|Marshall^||2||1992, 1996||6||1987, 1991, 1993, 1995|
|Eastern Kentucky||2||1979, 1982||4||1980, 1981|
|Delaware||1||2003||4||1982, 2007, 2010|
|McNeese State||0||2||1997, 2002|
|Sam Houston State||0||2||2011, 2012|
|Stephen F. Austin||0||1||1989|
^ Now a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
† Currently transitioning to FBS.