Division 1 College Football Requirements

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Division I is the top level of competition in the NCAA, the governing body for major college sports. Not all Division I schools maintain football programs, but those that do are divided into two subdivisions. The Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, is the big schools—the ones that play on national TV. FBS used to be called Division I-A. Smaller schools play in the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS, the former Division I-AA. To field a football team in either subdivision, a school must fulfill a number of NCAA requirements.

University of Alabama football player celebrates after winning the 2013 BCS championship
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images)

To compete in FBS, a school must compete in at least 16 varsity sports, including football. Of those 16, at least six must be men's sports and at least eight must be women's sports. For FCS, schools must compete in at least 14 sports, with at least six men's sports and seven women's sports. If a school sponsors more sports than the minimum, it must follow NCAA guidelines to ensure equity between men's and women's opportunities.

Baseball player for Mississippi State University, which is a Division I school
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An FBS team must schedule at least 60 percent of its games against other FBS teams; however, one game against an FCS team can count toward this requirement if the FCS school uses 90 percent of its available football scholarships. An FBS team also must have five home games against FBS teams every year. One game at a neutral site can count as a "home" game in this respect.

In FCS, a school must schedule at least 50 percent of its games against Division I teams from either subdivision. This allows FCS schools to schedule more games against teams in the NCAA's lower ranks, Divisions II and III. There is no home-game requirement in FCS.

University of Southern California basketball, a Division I team
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To maintain FBS status, a school must average 15,000 in paid or actual attendance a game at least once every two seasons. The NCAA used to require Division I-A schools to have a stadium with a minimum capacity of 30,000, but that rule was scrapped in 2004. FCS has no attendance requirements.

Fans cheer on the University of Southern California Trojans
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To remain in Division I, a school must grant at least 50 percent of the maximum number of scholarships the NCAA allows in each sport. Alternatively, it can issue an NCAA-prescribed minimum dollar amount of aid to athletes, which as of the 2009-10 school year was about $1.15 million, with at least half going to women's sports. Or it can offer at least 25 men's and 25 women's scholarships in sports besides football and basketball (or 35 of each if the school doesn't play basketball).

FCS schools must meet only these criteria. FBS schools have additional requirements: provide 90 percent of the maximum allowable football scholarships and offer at least 200 scholarships or at least $4 million in total athletic scholarships across all sports.

NCAA Division I soccer, Penn State vs. University of Portland
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