The casual fan’s history guide to FBS conferences.
Big Ten. Founded in 1896 to provide athletic policies for a group of Midwestern college athletic programs.
Expansions: Michigan, Indiana, Iowa (1899), Ohio State (1912), Michigan State (1950), Penn State (1990), Nebraska (2011), Maryland, Rutgers (2014)
Departures: Chicago (1946)
Southeastern Conference. Founded in 1932 when 13 members of the Southern Conference located west of the Appalachians departed the then 23 member league.
Expansions: Arkansas, South Carolina (1991), Missouri, Texas A&M (2012)
Departures: Sewanee: The University of the South (1940), Georgia Tech (1964), Tulane (1966)
Mid-American. Founded in 1946.
Expansions: Miami, Western Michigan (1947), Toledo (1950), Kent State (1951), Bowling Green (1952), Marshall (1954), Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan (1971), Ball State (1973), Northern Illinois (1975), Akron (1992), Marshall, Northern Illinois (1997), Buffalo (1998), UCF* (2002), Temple* (2007), UMass* (2013)
Departures: Wayne State (1947), Butler (1949), Cincinnati (1953), Western Reserve (1955), Marshall (1969), Northern Illinois (1986), UCF* (2005), Temple* (2012), UMass* (2015)
Atlantic Coast Conference. Founded in 1953 by seven members of the Southern Conference because of the league’s ban on playing post-season football and arguments over scholarship limits and admission standards.
Expansions: Georgia Tech (1979), Florida State (1991), Miami, Va.Tech (2004), Boston College (2005), Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse (2013), Louisville (2014).
Departures: South Carolina (1971), Maryland (2014)
Pac-12. Founded in 1959 when a group of Pacific Coast Conference schools left in protest over refusal of the members to allow athletic scholarships to cover room and board, the four charter members (Cal, USC, UCLA, Washington) wanted to permit student-athletes working 250 hours per academic year to have all costs covered, Stanford joined to make it five. The charter four had been penalized by the PCC over their radical aid plan. The league often claims the 1915 start date of the PCC but the current organization started in 1959.
Expansions: Washington State (1962), Oregon, Oregon State (1964), Arizona, Arizona State (1978), Colorado, Utah (2011)
Departures: The current group has never lost a member but they claim Montana (1950) and Idaho (1959) as departures by using the old association membership.
Big XII. Founded in 1994 by eight members of the Big 8 (a league that had emerged out of the Missouri Valley) and four members of the SWC in the wake of the collapse of the College Football Association and the need for conferences to negotiate their own television agreements. Play started in 1996.
Expansions: TCU, West Virginia (2015)
Departures: Colorado, Nebraska (2011), Missouri, Texas A&M (2012)
Conference USA: Founded in 1995. Created by the merger of the Metro and Great Midwest (excluding Dayton, VCU, Va.Tech) and adding SWC member Houston in the wake of the collapse of the College Football Association television contract.
Expansions: ECU* (1997), Army* (1998), ECU (2001), UCF, Marshall, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP (2005), Charlotte, FAU, FIU, La.Tech, MTSU, Old Dominion, UNT, UTSA, (2013), WKU (2014).
Departures: Army*, Cincinnati, Charlotte%, DePaul%, Louisville, Marquette%, St. Louis%, TCU, USF (2005), UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU (2013), ECU, Tulane, Tulsa (2014).
Mountain West. Founded in 1999 when seven long-term WAC members plus newer WAC member UNLV departed the WAC. League was formed to create a more compact league and attempt to spread TV dollars fewer ways while emphasizing Saturday play over weeknights on TV.
Expansions: TCU (2005), Boise State (2011), Fresno State, Nevada (2012), San Jose State, Utah State (2013).
Departures: BYU, Utah (2011), TCU (2012)
Sun Belt. Was founded in 1976 as a hoops league, added football as a league sport in 2001 as the Big West collapsed as a football conference. Review only of the league from the point football was added. Existing members later adding football are not addressed as expansions since league bylaws require no formal decision to add as football members.
Expansions: Utah State (2003), Troy (2005), ULM (2006, previously football only), Georgia State, Texas State, UT-Arlington% (2013), Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho*, New Mexico State* (2014), Coastal Carolina (2016)
Departures: Utah State, New Mexico State, Idaho (2005), New Orleans% (2010), Denver % (2012), FAU, FIU, MTSU, UNT (2013), WKU (2014), Idaho, New Mexico State (2017)
American Athletic. Founded in 2013 in the break-up of the Big East. The American held the Big East’s memberships in the BCS and NCAA while the new conference branded as the Big East received the league’s trademarks. Navy began play in 2015 but was admitted as the American formed, their entry was delayed to permit Navy to honor existing game contracts.
Expansions: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa (2014)
Departures: Louisville, Rutgers (2014).
* = Football only member, %= non-football member.