Power Five conferences
In college football, the Power Five conferences (or power conferences) are athletic conferences in NCAA Division I FBS, the highest level of collegiate football in the United States. The term is also used in other college sports, including basketball. The Power Five conferences are generally regarded as having the best college football teams in the country. Prior to the establishment of the College Football Playoff, the power five conferences (as well as the Big East Conference) were called "Automatic Qualifying (AQ)" conferences, because the champion of each conference received an automatic berth in one of the five Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl games. The final college football season for which the BCS was in effect was the 2013 season. With the split of the old Big East, there are now five power conferences: the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12), and Southeastern Conference (SEC). The power conferences make up five of the ten conferences in FBS; the other FBS conferences are known as the "Group of Five." The FBS consists of the Power Five, the Group of Five, and a small number of independent schools.
Under the BCS system
From 1998 to 2013, the top teams in Division I FBS played in the BCS. It consisted of four or five bowl games, with a national championship game either rotating among the bowl sites (prior to the 2006 season) or played as a separate game. The BCS succeeded two other systems that were put in place after the 1991 season in order to ensure that one national champion could be crowned at the end of the season. The original Bowl Coalition consisted of the SEC, the Big Eight Conference (later succeeded by the Big 12), the Southwest Conference (SWC), the ACC, the Big East, and Notre Dame. The BCS added the Pac-10 (now known as the Pac-12) and the Big Ten, while the SWC dissolved in 1996. In 2013, the Big East split into two conferences, and its successor, the American Athletic Conference (The American), took the Big East's place for the 2013 season.
In addition to creating a national championship game, the BCS also created a set format for other major bowls. After the two top teams in the BCS rankings were matched up in the BCS National Championship Game, the other three or (after the 2005 season) four bowls selected other top teams. The term "BCS conference" was used by many fans to refer to one of the six conferences whose champions received an automatic berth in one of the five BCS bowl games, although the BCS itself used the term "automatic qualifying conference" (AQ conference). While the number of AQ conferences was technically variable, the BCS always had six AQ conferences since its inception in 1998. The Mountain West Conference (MW) was perhaps the closest of the other conferences to getting AQ status, but its request for AQ status was denied in 2012. Each of the bowls had a historic link with one or more of the six BCS conferences with the exception of the former Big East, and the bowl games selected a team from each of these conferences if it was eligible for a BCS bowl and not playing in the national title game. The conferences included in this group, with their traditional bowl links, were:
- The Big East Conference (not tied to any specific BCS bowl)
- Atlantic Coast Conference (Orange Bowl)
- Big 12 Conference (Fiesta Bowl)
- Big Ten Conference (Rose Bowl)
- Pacific-12 Conference (Rose Bowl)
- Southeastern Conference (Sugar Bowl)
Notre Dame is an independent in football, but was a founding member of the BCS. Because of the "Notre Dame rule", it had guaranteed access to the BCS bowls when it met certain defined performance criteria.
The other five conferences (listed below) were non-AQ conferences or "mid-major" conferences because they did not receive an annual automatic bid to a BCS bowl game. The highest ranked champion of any non-AQ conference received an AQ bid if they ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS poll or ranked in the top 16 and higher than a champion of an AQ conference.
The conferences in this group were:
- Conference USA (C-USA)
- Mid-American Conference (MAC)
- Mountain West Conference (MW)
- Sun Belt Conference
- Western Athletic Conference (WAC) – dropped football after the 2012 season, following a near-complete membership turnover that saw the league stripped of all but two of its football-sponsoring schools
Eight "non-AQ" teams appeared in the seven following BCS games:
- 2005 Fiesta Bowl: Utah (MW) defeated Pittsburgh (Big East) 35–7
- 2007 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State (WAC) defeated Oklahoma (Big 12) 43–42 in overtime
- 2008 Sugar Bowl: Hawaiʻi (WAC) lost to Georgia (SEC) 41–10
- 2009 Sugar Bowl: Utah (MW) defeated Alabama (SEC) 31–17
- 2010 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State (WAC) defeated TCU (MW) 17–10
- 2011 Rose Bowl: TCU (MW) defeated Wisconsin (Big Ten) 21–19
- 2013 Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois (MAC) lost to Florida State (ACC) 31-10
Of these appearances, all were via automatic qualifying bids, except Boise State's participation in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl in which the Broncos were selected via at-large bid.
Realignment since the 1990s
The FBS has undergone several waves of realignment since the 1990s, when the Bowl Coalition was established. In the early 1990s, Arkansas left the Southwest Conference for the SEC; the original Big East Conference began sponsoring football, with eight former football independents joining either for all sports or football only; and other major independents such as Florida State (to the ACC), Penn State (to the Big Ten), and South Carolina (to the SEC) joined major conferences. In the 1996 NCAA conference realignment, the SWC dissolved, and four Texas teams from that conference joined with the Big 8 schools to form the Big 12 Conference. In the mid-2000s, the Big East added former basketball-only member Connecticut, while Temple left the conference (before eventually returning in 2013). During another phase of realignment in 2005, three schools jumped from the Big East to the ACC. The Big East responded by adding schools from C-USA.
College football underwent another major conference realignment from 2010–2013, with a small number of moves announced during that period taking effect in 2014. Members of the original Big East left the conference to join the Big 12, Big Ten, and ACC. The Big 12 lost members to the SEC, the Pac-12, and the Big Ten, while the Big Ten also gained one former ACC member. The remaining members of the Big East split into two conferences: the American Athletic Conference (The American) and a new Big East Conference that does not sponsor football (only three of its 10 members sponsor football, all at the second-tier Division I FCS level). The American, the football successor to the Big East, is no longer considered a power conference. Despite the major conference realignment from 2010–2013, relatively few schools dropped out of or joined the ranks of the power conferences. Two of the three non-AQ schools that had appeared in multiple BCS bowls left the MW and joined a power conference, as Utah joined the Pac-12 and TCU joined the Big 12. Former Big East members Connecticut, Temple, Cincinnati, and South Florida are all now part of The American.
Under the College Football Playoff system
With the establishment of the College Football Playoff in 2014, the term "automatic qualifying conference" is no longer in use. However, five of the six former AQ conference are now known as the "Power Five conferences": the Big Ten, the Big 12, the ACC, the Pac-12, and the SEC. The other five conferences in the FBS are known as the "Group of Five." The Group of Five consists of the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, and the Sun Belt Conference. The FBS also has a few independent schools, including Notre Dame and BYU. Teams from the Power Five and the Group of Five play each other during the season, and sometimes also play against FCS teams. However, many coaches of Power Five schools have argued that Power Five schools should only be allowed to schedule games against other Power Five schools. In 2014, the NCAA gave the Power Five conferences greater autonomy in regards to issues such as stipends and recruiting rules.
The College Football Playoff rotates among six bowl games, with two bowl games used as each year as the national semi-finals, and four other bowls matching the remaining top teams in the country. Conference champions from the Power Five are not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and conference champions from the Group of Five are eligible to appear in the playoff. Each conference champion from the Power Five and the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion is guaranteed a spot in either the playoff or one of the four other most prestigious bowl games.
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- Mandel, Stewart (2010-08-18). "Would BYU be Notre Dame as a football independent ... or Navy?". Sports Illustrated (Time Inc.). Retrieved March 31, 2011.
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