Power Five conferences
In college football, the Power Five conferences (or power conferences) are athletic conferences in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)'s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the highest level of collegiate football in the United States. 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 old 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 (B1G), Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, 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.
The term is also used in other college sports.
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, as the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has been discontinued. However, five of the six former AQ conferences are now known as the "Power Five conferences": the Big Ten Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Pac-12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The American Athletic Conference (AAC or "the American"), the football successor to the Big East Conference, lost its status as a major conference.
The AAC and the other four conferences in the FBS are known as the "Group of Five" (sometimes called the G5 or GO5). Besides the AAC, the other four members of the Group of Five are Conference USA (C-USA), the Mid-American Conference (MAC), the Mountain West Conference (MW), and the Sun Belt Conference. The FBS also has four independent schools as of the current 2016 season: Notre Dame, Army, BYU, and UMass. Notre Dame is currently considered equal to the Power Five schools, being a full but non-football member of the ACC with an annual five-game football scheduling agreement with that conference, its own national television contract, and its own arrangement for access to the CFP-affiliated bowl games should it meet stated competitive criteria. All Power Five leagues that require their members to schedule at least one Power Five team in nonconference play (currently the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC) consider Notre Dame to be a Power Five opponent for such purposes. The Big Ten and SEC also treat BYU and Army as Power Five opponents for purposes of meeting their members' out-of-conference scheduling requirements. Additionally, the ACC considers BYU (but not Army) a Power Five opponent for scheduling purposes.
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. Some Power Five conferences, including the Big Ten and SEC, require their teams to play at least one non-conference P5 opponent each season.
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. These six bowl games are collectively known as the "New Year's Six" bowl games. 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. In the CFP's short history, the Power Five Conferences have earned the vast majority of bids to the New Year's Six bowls, although teams from the Mountain West and AAC have notched victories in the New Year's Six.
Realignment since the 1990s
The FBS has undergone several waves of realignment since the 1990s, when the Bowl Coalition was established. The first realignment occurred in the 1990s, and resulted in the demise of the Southwest Conference, which was a member of the Bowl Coalition and at times considered equal to some of the Power Five conferences; as well as many schools giving up independent status to join conferences. 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.
During another phase of realignment in 2005, three schools (Boston College, Miami-FL and Virginia Tech) jumped from the Big East to the ACC, and Temple also left the conference (before eventually returning in 2013). The Big East responded by adding former basketball-only member Connecticut and three schools from C-USA.
College football underwent another major conference realignment from 2010 to 2014, as the Big Ten and Pac-10 sought to become large enough to stage championship games. 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 to 2014, 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; of those, only Temple was a founding member of the Big East in football.
At present, six of the nine former members of the Southwest Conference are in Power Five conferences: Arkansas and Texas A&M are members of the SEC, while TCU, Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech are members of the Big 12. Houston and SMU are members of the American, while Rice is a member of Conference USA.
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:
- Big East Conference (The American in 2013) (not tied to any specific BCS bowl)
- Atlantic Coast Conference (Orange Bowl)
- Big 12 Conference (Fiesta Bowl)
- Big Ten Conference (Rose Bowl)
- Pac-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
Nine "non-AQ" teams appeared in the eight 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 highly controversial 2010 Fiesta Bowl in which the Broncos were selected via at-large bid and played fellow BCS Buster TCU.
Table of current teams
- Notre Dame football plays five games a year against ACC opponents.
BCS and CFP Bowl Game appearances by conference
The following table lists the number of times that a member of each conference appeared in a CFP bowl game or a BCS bowl game. From 1999 to 2006 there were four such games, from 2007 to 2014 there were five such games, and starting in 2015 there are six CFP bowl games (not including the national championship game). A * indicates a team from that conference won the national championship, while a ^ indicates a team from that conference played in the national championship game. Until 2013, the American Athletic Conference was counted as one of the automatic qualifying conferences (under the Big East name until 2012), but after 2013 it is counted as part of the "other" category.
|Year||ACC||Big 12||Big Ten||Pac-12||SEC||Amer||Others|
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