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5 College Football Teams Changing FCS Affiliations in 2018

Tony Lashley - Idaho.jpg

Idaho LB Tony Lashley

Conference realignment isn’t swirling the way it was earlier this decade, but there are some notable changes in FCS college football this year.


Liberty is saying goodbye to the subdivision to rise to the FBS level, and the Flames’ former conference — the Big South — is playing the biggest part in the 2018 changes, bringing in Campbell and eventually Hampton and North Alabama as well.

Idaho, which has returned to the Big Sky, and Campbell are eligible for their respective conference titles and bids to the playoffs. Among independents, Hampton and North Dakota are eligible for at-large bids, but North Alabama isn’t eligible in its first year of transition from the NCAA Division II level.

Idaho Vandals

Old Affiliation: Sun Belt

College Football Rankings: Idaho

New Affiliation: Big Sky

This is the most visible change because the Vandals are making the rare drop to the FCS from the FBS, where they played for 21 seasons. While competing as a founding member of the Big Sky from 1963-95, the Vandals enjoyed great success. Head coach Paul Petrino’s squad, only 4-8 last season, is just two years removed from a 9-4 record, including a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The move will rekindle old rivalries with the likes of Montana, Idaho State, Montana State and Eastern Washington. “I think it’s exciting,” Petrino said. “It will be fun to get them back going, get those rivalries moving forward.”

Campbell Camels

Old Affiliation: Pioneer Football League

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New Affiliation: Big South

Campbell returned to football in 2008 after a 58-year hiatus, but it was non-scholarship. This year, the Camels are adding scholarships to compete in the Big South. Former NFL player Mike Minter enters his sixth season as head coach coming off a 6-5 record and his team has a dynamic young quarterback in Daniel Smith. But the Camels didn’t play particularly strong non-conference schedules the last three years, so the level of opponents is quite different.

Hampton Pirates

Old Affiliation: MEAC

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New Affiliation: FCS Independent

The Pirates are headed to the Big South in 2019 and had hoped to transition out of the MEAC with one more season of eligibility, but their divorce has turned ugly, and barring a last-minute change of heart, they're basically walking away and filling out their 2018 schedule as an independent. Despite a 6-5 record last year, head coach Connell Maynor was forced out afterward and East Carolina defensive coordinator Robert Prunty was hired to point the Pirates toward smoother seas.

North Alabama

Old Affiliation: Gulf South (Division II)

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New Affiliation: FCS Independent

UNA also is moving to the Big South, but it’s doing so with a rise from the Division II level. The Lions reached the 2016 national title game, but slumped to 5-5 in head coach Chris Willis’ first season last year. The transition reflects in their schedule: they will play six FCS opponents on the road (most notably national champ North Dakota State) and five Division II teams at home.

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Old Affiliation: Big Sky

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New Affiliation: FCS Independent

As UND heads toward joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020, it will be classified as an independent for the next two seasons even though its games against Big Sky opponents will count in the standings for the other teams (the scenario is to accommodate pre-existing game contracts). Coach Bubba Schweigert expects to have a strong run game while his team tries to rebound from a 3-8 season after going 9-3 two years ago.

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy Idaho Athletics)