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FCS Membership Changes and Notes (So Far) for 2023

Several teams will have new homes this fall when the football season gets underway.

Murray State v Georgia Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

College football is in a state of constant flux. Rare is it to see an offseason in which no conference or division affiliation remains unchanged and 2023 will be no different as far as the FCS is concerned. Below are all the membership changes to date for the subdivision (this article will be updated throughout the offseason if/as new changes occur).

CAA Welcomes Campbell, North Carolina A&T

The Colonial Athletic Association is already the FCS’ largest conference with 13 members but will now expand to 15 with the additions of Campbell and North Carolina A&T. The league, after losing one of its signature members in James Madison, added Hampton and Monmouth last offseason as well.

Both the Camels and the Aggies will be coming over from the Big South. Last fall Campbell won five games while NC A&T won seven. During their 16 years as an FCS program, the Camels have never reached the playoffs. The Aggies, on the other hand, have played FCS ball since 1978 and have qualified for the playoffs five times.

Campbell will begin its CAA era by jumping headfirst into a conference game with last year’s league champion William & Mary on August 31. North Carolina A&T, meanwhile, will kick off their 2023 campaign against UAB on the same date.

Jacksonville State and Sam Houston Officially Go FBS

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Battle of The Piney Woods - Sam Houston vs Stephen F. Austin Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This one has been in the works since November of 2021 but now it’ll be official; Sam Houston and Jacksonville State will be bonafide members of Conference USA when the fall season kicks off. The Gamecocks and Bearkats played as FCS independents last year, saying farewell to the Ohio Valley and Western Athletic Conferences respectively. JSU, which had played in the subdivision since 1997, made the playoffs 10 times and reached the national title game once (2015) but never won it all. Sam Houston, on the other hand, leaves behind a more decorated past as an FCS institution. The team qualified for the postseason 13 times going 24-12 in those showings. The Bearkats played for three championships, winning one (2020).

Both JSU and Sam Houston have established a bit of a rivalry that will stay in tact with their parallel move to the FBS. The two programs have met 11 times on the gridiron in a series that dates back to 1994. The Bearkats and Gamecocks played together in the Southland conference from 1997 until 2002 when JSU moved to the Ohio Valley.

Sam Houston will kick off the 2023 season with a road game at BYU on September 2 while Jacksonville State will host UTEP on August 26. Neither team will be bowl-eligible this year per NCAA transition rules.

Kennesaw State Begins Transition to FBS

Conference USA will be gaining another former FCS member in the near future but it’ll just take an extra year. Last fall Kennesaw State announced its intent to leave the subdivision and follow Sam Houston and JSU. The 2023 season will see the Owls leave the ASUN Conference (where it played only one season) and become an independent. KSU, which has been playing football for just eight seasons, has experienced a great deal of success during its short time in the FCS. The Owls have compiled a 68-24 overall record since their inception in 2015 and have made the playoffs four times in that span reaching the quarterfinals twice.

Kennesaw State can not qualify for the playoffs this year and will begin its final FCS season with a home game against Division II member Tusculum on August 31.

Merrimack Gains Full Division I Membership Status

The Merrimack Warriors joined the FCS back in 2019 but will finally become a full-fledged member starting this year. Merrimack plays in the Northeast Conference where they have racked up a 9-12 record in league play. Last year the Warriors went 6-1 in the NEC with an 8-3 overall mark but could not participate in the playoffs. Now as a full member the team can qualify for the postseason. They will begin their 2023 campaign on the road at Holy Cross on September 2.

Murray State Heads to the Missouri Valley

The Missouri Valley will be growing to 12 members this fall as Murray State says goodbye to the Ohio Valley Conference and joins up. The Racers will now play alongside the likes of Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and Youngstown State. MSU has competed in the FCS since its inception in 1978 but has only reached the postseason five times, the most recent being in 2002.

The Racers struggled greatly last fall, winning only two games and losing eight straight to start the season. They will begin their inaugural stint in the MVC with a home game against Presbyterian on September 2.

Ohio Valley, Big South Merge as Leagues Lose Teams

Both the Ohio Valley Conference and the Big South Conference will officially form a 10-team joint league to meet NCAA playoff qualification requirements. As mentioned above, the two leagues have lost teams like Murray State, Campbell and North Carolina A&T just this year and each dipped to at or below the number of teams required to send an auto-bid to the postseason (six).

The new 10-team configuration will consist of Bryant, Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb and Robert Morris (the only remaining Big South squads) along with Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT Martin (the remaining OVC members). There will be only one automatic qualifier for the 2023 postseason from the joint league.

WAC, ASUN Officially Come Together

The Western Athletic Conference and the ASUN conference formed a loose alliance back in 2021 but will officially join forces this fall due to dwindling membership numbers. The new league will have nine members consisting of Abilene Christian, Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State and Utah Tech).

The league, known as the AQ7, intends to be a football only conference and will send one auto-bid to the playoffs.