Unlike the BCS/Football Bowl Subdivision who ends their season with polls and computers deciding champions, Division I - Football Championship Subdivision decides their championship like Division II, Division III, and practically every other NCAA team sport does, with a tournament. In December 2006 The I-AA label was replaced with FCS.
In 1978, the first tournament was set up, with four teams playing in a 2 round tournament to decide the champion. In 1981, the field was expanded from four to eight teams, the brackets had three rounds to find a champion. One year later, they added four more seeds, giving the top four seeds a bye in the first round, while the other 8 faced off to determine the top four's opponents, then those eight teams played 3 more rounds. In 1986, the playoffs took on it's familiar 16 team, four round, setup. After September 11th, the format was changed from a 16 team ranked field, to 4 "regionals." Although it was promoted as a one time deal for 2001, to ease in travel concerns so soon after the tragedy, it has stuck in place.
The playoff field is made up of 16 "NCAA FCS" teams. Automatic bids are given to the winners of eight conference championships (in the case of a tie, all teams winning the conference may call themselves champions, but only one team may receive the automatic bid):
Conferences awarding automatic bids to the tournament
*Big Sky Conference
*Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) (Replaced the A-10)
*Gateway Football Conference
*Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)
*Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)
*Southern Conference (SoCon)
Members of these conferences who do not win their conference championship, as well as all other FCS teams, are eligible for the other eight spots in the playoffs, with the following exceptions:
*Ivy League - These football teams do not compete in the FCS Championship.
*Any team which schedules a game on the same day as the games in the tournament. (e.g. the SWAC Championship or Grambling vs. Southern in the Bayou Classic)
*Any team in process of moving up to FBS, or still moving up from a lower classification.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), Pioneer Conference, and Northeast Conference members are technically eligible for the playoffs, although no member team has ever participated. These conferences are non-scholarship conferences.
There is no limit to the number of teams that can be chosen from one conference.
The number of wins a team has, as well as the strength of schedule, are used by the committee to determine the playoff field. The committee that selects the at-large teams utilize it's own rankings, which are not shared with the public. The Committee is comprised of a select group of FCS Athletic Directors.
Once the 16 teams are chosen, the top four teams are seeded, and the pairings are chosen to eliminate major travel. No conference foes may meet in the opening round of the playoffs. The pairings are announced on the Sunday following the final games of the season. The first round of the tournement starts the following Saturday. The winners of the 8 opening round games meet in the Quarterfinals, those 4 winners meet in the semifinals. All these games are hosted by one of the two teams competing on the field that day, but the site is considered a NCAA host site. Ticket prices may be adjusted to the NCAA's liking, as they take a percentage of the revenue. The final two winners advance to the Championship game.
The Championship game is awarded by contract, with Chattanooga, Tennessee, having hosted the game since 1997. The championship has found it's most permament home with Chattanooga. It has previously been in Huntington, WV (5 times), Statesboro, GA (3), Pocatello, ID (2), Tacoma, WA (2), Charleston, SC (1), Wichita Falls, TX (4), Sacramento, CA (1), and Orlando, FL (1).