Ranking the Top 5 Division III Football Conferences

ByDrew Staczek

Published on Thu Oct 29 2020

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7 min read

Ranking the Top 5 Division III Football Conferences

In 2019 a CCIW (College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin) and a WIAC (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) team squared off in the national championship for the first time in history. However, where do these conferences rank in our top 5 conferences in the history of Division 3 college football?

The way these conferences were ranked (in ascending order) is based on past national champions and runner-ups as well as playoff teams each conference has produced.

5.  CCIW (College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin)

The CCIW consists of 9 colleges from Illinois and Wisconsin, that features schools such as Wheaton (ill), the 2019 national champions North Central (ill), and Augustana. They have had a combined 5 National Championships since the conference was aligned (1976).

This past season was a little strange in comparisons to years past, Wheaton went 10-0 and won the conferences as well as gaining the #2 seed in their region for the playoffs. Dating all the way back to when the conference was aligned, Wheaton has had 11 playoff appearances which ranks #1 in the CCIW. Despite the 10 appearances the furthest they have made it in the playoffs is to the quarterfinals.

North Central (ill) is responsible for the CCIW’s first Stagg Bowl since 1986. This past year saw a wild playoff run that started with them being the #4 seed in the region and taking down perennial powerhouse Mount Union in the 2nd round. This magical run ended in a 41-14 win against UW-Whitewater in Shenandoah, Texas. North Central has had 8 playoff appearances in their history.

Augustana makes the top 3 schools in the conference based off of history. The rich history of the Vikings is deep with a span from 1983-1986 being a back to back to back to back champion. Year in and year out you can count on them to be competitive in the CCIW.

CCIW Fun Fact: In 2019, North Central prevented Mount Union from advancing to the 2nd round of the playoffs since 1994.


4. ASC (American Southwest Conference)

The ASC is the home to 12 members spread throughout the Gulf Coast region - with member schools in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Members of the ASC vary between private and public as well. Three schools in this conference usually dominate the rest.

Powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor is a member and is consistently in the mix for the Stagg Bowl and is also home to one of the best stadiums at the Division III level. In the past two decades, the Crusaders have won the conference title 15 times. That stretch under Coach 2 national titles (2016,2018) as well as been runner-ups twice (2004,2017). Notable alumni to make it to the NFL include Jerrell Freeman and Nate Menkin.

Texas Lutheran is a smaller Division III school where about 33% of the students participate in a sport. They recently joined the ASC in 2017 and just this offseason signed an agreement to continue play through the 2024 season. Each year since joining they have finished top 3 in the conference and in 2019 were runner-ups. 24 All-Conference players have been selected over the past 2 seasons, however, their head coach Carl Gustafson just retired.

Hardin-Simmons located in Abilene, Texas enrolls around 2,500 students. The Cowboys are always a threat to compete for a conference championship and beyond. In the last 20 years, they have won this conference 4 times. With the 2nd best winning percentage during this time at 79.7% of their games resulting in a win. Notable NFL alumni include Earl Bennett, Gene Cockrell, Bob McChesney, and Harold Stephens.

ASC Fun Fact: Three member schools have been selected to host NCAA championships over the next 5 years. Mary Hardin-Baylor is set to host the Stagg Bowl in 2024.


3. MIAC (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference)


The MIAC is composed of 13 private colleges in Minnesota, only 9 of which compete in football. But, even though these teams rarely leave the Gopher State during the regular season, a few of these small schools have become national powerhouses.
The top team in the MIAC is almost unanimous year after year. Saint John’s College in Collegeville, MN has claimed 10 of the last 20 MIAC championships. In fact, the Johnnies, as they are called, are the winningest team in Division III football with an all time record of 653-251-24. In their history St. John’s has had 10 student-athletes get selected in the NFL draft.

The Johnnies play their home games at Clemens Stadium, a natural bowl that can accommodate over twice the listed attendance. In fact, St. John's holds the record for largest single-game attendance in Division III history - 17,327 fans watched them play St. Thomas on September 26, 2015. Photo Credit to Wikipedia/Jbiasi.

The MIAC's second most dominant team, St. Thomas, will be moving to Division I FCS in 2021. The Tommies century-long stint in the MIAC was a successful one to say the least, winning 6 of the last 10 conference championships. The strength of the MIAC will surely be taking a hit when St. Thomas joins the Pioneer League after this season.

Located just a few miles from U.S Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, St. Thomas' coaches get a good look at the best athletes every year during the Minnesota State Football Championships.

Bethel University, located in St. Paul, is touted to move up as a contender in the MIAC with the removal of crosstown rival St. Thomas. Royals' coach Steve Johnson has won 5 conference titles since 1989, with a 68.8% win percentage through 30 season. Tradition, talent, and consistent coaching has helped these teams dominate the MIAC and reach the playoffs year in and year out.

MIAC Fun Fact: Saint John’s produced the first Division III football player to be drafted since 2015. Johnnies offensive linemen, Ben Bartch, was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft.


2. OAC (Ohio Athletic Conference)

The OAC is a conference made up of 10 schools located in Ohio. All members of the school only get outside of the Buckeye state when their 1 non-conference game is or when playoffs roll around. Yes, this is the conference home to the one and only Mount Union.

Where to begin to describe the Raiders, the University is located in Alliance, Ohio and it is truly a football town. They hoist a 758-386-37 (65.7%) all time record. In their history they have 30 conference titles including 26 of the last 27 straight OAC titles. With 13 national championships and a 101-18 record in the playoffs, Mount Union is a blue chip program that has produced 123 All-Americans and NFL players such as Cecil Shorts, Pierre Garcon, and Jim Ballard. It will be interesting to see how first year coach, Geoff Dart will continue the legacy.

The John Carroll Blue Streaks located in University Heights, Ohio comes in at #2 on our list for teams in the OAC. John Carroll is the last team to win the OAC other than Mount Union, in 2016 the Blue Streaks claimed the title by beating Mount 31-28 snapping their 112-game winning streak. John Carroll has a deep rich history with the NFL at all levels with producing players, coaches, and GM’s. The list includes Don Shula, London Fletcher, Josh McDaniels, and Tom Telesco.

Wrapping up our top 3 in the OAC is the Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets out of Berea, Ohio. They have the most wins within the OAC at 546. They also have 1 national championship back in 1978 when Lee Tressel was the head coach. Notable alumni include Jim Tressel, Norb Hecker, and Bud Collins.

OAC Fun Fact: The OAC is the third oldest conference in America and none of the original members of the conference are still in it. Believe it or not Ohio State was one of the original 6 schools.


1. WIAC (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference)

Earning the #1 ranking for best conference is the WIAC, a conference with 8 members all in Wisconsin as the name of the conference gives that away. This conference has the best football facilities across all of Division III and is consistently a conference that produces two and sometimes three playoff teams.

The best team in the best conference is UW-Whitewater located in Whitewater, Wisconsin. With 36 conference titles, they easily are the top dawg in the WIAC. Only appearing in 15 playoffs, the Warhawks have still won 6 national titles, with a 51-9 record in the playoffs. Since 2005, the Warhawks have only missed the playoffs twice. Former players that made it to the NFL include Matt Turk, Derek Stanley, and Jake Kumerow.

In-state rivals may make the WIAC feel like high-school football, but between the whistles, this is as competitive a league as you can find in the sport.

The only consistent threat to UW-Whitewater for the conference title has been UW-Oshkosh. Since 2012, the Titans have won 4 WIAC Championships and made it to at least the NCAA DIII quarterfinals each season. In 2016, they lost the Stagg Bowl in heartbreaking fashion to Mary Hardin-Baylor. Notable alumni include Gerald Chatman who is now an assistant defensive coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.

In their most recent Stagg Bowl appearance, Oshkosh lost to University of Mary Hardin-Baylor on the last drive of the game. The 2016 title, though, was vacated by the NCAA in 2019.

The last WIAC team worth mentioning is UW - La Crosse, on the eastern border of the state. In the school's history, they have 5 national titles and 33 conference championships - but, none have come since 2002. Notable alumni include Brian Gutekunst, the GM of the Green Bay Packers.

WIAC Fun Fact: The WIAC is the most successful Division III conference in history having NCAA Championships in 15 different sports having a grand total of 92 Championships.

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