Nicholls Athletic Director Matt Roan doesn’t want to go as far as to say Power 5 programs are more reluctant to play the Colonels in guarantee games, also known as "paycheck games," but they do seem to be taking notice of their recent success.
When Nicholls kicks off against Kansas State at 6 p.m. tonight the school will collect a $450,000 check from the Wildcats that goes to funding the rest of the athletic department.
Four years ago it was a $525,000 check from Georgia. Nicholls lost by just two points.
The year after that, 2017, it was a $550,000 payment from Texas A&M for a game that was tied in the fourth quarter.
Last year, in what goes down as the biggest non-conference win in school history, the Colonels were paid $450,000 when it beat Kansas in overtime for the program’s first win over a Power 5 school.
Many of those games were scheduled well ahead of time, prior to coach Tim Rebowe taking over the program and turning it into a formidable FCS team. Back then Nicholls was considered an easy win for just about anyone, regardless of division.
But after three years of either coming close or actually beating the teams writing the checks, all of a sudden Nicholls doesn’t look like much fun anymore.
"What we have seen is that people want to play teams they think might travel well and that might give them a good opportunity to be tested," Roan said. "I don’t think anybody is really shying away, but certainly they don’t want to be beat at the same time."
Under Roan, the objective in scheduling non-conference football games is to schedule one Power 5 game and a Group of 5 game or two strong G5 games. He added Nicholls does not want to schedule more than one P5 opponent per year.
That plan played out well for the 2019 season as Nicholls travels to Kansas State of the Big 12 Conference, Texas State of the Sun Belt Conference and Prairie View A&M, a FCS school from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Kansas State is the first major opponent Roan scheduled when he took over the department in 2016 after the Wildcats previously scheduled game with Presbyterian fell through. He also scheduled Texas State this season. Nicholls’ game against LSU in 2020 was scheduled prior to his arrival.
Nicholls will also play future games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis in 2021 and South Alabama in 2022. Roan said the program is working on P5 games in 2022 and 2023, but could not give further details at this time.
On top of the large payment from Kansas State, Nicholls will receive $250,000 and 60 hotel rooms for the night prior to the game from Texas State, according to Roan.
"The (James Madisons) of the world are, today, in a much better place than it was five years ago," Roan said. "When you scheduled a JMU five years ago, you didn’t realize that maybe they would be the No. 2 ranked team in the country right now. It’s an inexact science.
"Teams that scheduled Nicholls, whether it was Georgia, Texas A&M, Kansas, LSU, that was many years ago. But the teams that are talking to us now, we’ve been able to negotiate with them from a position of relevance and of strength. Nobody is shying away, but they understand that we’re going to bring a good crowd and a team that’s going to be competitive on the field."
Scheduling major programs, and often taking the loss that comes with them, is part of being a small school in need of the budget influx.
Rebowe said he likes the strategy the department set forth, especially playing a P5 team early in the year.
He’s less of a fan, however, of Nicholls taking its lone open date in Week 2 only to play 11 straight games the rest of the year — not including potential postseason games. Nicholls attempted to move a game during the offseason to make a later open date, but were unsuccessful.
"The couple years that I’ve been here, we had some where (the open week) was the first week of the season. I didn’t like that," Rebowe said. "Last year I thought it came at a good point where you can get healed up in the middle of the season and make your stretch run. But after this one we have an open date and then play 11 straight — not a fan of it."
But the primary difference between this weekend and years past is that opponents are no longer surprised by the Colonels’ talent.
In recent news conferences in the weeks leading up to the season opener, Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said, "We’re not going to overlook them. Nicholls is a dynamite football team."
Klieman has the added advantage of coming from fellow FCS powerhouse North Dakota State where he beat No. 13 Iowa in 2016 and Iowa State in 2014. As an assistant with the Bison, Klieman was a part of teams that beat Kansas State, Colorado State and Minnesota.
He knows exactly what an FCS team like Nicholls can do.
Rebowe said he doesn’t believe teams ever get caught by surprise, though. He expects a fight from every team they face.
"I think that’s a big media thing with catching them off guard," Rebowe said. "Coaches are not going to allow that to happen and overlook anybody. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what level you’re playing. You have to bring your A game."