With all the hype around the unveiling of the new Football Performance Center next to Autzen Stadium, it could be easy to forget that the University of Oregon Ducks have a home opener football game in less than three weeks.
Then again, maybe the season opener is easy to forget because the Ducks are hosting the little-known and lightly regarded Nicholls State University Colonels.
The Ducks have proved formidable in nonconference home games in recent years, and they’re looking to continue that streak when they welcome the Colonels — for a paycheck of $450,000 to Nicholls, according to contracts obtained via a public records request.
The Oregon State University Beavers were slated to open their 2012 season against Nicholls before Hurricane Isaac prevented the small public Louisiana university’s team from flying to Oregon. The game was rescheduled for December and the Beavers went on to rout the Colonels in their final game of the regular season 77-3, breaking OSU’s record for most points scored in a game.
OSU paid $400,000 to Nicholls for a game that was meant to be a pump-up before the Beavers entered into a much tougher schedule. This year, the Ducks will dish out just $50,000 more for a confidence boost before heading into a season that has widespread chatter of a national championship run.
In recent decades, the Ducks have tended to rotate familiar opponents through their nonconference schedule, including Nevada, Portland State and Fresno State. Nicholls, however, offers football fans in the state a glimpse of a different style of team, supporters say.
Despite the back-to-back trips to the state of Oregon, Senior UO Associate Athletic Director Craig Pintens says the scheduling of Nicholls is purely coincidental with no coordination between the UO and OSU.
“We want to continue to schedule one major conference opponent each season, and two other nonconference opponents,” Pintens said. “College football scheduling is very difficult, as there are a number of variables such as availability, willingness to play one of the top teams in college football, and cost.”
Nonconference games often are set years in advance with contracts laying out the terms and conditions — mainly, the site of the game, broadcast rights and compensation for the visiting team.
Nonconference games are notorious for ugly blowouts, of course, and the compensation paid to visiting teams is supposed to work as a sort of financial salve.
Last year, the Ducks paid Arkansas State $950,000 to come to Autzen, where the home team prevailed 57-34; and $500,000 for Tennessee Tech, which traveled the country only to get beaten 63-14. The UO also paid $600,000 to the University of Nevada for a 69-20 win in 2011, contracts between the schools show.
But such payments aren’t always one-sided.
The Ducks’ second game of this season will be against the University of Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Va. The contract calls for a home-and-away series that will bring the Cavaliers to Eugene in 2015, with the home team paying a sum of $400,000 to the visitor on each occasion.
This season’s week-two game was originally scheduled to be in Reno, Nev., to take on the University of Nevada Wolf Pack, but it was mutually canceled in January. The payout to the Ducks would have been just $150,000 for that game, $450,000 less than the Ducks paid Nevada in 2011.
Nevada initiated the series of schedule changes, looking to ease the burden of a nonconference slate that also included UCLA and Florida State. The Oregon-Nevada game was moved back to Sept. 7, 2019, in Eugene. The Ducks will pay the Wolf Pack $650,000 for that trip. Nevada would have owed a buyout of $1 million for canceling this year’s game altogether.
Pintens says getting teams to travel to Autzen can be challenging. given the track record the Ducks have of decimating their nonconference opponents.
So what’s in it for the visiting team besides the payout, especially if that payout isn’t particularly huge?
Nicholls Head Coach Charlie Stubbs says it’s all about experience and exposure. “I wanted our nonconference games to be super-challenging,” he said in a telephone interview. “I also wanted our team to have a great experience, as most are Southern Louisiana kids and most haven’t traveled much.”
Stubbs is no stranger to Autzen. His coaching career began as a coordinator at OSU from 1985 to 1990.
With two trips to Oregon in as many years, Stubbs believes he is giving his team a chance to see what the competition is like at the next level of play, as well as provide some nationally televised air time that could be good for his players’ careers and his program.
“All the kids at these levels feel like they should play at a higher level, and these games give them a chance to see how they stack up,” he said. “We know it’s going to be an electric atmosphere there with their ranking and their new head coach, so we know we won’t play a better team (or) in a more hostile environment.”