With Bison on schedule, N.C. A&T football shedding regional footprint

North Carolina A&T Aggies quarterback Lamar Raynard (7) and head coach Sam Washington (right) hold the trophy after defeating the Alcorn State Braves in the Celebration Bowl Dec. 15 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. North Carolina A&T is scheduled to play North Dakota State in 2020 in the Fargodome. Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports

FARGO — The football program at North Carolina A&T has made some waves in recent years in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision polls. The Aggies reached as high as No. 4 in the STATS.com media poll at one point this season and have been ranked in the FCS coaches top 25 poll for 49 straight weeks.

Slowly, but surely, the Aggies are starting to back up their status with a more competitive nonconference schedule. For instance, they defeated Jacksonville State (Ala.) to open the 2018 season. In 2020, A&T is hitting the friendly skies for a top-level FCS opponent.

North Dakota State and A&T announced a one-game contract on Wednesday that will bring the Aggies to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome for NDSU’s third game of the 2020 season. It’s a rare venture out of the southeastern U.S. for the school based in Greensboro, N.C.

“We don’t do a lot of it,” said athletic director Earl Hilton III. “I’m a big proponent of regional scheduling, but we feel like in certain circumstances it makes sense to go outside the footprint.”

NDSU will pay the Aggies a $240,000 guarantee to come to Fargo. It completes the Bison schedule for that season that will see them open at Oregon and return home to play Drake (Iowa) before the A&T game.

NDSU will face an A&T program that plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a league that sends its champion to the Celebration Bowl instead of the Division I FCS playoffs. Hilton declined to go into specifics on which avenue he would prefer.

It’s possible the MEAC postseason philosophy could change. The league will have to renew the Celebration Bowl contract with ESPN this summer.

The Aggies are one of the few MEAC teams to make a national splash over the years. They have three FBS wins in the last three years, beating East Carolina last season, Charlotte in 2017 and Kent State in 2016. They defeated Appalachian State in 2013.

“We feel like athletics plays a certain role in carrying the brand of the institution,” Hilton III said. “To that extent we are able to carry the flag in places it hasn’t been before. You create brand and name recognition and we feel like it’s a plus.”

North Carolina A&T has been ranked for 26 straight weeks in the FCS media poll. The Aggies are 22-2 over the last two seasons and have won three of the last four Celebration Bowl games.

The NDSU game should add to its expanded FCS resume.

“We think so, we have no illusions about who they are and what kind of team they are and the standard of excellence they’ve set,” Hilton III said. “We’re well aware of who we are playing, but we’re excited to come out to North Dakota and experience the wonderful people and culture of North Dakota. There are so many pluses in terms of experience and exposure that outweigh the potential minuses.”