UL-Lafayette and Mississippi State's new 2-game series to include a Superdome game

The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns celebrate their win over the Nevada Wolf Pack in the R L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Superdome on Saturday, December 20, 2014. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

Most fans are focused on the football side of college football.

That doesn’t mean there’s not another side, however.

Even the oldest of the sport’s old-school fans understand college football is a big business these days.

Everyone associated with UL’s athletic department would prefer the program’s first win over an SEC opponent against packing the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.

The wait has been too long and the potential for goodwill too great.

Any short-term financial losses because of the lack of attendance could potentially be made up in the big picture after such a victory.

But with the Cajuns 0-44 all-time against SEC opponents, going 0-for-2 on the day is a huge fear.

Make no mistake about it, there are lots of UL school officials holding their breath this week in preparation for the game.

As of Monday afternoon, ticket sales for Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff were “floating just north of 14,000 tickets … that’s in totality,” said Nico Yantko, UL's deputy director of athletics for external operations.

“Our fan base needs to understand they truly can help propel this team into great competition on Saturday versus a very formidable opponent,” Yantko said. “That’s going to be very fun for us to see, but we’ve got to continue to stress to our fan base that we need you there, because you can create a competitive edge for us.”

Again, there’s the football side of Saturday’s showdown, and then there’s the business side.

Let’s review the situation.

In August 2016, UL and Mississippi State finalized a two-game contract with the first in Starkville on Nov. 3, 2018 and UL’s home game Saturday in the Superdome.

UL was given access to 40,975 tickets in the 100, 200 and 300 levels for Saturday.

The catch is, according to the agreement, UL will receive 57 percent of net revenue from ticket sales while the visiting team gets 43 percent.

Yet as the home team, UL “shall arrange for and pay all costs associated with utilizing the Superdome.”

In other words, it’s critical to UL’s bottom line that a lot of people show up Saturday.

Anywhere near 14,000 just won’t cut it.

“It’s definitely very important that our fans support us in big numbers for Saturday’s game,” Yantko said.

Time for another review.

On the football side of things, most Cajun die-hards probably enjoy the fact UL only plays one Power 5 foe in Mississippi State this season, essentially replacing Alabama from a year ago with Ohio University.

On the business side, however, that means no big-money games. UL got $500,000 for its trip to Starkville last year.

If the Ragin’ Cajuns community doesn’t support this game, that’s a financial loss for UL no matter what the final score is.

For director of athletics Bryan Maggard and his staff, the game is going to require a huge walk-up crowd to achieve financial success.

UL's football coach and his team are certainly expecting a big crowd.

“It’s exciting for our players to be playing in our state,” Billy Napier said Monday. “It’s a first-class venue, man. It doesn’t get any better than the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Our fans, our community traveling, making the trip, our alumni — all that love this university and this community — all Ragin’ Cajuns under one roof man for one heck of a weekend.

“So we look forward to representing this community and the all the people that love this place. Our kids take that very seriously.”

Yantko said he's optimistic a big walk-up crowd is realistic. History supports that.

In UL's five Superdome bowl games over the past decade, the attendances were 42,481 in 2011, 48,828 the next year, a bowl record 54,728 against Tulane in 2013, before slipping to 34,014 the following year and 35,061 against Southern Miss in 2016.

Going back to the 1990s in the games against Tulane, there was 29,298 in 1990, 25,970 three years later, 20,081 in 1995, another 25,177 in 1998 and 24,407 in 1999.

Those last two UL teams were not very good and still the crowds were decent. Prior to that, the Brian Mitchell and Jake Delhomme games in the Dome created great memories for this program.

We’ll see if UL fans step to the plate or strike out looking Saturday.

One has to wonder if the NCAA slapping three years of probation on Mississippi State’s program will limit the Bulldogs’ walk-up crowd Saturday, but you’re still talking about an SEC program coming off a winning season only four and a half hours away from home.

Whether you like the contract signed by a previous administration three years ago or not, that’s irrelevant at this point.

On the football side, there are a lot of reasons for UL fans to be optimistic entering Napier’s second season.

UL athletic department officials are certainly counting on that showing up on the business side Saturday.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.