The Cajuns were the first team in the country to receive a bid from a bowl with other options. Win or lose, neither side will regret it.
It wasn't just fate, convenience or coincidence that UL's football team got one of the country's earliest postseason bowl bids, one that came before the Ragin' Cajuns even finished their regular-season schedule and before any other team in the Sun Belt Conference.
When the Cajuns got that coveted bid to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl immediately following the 52-30 home-finale victory over South Alabama, it wasn't just for a feel-good moment at Cajun Field.
As you might expect, this being collegiate athletics, the invitation and acceptance for the Dec. 22 game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was about money. And in this case, that's not a bad thing, just like last year when UL made its first-ever Division I bowl trip. Mick Jagger may tell you that you can't always get what you want, but with UL headed back to the Big Easy, everyone gets what they need.
The financial structures for bowl games have changed radically with the explosion of available games. In the past 10 years, the combined payouts for the 35 bowl games totaled more than $2 billion to the participating schools. Last year, the listed payouts to the 70 schools that played in bowl games totaled approximately $281 million.
But bowls aren't the financial bonanza for the schools that most believe, especially for the 30 games that are not a part of the Bowl Championship Series - the Rose Bowl Game, the Discover Orange Bowl, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game.
For the rest, the financial engine for the games depends on the popularity of the participating teams and the willingness of those teams' fans to purchase tickets and travel to the destination cities. And in most of those games, the payout numbers don't involve a healthy check.
A bowl game may list a $1 million payout to a team, but that figure is mostly derived from giving the institution an allotment of game tickets, and the school's income from the bowl game depends on whether those are sold.
Last year, UL sold almost 19,000 tickets to the New Orleans Bowl through its own ticket office at the Cajundome - easily the most ever by a Sun Belt school. Tickets were priced at $40 and $50, so the income from those sales was more than $800,000, and that was money the university and the athletic program pocketed.
San Diego State, the Cajuns' opponent last year, sold less than 2,000 tickets. In other words, the Aztecs took two losses last December - the 32-30 last-second defeat thanks to Brett Baer's 50-yard field goal on the game's final play, and the financial hit of having bowl income not cover bowl expenses.
Those expenses aren't cheap. Charter flights are more expensive than ever, and the cost of five nights of hotels and meals for a traveling party of 150 can quickly add up.
That's why the Cajuns have already become a New Orleans Bowl favorite. They can get there cheaply (a two-hour bus ride instead of a charter flight), and the fans will follow. Last year's crowd of 42,481 obliterated the game's previous high attendance (30,228 for Southern Miss-Middle Tennessee in 2009), and the huge majority were loud and proud Cajun followers.
It wasn't just the game, either. New Orleans hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions - and, yes, bars - experienced a boon in a normally-slow pre-Christmas period. During the two days before last year's game, it was difficult to find a downtown establishment that wasn't a sea of red and white shirts.
Jay Cicero, the president and CEO of the sponsoring Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, officially extended this year's bid minutes after the South Alabama win. Asked later about what point the Cajuns were under consideration for a berth in this year's New Orleans Bowl, he said, "Right after the game last year."
"That's what we're about," says bowl Executive Director Billy Ferrante. "The bowl brings people in and lets them experience a destination city in New Orleans, and it's important for the city that we bring teams that have an excited fan base and that will come to the game and make an economic impact.
"Obviously, after last year, we know that will happen with the Cajuns and their fans."
When UL received its second straight New Orleans Bowl invitation on that Nov. 24 night, the Cajuns became only the fifth team nationally to accept a bowl bid this year. All of the others were automatic locks once those schools reached bowl eligibility - Navy in the Dec. 29 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, BYU in the Dec. 20 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego and Air Force in the Dec. 29 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth - or clinched their conference title, as Utah State did by winning the WAC for that league's berth in the Dec. 15 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.
Put differently, the Cajuns were the first team in the country this year to receive a bid from a bowl that had other options. The New Orleans Bowl could have taken any bowl-eligible team in the Sun Belt, and the league has more bowl-eligible teams this year than at any point in its history. Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee, UL Monroe and Western Kentucky will join the Cajuns with seven or more wins when the regular season ends.
But only one selection made sense for both parties. That's why it wasn't just the Cajun players - the team didn't know the bid would come right after the game (citing a source close to the discussions, IND Monthly hinted in an online story the previous Thursday that the bid could be awarded post-game) - who were yelling and laughing during the official bid announcement.
Cicero, Ferrante and UL Athletics Director Scott Farmer all had big grins. They would have yelled, too, had that not been inappropriate at the time.
But they were doing plenty of celebrating on the inside.
After last year's record sales, UL has requested an even larger allotment of tickets for the New Orleans Bowl to be sold to area fans. Those are now on sale and will remain on sale locally until a few days before the Dec. 22 game.
Acadiana-area fans have two options to purchase tickets: you can buy them at the Cajundome box office weekdays between 10 a.m.-6 p.m., or by going online to www.ragincajuns.com to download a bowl order form. This form may be returned to the ticket office via e-mail, regular mail or in person.
Orders will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, with seat selection priorities going in order to Ragin' Cajuns Athletic Foundation annual fund donors, 2012 football season ticket holders, current UL students and the general public.
Deadline to reserve tickets is Thursday, Dec. 6. RCAF donors may purchase as many tickets as desired, but the number of priority seats will be determined by their 2012 Annual Fund donation as of Dec. 6. There is still time to join the RCAF and make annual fund donations in order to improve bowl-ticket priority, with information available at www.RCAF4UL.com.
No checks will be accepted (cash or credit card only). More information is available from UL ticket manager Matt Casbon at (337) 265-2170 or via e-mail at [email protected]