When the next-to-last rankings for the College Football Playoffs are revealed tonight on ESPN, a trio of Covenant College students and their assistant professor of sports management will have more than a passing interest in the proceedings, despite the school having no football team.
That's because all four of them will be working the CFP national title game come Monday night, January 11, at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
"Through an official partnership with Shenandoah University we have been invited to bring three students to the National Championship Game," wrote Michaela Kourmoulis, an assistant professor of Sport Management at Covenant College, in an email a few weeks ago.
"Interested students had to submit a resume, cover letter, and do an in-person interview to be considered for the opportunity."
Of the 12 who applied, senior William Wallace and juniors Olivia Sanders and Kailey Burrell were chosen. The three of them, plus Kourmoulis, will arrive in Miami sometime during the week before the game, where they may be asked to do anything from hosting hospitality tents to overseeing game-week access to players and coaches to working on stat crews.
Still, as Burrell, a Lookout Mountain, Ga., resident who graduated from Dade County High School, noted Monday afternoon, "I think it will be a really cool experience, and I was told it would look very good on my resume."
The Shenandoah program is the brainchild of former University of Tennessee professor Dr. Fritz Polite, who now oversees the sports management major at Shenandoah. Kourmoulis, who grew up in Ringgold, Georgia, earned her bachelor's degree from UT before going to University of Central Florida for her masters.
While in Knoxville she had a chance to participate in Polite's program by working the Kentucky Derby one year.
"Dr. Polite has sent his students to Super Bowls, the Final Four, major bowl games. I helped man one of the hospitality areas at the Derby," Kourmoulis recalled. "Made sure the food looked good. Everything was clean. Everyone had what they wanted, stuff like that."
When she became part of Covenant's sports management program this past summer, the opportunity arose, through Polite, to include her Covenant students.
For Wallace, who says of his interest in college football, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say I'm a 10," being selected to go to the title game was a dream come true.
"I have a great passion for sports," said Wallace, who competed in track, soccer and basketball at Covenant Day School in Charlotte. "I'd love to do it for a career one day."
As athletes, all three students and Kourmoulis were successful on the playing field or court. Kourmoulis was on the rowing team her first two years at UT, then got involved in the Tennessee Fund, where she worked a few basketball games and helped donors.
"Just trying to make sure they had a good experience," she said.
Sanders grew up in Alabama not far from Birmingham. Though her brother graduated from Alabama, she always yelled for Auburn. She was a standout volleyball player at Covenant, "but I had to give it up because of too many knee surgeries."
Asked if being chosen to work the title game had heightened her interest in the CFP ratings, Sanders replied, "I've definitely been following it. My dad and brother are massive football fans. They talk about it every night around the dinner table."
Burrell has played soccer at Covenant and had planned, at least before she took Kourmoulis's sports management class, to become a teacher and soccer coach once she graduated.
"It's pretty eye-opening," she said of Kourmoulis's class. "It's made me think about some things. I'm not so much a big college football fan as a big Georgia fan and big NFL fan. I don't think I'm going to see Georgia make the playoffs. I'll probably have to see Alabama there, which is something I don't care for."
Though none of them grew up rooting for the top-ranked Tide, all four expect Bama to not only make the four-team playoff field but also probably play for the championship.
But who takes the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Jan. 11th is not nearly as important to them as what they'll experience there.
"I've been told we'll be there around a week," said Burrell. "We haven't been told what we'll do yet, but I can't wait to get there."
Said Wallace, whose biggest sports moment prior to this was being in the stadium to watch his hometown Carolina Panthers win the NFC title game to advance to the Super Bowl, "If I had to pick it, I'd say it will be Alabama and Clemson, but I'm just excited to be around that atmosphere."
As for Sanders, "I'm so excited to get to work this event and represent Covenant well."
Well, that's not quite all she hopes she'll see.
Sounding pretty much like every other college football fan in the country who doesn't live and die with the Tide, she said of the probability of Bama coach Nick Saban reaching his fifth CFP title game in the last six seasons: "I'd just like to see if anybody can take down the master."
Judging by what's happened so far in this oddest and most difficult of college football seasons, attempting that could really be putting yourself between a rock and a hard place.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5-at-10: Loads of questions about winners and losers of the weekend, and Gus Malzahn getting fired at Auburn