Big Orange Combine Takes UT Students Behind the Scenes of Super Bowl LVIII

March 5, 2024

Nine University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students, including seven from the Haslam College of Business, participated in a unique learning experience when they traveled to Las Vegas to work behind the scenes at Super Bowl LVIII. The annual program, known as the Big Orange Combine, provides students a firsthand look at how numerous industries, including sports, marketing and broadcasting, work together on one of the world’s largest athletic events.

This year’s Big Orange Combine participants were Bridget Barnes, a senior in supply chain management; Lindsey Brick, a senior in psychology and member of the soccer team; Brooke Dixon, a senior in marketing in digital and visual design and member of the track and field and cross country teams; Campbell Hubbard, a junior in marketing; JaKya Moore, a senior in human resource management and member of the volleyball team; Bethany Naffizger, a senior in management; Jenna Stayart, a junior in marketing and member of the soccer team; Julia Thompson, a junior in human resource management; and Wes Turner, a senior in sport management.

Debbie Mackey, distinguished lecturer in Haslam’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, and Josh Liddell, assistant director for student-athlete development in UT’s Thornton Athletics Student Life Center, accompanied the group on the trip. Mackey has served as Big Orange Combine faculty adviser since 2012.

“This was my ninth Super Bowl, and I still get excited when I see how enamored the students are with the whole process, and all the energy they put forth to do a good job,” Mackey says. “It’s very eye-opening to them to be there to see everything that goes into it. [The Super Bowl] is all about hard work, and Big Orange Combine teaches them that.”

Connection and Collaboration

The students worked at the interactive Super Bowl Experience attraction in the days leading up to the big game, scanning tickets and tossing footballs with visitors. On Super Bowl Sunday, the group performed similar duties at the Game Day Experience and directed people outside and throughout the concourse during the game.

One of the trip’s highlights was meeting with CBS staff and crew members and visiting the network’s game-day set. A panel of sports and business professionals talked with the students about their career journeys to the Super Bowl. The group also watched a rehearsal by country star Reba McEntire, who later sang the national anthem at the game.

For participants like Julia Thompson and Jenna Stayart, the Big Orange Combine experience provided insight into the important role collaboration and connection play in any project or career.

“The most exciting thing I learned from all of our events throughout this trip was that connecting with people and staying connected can make a difference in whatever you do now and later in life,” Thompson says. “I purposely connected on LinkedIn with everyone I spoke with at the networking event.”

Stayart says, “The most interesting thing I learned from all the networking and meetings was how much goes on behind the scenes to make everything surrounding the Super Bowl happen. [It] was eye opening to see how much work each individual puts in to make sure every little detail of every day is planned out so that their job and the broadcasts can run smoothly.”

While the application process for Big Orange Combine is competitive, Thompson and Stayart both have the same advice for any students thinking of applying in the future: go for it.

“I almost did not apply to this opportunity due to the fear of not getting a spot on the trip,” Thompson admits, “but then I remembered that you have a 0% chance of getting something if you don’t try.”

Stayart adds, “To students considering taking advantage of this opportunity in the future, I would 100% say to do it. Being able to be a part of one of the largest sporting events and seeing firsthand everything that goes into making it happen was such a unique and special experience.”


Stacy Estep, writer/publicist,