They weren’t supposed to win. They were less experienced and lacked the expertise of their competitors whose programs were more specialized. The team of graduate students from Texas A&M University knew they were a long shot to win the Case Cup competition at the National Sports Forum in January.

“We knew we were the underdogs, for sure, coming into it,” said teammate Lisa Gorzycki, a master’s in sport management major who earned her BBA in marketing from Mays Business School. “But, we still had to compete.”

Each of the seven teams in the competition was presented with the same sports industry dilemma involving NASCAR sponsorships and sales promotion. They had a mere 24 hours to draft a solution and a 20-minute presentation for the panel of judges.

“We really had to pump ourselves up before our presentation,” said Gorzycki. This was a familiar concept to the Aggie team, as they are all current or former Aggie athletes, representing the softball, baseball and rodeo teams.

“None of us were NASCAR fans, and we had a very limited knowledge of the sport,” said teammate Blaine Gwinn, a master’s in marketing student, who is currently enrolled in a sports management class with teammate Bonner Cooper, another master’s in marketing major. The fourth teammate was Khalid Ballouli, a master’s in sport management student.

The team’s relative inexperience worked to their advantage by leading them to create a radically different solution from their competitors. Their innovative solution caught the judges’ eye—and their vote.

“We just couldn’t believe it when they announced we were the winners,” said Gwinn. “A lot of the other teams had older students getting their MBAs in sport management, so we had felt a little disadvantaged.” Gwinn credits part of their victory to all of the presenting business students at Mays have to do in class. “All of the judges commented on our confidence in presentation,” she said.

The Aggie team’s victory is no small accomplishment. The team representing the A&M Sport Management program went up against the best programs in the country, says Gregg Bennett, assistant professor of health and kinesiology, who worked with the team. “I cannot emphasize enough how much of an honor this is for these students and our program,” he said.

The National Sports Forum annually brings together a large audience of executives in team sports marketing, sales, promotions, and event entertainment from a broad spectrum of teams and leagues. This year the conference attracted 800 attendees and was held in Memphis, Tennessee.