NEW ORLEANS — 'Tis the season for bowl games and graduations.
The University of North Texas football team accepted an invitation earlier this month to play Troy University in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 16 — the first day of fall commencement ceremonies on campus.
About 3,600 students graduated at ceremonies in Denton on Friday and Saturday. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, eight students received their degrees in a special ceremony at the team hotel, the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.
UNT athletic director Wren Baker said he knew when the bowl game date was announced that it would conflict with commencement, and he wanted to do something to fix it.
"I noticed some of the students on Twitter were saying, 'Hey, we have to choose here between graduation or the bowl game,'" Baker said. "So I said, 'You don't have to choose, you can come to the ceremony with us,' and from there it took a life of its own."
Letting students celebrate the bowl game and their academic achievements was the goal for Baker, who said this ceremony was a unique way to show students and athletes how much the athletic department cares.
During the ceremony on Friday, UNT President Neal Smatresk noted it was the first time UNT has graduated students in a ceremony outside of Texas.
Smatresk said the New Orleans event was probably the smallest graduation he's been a part of, in his remarks to the crowd of about 200 people — including the Mean Green Brigade band — crammed into a conference room at the hotel.
Matt Rewis, who majored in converged broadcast media, was one of the graduates who attended the ceremony in New Orleans. He said his school spirit wasn't going to stop him from missing the bowl game.
"I saw something on Twitter that Wren Baker posted about having a special commencement here, and that sold me," Rewis said.
Rewis' parents, who live in the Denton area, didn't make the trip to New Orleans but supported his decision. Rewis said he didn't feel like he was missing out on anything back home that day.
Smatresk also said he didn't believe the students who traveled to New Orleans were missing out on anything, and he was happy to help make the best of the tough situation.
"I don't think there's any students here missing commencement at home, because they got to do commencement here," Smatresk said. "I think that's a pretty special moment they can have, and it's great we could accommodate that."
FEATURED PHOTO: The University of North Texas had a small commencement ceremony for eight graduates in New Orleans on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. (Courtesy photo/Michael Clements, UNT)