The Time Of Year When It's Okay To Bribe Student Athletes

Bowl season is upon us, with yesterday's New Mexico Bowl and St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef 'O' Brady's respectively. But these meaningless games are less interesting than the payment gift bags given to the players involved.

Every year SportsBusiness Journal publishes their list of Bowl gifts, and every year it's fascinating to run through all the gadgets, jewelry and bizarre assorted swag the participants receive. The NCAA limits the gifts to $500 per person, but like many NCAA rules, this appears to be sidestepped regularly.

•The first surprise is in how few Bowl sponsors give away their own stuff. You'd think players in the Champs Sports Bowl would actually get something from Champs Sports, but no, they get a watch and a party at Best Buy. I guess after laying out a few million to put your name on the game, it's too much to spring for a hundred-odd caps or so.

•Instead it appears that Sony plays Santa this holiday season, giving out gifts in at least 12 of the 34 bowl games.

•Someone thinks college kids really like watches. At least 27 bowls will give out timepieces, usually pricy Fossil watches. Someone must have decided that undefeated BCS pariahs really need to know what time it is, because the Fiesta Bowl will hand out two apiece.

•Someone also decided that football players need footballs. Nine games will hand out pigskins, perhaps fittingly as the vast majority of seniors, whose lives have been about nothing but the game, will never play competitive football again. I just made myself sad.

•The $500 limit is laughable. Players in the Sugar Bowl, for example, receive a gift pack featuring products from Apple, Sony, Trek, Garmin and Weber, in addition to a watch, cap, laptop pack, and a recliner. A frigging recliner! Contrary to popular belief, participants in the Emerald Bowl do not receive Land Rovers. That's just Joe McKnight.

•Some of the odder gifts handed out: sport sandals, mini-helmets, belt buckles, blankets, hair dryers, and a "Commemorative Richard Petty Driving Experience photo."

•What is going on at the Cotton Bowl? It's the only game that refuses to disclose their gift bags. So in a vacuum, we're forced to speculate. Do the participants receive cold hard cash? Drugs? Blow jobs? Or perhaps the greatest gift of all: residency, so they don't have to live in Oklahoma or Mississippi anymore?

The gifts are a nice idea, something to make it easier to take for players who have to spend December traveling and practicing instead of going to classes during finals...sorry, couldn't get that out with a straight face.

2009 Bowl Gifts To Participants [SBJ]