The (Bowl) Season Of Giving

FAYETTEVILLE — Considering how quickly the line formed, one might have thought TVs were being given away for free. A matter of fact, they were.

Following a recent practice, Arkansas offensive tackle Zac Tubbs flashed a smile as he carried a box containing a 15-inch flat-screen TV on one arm. Several teammates stood outside the team meeting, waiting to get their own free TV. It was the perfect gift to go along with the Xbox 360 the players had received only a few days earlier. The gifts came courtesy of the Capital One Bowl, and more items were on the way. "I mean, they give you great gifts," Arkansas strongside linebacker Desmond Sims said, a smile coming across his face. "I'm just thankful to get that." Christmas no doubt came early for the Razorbacks this year. After spending the past two Decembers at home following back-to-back losing seasons, Arkansas' players are getting the chance to enjoy perhaps the best perk of making a bowl game: All the free stuff. "A lot of stuff is coming, and a lot of guys are excited that hadn't seen them (before)," said Arkansas weakside linebacker Sam Olajubutu, who's among the handful of seniors who knows what it's like to get bowl gifts. Thirty-two bowl games were scheduled to be played between Dec. 19 and the BCS national championship game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8. And the players from those 64 teams will be showered with lavish gifts ranging from the standard bowl rings and apparel to more modern items like Xbox 360s, Oakley sunglasses and portable DVD players. And the best part: It's all permitted by the NCAA. "A lot of bowls give watches, that's a staple," said Gregory Blackwell, director of communications for the Sugar Bowl. "We try to give things more in the mainstay, what's going on now." Two years ago, players from Auburn and Virginia Tech received Weber barbecue grills, among other gifts, from the Sugar Bowl. Last year, the Sugar Bowl committee decided to give mountain bikes as one of the large items for players. This year's gift bag includes a Sony walkman with a 7-inch screen and duel DVD/CD player ($305), a Polaroid a300 digital camera ($102) and an official Sugar Bowl watch ($74) and baseball cap ($17). In spite of what any TV commercial might claim, going to the Sugar Bowl isn't priceless — at least not for the players. The total cost of the gifts is $498 per player. "There is wonderful gifts for their age, and if we all gave the same gift, how much fun is that?" Blackwell said, referring to the other bowl games. Ordinarily, it would be an NCAA violation for a college football player to receive a flat-screen TV, a DVD player or a mountain bike free of charge. But exceptions are made at this time of year. Players are permitted to get up to $500 worth of gifts from the bowl, and individual schools can give an additional $350 in items. "That's the reward you get for playing college football, for helping your school get money and helping the NCAA get money," Olajubutu said. Olajubutu still has the PlayStation 2 that every Arkansas player received for making the Music City Bowl in 2002. But he gave the video camera to his father and the bundles of free clothes to his parents and brothers. "A lot of my gifts I get for the bowl game I give away to my family and friends," said Sims, who like Olajubutu kept the PlayStation 2 for himself but gave the video camera away. Nonetheless, it's still a far cry from the standard watches that former Arkansas coach Frank Broyles can recall his players in the 1960s and ‘70s getting for a bowl appearance. As for him, he remembers receiving a cowboy hat and boots, neither gift he was particularly fond of. "They're nice boots, but I gave them away because I don't wear cowboy boots," Broyles said. "I don't wear cowboy hats, either." Rose Bowl officials are so conscious about making sure that their gifts are items that players will want that they go to UCLA and Southern California in the spring and ask players for their opinions. So what are players from USC and Michigan getting this year for going to the Rose Bowl? A gift bag that includes a Sony headset and Oakley sunglasses among the standard watch, backpack and team plaque. Bowl officials say they don't compete amongst each other to see which game gives the most unique or expensive gift. The individual bowl committees usually meet in the spring to decide which items to purchase for the upcoming game. For instance, the Outback Bowl is giving a PlayStation 2 and a copy of EA Sports' NCAA Football 07 video game to every player on the Tennessee and Penn State football teams. That's in addition to an official Outback Bowl watch and gold-colored ring with each player's name on it. After all, this is the season for giving, and that extends to bowl gifts. "For some of these kids, (going to a bowl) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Jim Muldoon, an associate commissioner for the Pac-10. "So you want to give them something to remember."

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