As we reflect on 2012 through the joy, comfort and indulgence of the holiday season, the NCAA athletes lucky enough to participate in bowl games are the one's really reaping the benefits in the spirit of giving.
In a strictly regulated world of benefits, recruiting and team policies, the NCAA seems to turn a blind eye to the corporate gifts that players receive upon arrival to their respective bowl destinations. Over time, these gifts have evolved from innocent keepsake items to luxury items and expensive gifts that make the monotonous "No-Name" Bowl between two .500 teams seem all too frugal.
The NCAA, in what only can be called a farce, allows the bowls to award up to $550 in rewards to 125 participants from each school involved in the game. $550 for many people could be rent, Christmas presents for the entire extended family, or enough money to feed the hungry in many of our most suffering urban regions in the United States.
Instead, from a league that dishes out bowl-bans to big-market schools for selling autographs, the NCAA has decided that spoiling our student athletes with gifts from corporate sponsors is an accepted practice.
One bowl in particular, the Russell Athletic Bowl, really turned heads with their bowl gifts this year. With Rutgers (my alma mater) and Virginia Tech capping disappointing seasons at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Russell decided to give all participants a $470-gift card to Best Buy to reward themselves for mediocre seasons that fell short of expectations on both sides of the ball. This is enough money for each player to buy a snazzy new iPad, accessories and all, or two game consoles to enrich their minds in the off season.
Maybe I just noticed this gift in particular because I am a die-hard Rutgers fan, but even I don't believe Gary Nova deserves a shopping spree after somehow guiding the Scarlet Knights away from a BCS bowl for the first time in school history.
One Virginia Tech player, however, used his gift card to do the right thing.
Instead of buying himself the newest iPod and headphones to pump himself up for the bowl game, Hokie CB Antone Exum gave his gift card to a child at Best Buy so that he could buy gifts for himself and his family for the holidays. Exum decided to do what Russell should have done, opting to donate the money for the greater good of the society. Why didn't BBVA give their gift money from the Compass Bowl to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund instead of fueling a culture of indulgence and "swagger?"
Did I mention that the young boy who benefited from the generosity of the player spent his money on an Xbox, new headphones, and an iPod? Glad he decided to be selfless and buy his mother something.
To be fair, many bowls do not go as overboard as they could. For instance, many bowls will dish out Fossil watches to participants, something that seems fit for a postseason appearance. Others may give backpacks, game balls, hats, tee shirts, and other innocent gifts that will serve as a reminder of a season well-played.
One year removed from the Terrelle Pryor ordeal at Ohio State, any sports fan must compare the benefits of exchanging an autograph for a tattoo against shopping sprees and iPads to players for finishing with (sometimes) a winning record.
The $400-plus shopping sprees were abundant across the bowl landscape this season, and it needs to stop. These players get enough free stuff, including every piece of clothing imaginable, five alternate uniforms, and the day-to-day benefits of being a student athlete at big time schools. The last thing we need is to spoil these student-athetes with tangible gifts that promote the greedy, ornate lifestyle that every future NFL player will eventually experience.
Sure, give the athletes a watch, maybe some headphones or even some snazzy sunglasses, but please, stop giving them the freedom to run wild with money that could clearly be spent in a more productive, if deserving fashion.
These players certainly deserve something for the blood, sweat, and tears they put into every season. But doesn't a Nike clothing deal and free education become enough at some point?