Bowl participants get free trip to Vegas, and some pretty sweet swag


Telltale signs your favorite college football team has accepted an invitation to a lousy bowl game:

■ The bowl game is named for a tollway (Garden State), or has one of the following in its official title: Astro, Bluebonnet, Weed Eater, Shreveport, Beef ‘O’Brady, Weiser Lock, Boise, Mineral Water. (Yes, there really is a Mineral Water Bowl; it is played in Excelsior Springs, Mo., and the Pittsburg State Gorillas beat Southwest Minnesota State by the gorilla-like score of 90-28 in this year’s game.)

■ The bowl game swag distributed among participating players includes a Mattel Intellivision video game console.

When I spoke Sunday to John Saccenti, assistant director of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, he just so happened to be in Los Angeles delivering bowl game goodies to the Southern California players who will block and tackle counterparts from Fresno State here on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

He did not have any Intellivisions in the trunk of his car.

But he did have a bunch of Samsung Galaxy Tab 3s. He also had a couple of showgirls with him. So I have a feeling that Ed Orgeron is gonna wish he had stayed around to coach the Trojans.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 was voted the third-most desirable of this year’s bowl game gifts by the Bleacher Report website. I think this means it will play the winner of Southern Motion Viva Recliner vs. PlayStation 4 in a gift grab sponsored by Tostitos or Visio on Jan. 6.

In a bit of honesty that would make Jim Tressel blush, Saccenti said the Las Vegas Bowl originally wanted to give the USC and Fresno players iPads or iPad minis, but that the iPad people don’t offer promotional discounts. Working with ESPN, which owns the Las Vegas Bowl, they were able to get an “aggressive, competitive price” on the Samsung tablets.

“We always try to go with what’s hot out there,” Saccenti said.

Nobody seems to know for sure when this practice of handing out gifts to bowl participants started. My guess is right after Phil Knight and T. Boone Pickens got involved with football at Oregon and Oklahoma State, respectively. But for the past eight years, Street &Smith’s Sports Business Daily has been compiling a bowl game gift list and checking it twice.

(The Cotton Bowl and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl do not disclose the identity of their gifts. One theory: They’ve got Intellivisions purchased on the underground market, or for a hefty price on eBay.)

Every player who has been naughty or nice gets bowl swag, so Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is covered either way. Coaches get it, too. And cheerleaders. And Phil Knight and T. Boone Pickens and any other VIP/car dealer the bowl teams put on their eligibility lists.

Here’s how it works: The NCAA permits each bowl game to award up to $550 worth of extra benefits — er, gifts, to 125 participants per school. Schools also can buy additional packages. So if you’re No. 126 on the seat license list, you still can get a PlayStation. In addition, participants can receive awards worth up to $400 from their schools, and up to another $400 from their conferences for postseason play.

So if you play on special teams for Disco Tech of the Big Cheese Conference, you probably can get both the recliner and the PlayStation 4, or even trade it for what’s behind Door No. 2.

In addition to the Samsung tablet, Las Vegas Bowl teams receive an Oakley backpack, a Zappos gift card, a beanie cap and a commemorative football.

UNLV players, accustomed to receiving the home game of “Concentration” this time of the year, instead will get a Fitbit Flex watch from the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and an ESPN cap, and a football, and last but not least, a gift suite.

These gift suites will be featured at 14 bowl games; they easily are the most popular item of Capital One Bowl Game Week and the entire bowl season. In a gift suite, a bunch of cool stuff is put on a list, and players put a check in the box next to the stuff they want. It’s like shopping in the Sky Mall in the back of an airline magazine, except I think they bring the stuff to your room.

These gift suites are how a bowl game conceivably could offer both a recliner and a PlayStation 4 to its teams. That would be a difficult choice, harder than trying to decide between kicking the tying field goal or going for a game-winning touchdown. Unless, of course, you already own a recliner and a PlayStation 4, in which case you should probably just punt.

Anyway, I see no harm in these fat-cat bowl directors (and the NCAA) giving a little something back to the players who pay for their country club memberships. I also believe that when somebody’s grandmother dies, they should let these players pawn their PlayStation 4s for an airline ticket so they can attend the funeral.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.