The NCAA is an inherently hypocritical organization. There’s no way around that. It governs an industry that generates billions of dollars on the backs of players who are essentially working in factory towns. Yet every time someone brings up the idea of compensating the players for their play, it’s treated as something that would destroy the very fabric of society.
But hey, they’re totally cool with gift bags for bowl teams. Surprisingly cool with it, actually. And a side effect of the college football playoff, along with the proliferation of conference championship games, is that there are more games that allow you to receive gifts simply by participating. It’s sort of like those elementary school fundraisers that everyone hated, where you tried to sell candy bars or winter sausage or something similarly limited in appeal, aiming for a certain tier in the reward system. (Once, in middle school, the winning kid from each grade got one minute to sprint around the basketball court picking up cash that had been strewn about in varying denominations, while the whole school watched from the bleachers. In retrospect, that’s actually pretty weird.)
For college football players, advancing all the way to the national championship game means unlocking a massive potential for swag. How much? Well, according to this report from Sports Business Daily, up to $5,600 by rule:
The NCAA allows each bowl committee to provide gift packages worth up to $550 apiece to 125 participants per school. Schools can, and usually do, buy additional gifts that they can distribute to others beyond that 125 limit. Participants also can receive awards worth up to $400 from their school and $400 from their conference for a bowl appearance. CFP title game qualifiers are allowed these totals for the second game, too.
Last year, for example, Alabama and Clemson, which played in the national championship game, received rings from the SEC and ACC, respectively, for winning their conference titles. Then both teams received gifts from the groups that ran the College Football Playoff semifinal games — Alabama from the Goodyear Cotton Bowl and Clemson from the Capital One Orange Bowl. Then the CFP committee provided players on both teams with a Tumi carry-on, a Nixon watch with a commemorative box, a New Era 5950 cap and an Ogio backpack for their participation in the championship game.
To be clear, this is not inherently bad. The players should be eligible to receive gifts for their on-field success. But that the NCAA is totally fine with these kickbacks while attempting to claim a staunch advocacy for the benefits of “amateur athletics” is the ultimate hypocrisy. If pressed upon this issue, though, the NCAA would absolutely move to remove bowl gift bags before they moved to fairly compensate the players. Such is the backwards nature of the whole enterprise.
So, hopefully the players enjoy the gifts while they still can.