More than 80 college football teams are going to bowl games this year, so while it’s a big deal for Temple that they’ll play in a bowl for the third-straight season for the first time in school history, in the grand scheme of the sport, the Owls facing FIU in a mid-week game in late December is hardly a must-watch.
And yet, there’s something about Temple heading to this particular bowl game that has us, pardon the expression, hooked.
How many bowl games are named after a pirate whose run of plundering ended when tried to steal a Naval warship? How many bowls are sponsored by badass orange riding mowers? How many games feature embattled head coach Butch Davis trying to, for some reason or another, resurrect his coaching career at FIU?
Yes, the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl — real name, we swear it — has all the makings of a modern-day classic. But how does it stack up to the other FORTY college football bowl games in terms of what really matters most? Swag. Giveaways. Free stuff.
It’s a big deal at bowl games.
For those who don’t know much about how college football bowls work, here’s a primer. There are only three games that actually matter. This year they are the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, both serving as the national semifinal in the college football playoffs, and the national title game. The other 38 bowls are all just exhibition games — annual excuse to get in an extra month of practice, travel to some rando location around the U.S. and bring home a trophy. (Fun fact: In another life I designed the lobby of a football facility that included a trophy case for a runner-up trophy in a bowl game. Yes, even losers get big trophies during bowl season.)
Every bowl is run by a private coalition tasked with inviting teams to play in their annual postseason game. So as to prevent chaos across the sport’s landscape, bowl coalitions make deals with conferences years in advance, so which teams go to which bowls is often just a matter of plug-and-play based on how teams finish in the standings and how well fans of each team in a respective conference travels.
The biggest bowls rotate the playoffs, getting marquee non-playoff matchups in years they aren’t hosting a tournament semifinal. But mostly, each conference has specific ties to specific bowls.
The American Athletic Conference has ties to seven bowls, and secondary deals with two others, meaning if another conference doesn’t have enough teams with non-losing records to fill all the slots, the AAC would get a shot to do so. So Temple was locked in to one of several locations this year, and based on record, size of the fanbase and proximity, they were given Tampa as their location. (It could be worse: other options were Frisco, Texas, Birmingham, Alabama and back to Annapolis, Maryland for another year.)
Based on their conference deals, each bowl has different payouts, spread between the conference and its member schools. Different conferences have different payout structures — and all conferences get some piece of the revenue from the college football playoffs — but it doesn’t take a college football savant to know that the Big Ten is getting more money per school for their bowl games than the AAC will get for theirs. Yes, the Orange Bowl pays out more than the Boca Raton Bowl.
To the players, though, none of that matters. Since college football is still an, ahem, amateur sport, the players aren’t getting paid to play, which means they aren’t getting a cut of almost billion dollars in bowl payouts this year. Seriously, last year the Big Ten conference split $132.5 million just between the league and its member institutions, which included $40 million for Penn State making the Rose Bowl.
The payout for each team in the Gasparilla Bowl is about half a million bucks.
But hey, the players get neck pillows.
No, for real. The only economy for players in the bowl season is the swag the NCAA has allowed teams to accept as part of going bowling. Years ago the gifts were nominal at best, with logo jackets and other clothing items given to each team the week leading up to the game — free dinners and tours of the city and that kind of thing.
Eventually swag for the players started to increase. Often tied to sponsors of the game itself, what players got became a symbol of status for the game, so logo jackets quickly turned into video game systems and fancy watches.
There are limits. It’s not like every player in the Fiesta Bowl gets a Playstation PS4 stuffed with 20 grand in cash. That might be an NCAA violation.
Per SportsBusinessDaily, players were allowed to receive up to $550 in gifts or gift cards by each bowl last season, but schools and conferences can give them more stuff if they choose, on top of that.
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.
Including the gifts given to players for reaching their conference title games and the college football playoffs, top players on title teams can receive total gift packagers that exceed $5,500 per player.
If that seems like a lot know that in 2012 ESPN paid $7.3 billion for a 12-year deal to televise the college football playoffs. That doesn’t include the title sponsor for the game.
Still, more than $500 in swag isn’t bad for finishing 6-6, I guess.
Most bowls now offer “gift suites” at the team hotel in addition to specific sponsored items every player gets. Here’s the full list of swag teams will get for each bowl this year.
Participants for Penn State and Washington, playing in this year’s Fiesta Bowl, will get PS4 PRO bundle, a Fossil watch and an Ogio backpack (with the bowl logo), in addition to all the bowl t-shirts and jackets and other logo items they happen to collect during the week.
UAB and Ohio probably get the best bowl swag this year, receiving a gift suite, iSlides sandals, drawstring backpack, beach towel, bowl pin and oh-by-the-way a trip to the Nassau for the Bahamas Bowl the week before Christmas.
Fellow AAC member Houston will take on Fresno State on Christmas eve this year, and they get an electronics gift suite, Oakley backpack and sunglasses, Tori Richard aloha shirt, beach towel, Pro Athletics surf trunks, performance t-shirt…and a trip to Hawaii for that bowl game.
So what big swag do the players in the Gasparilla Bowl get this season? A pirate’s eyepatch? A free Bad Boys mower and/or weed whacker?
Nope. But the neck pillow is real.
Temple and FIU players will get access to a gift suite, an Oakley backpack and the neck pillow. We reached out to representatives of the Gasparilla Bowl to inquire as to the price limit and offerings in the gift suite and were told it will include “a variety of items to choose from, including electronics, apparel, Maui Jim sunglasses.”
Bowl reps were given no specifics on the brands of electronics, but considering the going rate for a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses is between $250 and $300, it’s safe to say the electronics will be pretty solid options. Think maybe a tablet, not a phone. Perhaps an XBox One S, not an X.
Just as long as the total package doesn’t exceed $550. So, really, what swag Temple brings home depends on the cost of the neck pillow.