SBJ/March 7-13, 2011/Colleges

The on-site gift suite arrives in college hoops

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More than $1.5 million in gifts will be given to NCAA men's and women's basketball players by their conferences over the next few weeks as rewards for the athletes' participation in end-of season tournaments, according to SportsBusiness Journal projections.

The participation awards are not unique to basketball. They happen across the NCAA spectrum, in both team and individual sports.

In the case of basketball this month, there are more than two dozen conferences or tournament host committees that will be providing gifts to players, with those gift packages covering a wide range of items. Conference USA will host college basketball's first on-site gift suite in El Paso, Texas, taking a page from the playbook of how college bowl game committees are now distributing their gift awards. After each team's first scheduled practice, each student athlete will have the chance to select items from Sony, Ogio, Apple and others.

In total, the basketball gift-giving amounts to an estimated six-figure expenditure for some conferences, based on conference officials' estimated value of their gift packages and the number of packages being distributed. A conference issuing 400 packages valued at the NCAA-maximum allowed $325 per student athlete would be spending $130,000 in tournament participation gifts.

And the conference-provided bounty isn't all the players get. They also can receive gifts from their schools and from the NCAA, with rewards for both participation and for championship wins.

Up to 25 gift packages can be provided to a team by its school and by its conference for participating in this month's conference tournaments, according to NCAA bylaws. An unlimited number of additional packages can be bought and given to guests, such as sponsors and media partners.

The limits set up by the NCAA are similar across most sports and sanctioned events; they are in place not only for basketball players. There are, however, variances based on whether the sport is individual- or team-based, among other factors.

The Big Ten Conference did not provide gifts to any of its student athletes during the 2009-10 academic year, citing a desire to evaluate all spending during the recession. After soliciting feedback from its member schools as well as from its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the conference decided that all of its athletes this year — basketball and beyond — would receive a travel bag, a travel kit and a three-piece fleece set for participation in their respective end-of-season tournaments.

Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia said that providing the $325 NCAA-maximum gift to each of the conference's 3,400 athletes was cost prohibitive, but he noted that travel accessories had been well-received in the past as gifts, and the feedback received suggested that gift packages should be the same for all sports, something he said had not always been the case. The result was the gift packages basketball players will receive this week.

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