'Gift Suite' trend spreads from bowl games to conference tourneys

Much like on a game show, participants in this year's college basketball's conference tournaments that don't leave town with the grand prize this year will still walk away with some lovely parting gifts.

Sports Business Daily compiled a list this week of what is given to each of the thousands of men's and women's basketball players fighting for separate grand prizes — automatic NCAA tournament berths and, in other cases, the best possible tourney seeds.

According to SBJ, more than $1.5 million in gifts will be given out in total by the time the tournaments end this weekend. Some of the bigger conferences will drop six figures apiece to ensure that no one goes home empty-handed.

The maximum value of individual gifts allowed by the NCAA for players during conference championship tournaments is $325 from the conference and $325 from the school.

Some conferences stay well below that, while some are certainly pushing right up against the spending ceiling.

It's pretty easy to figure out which leagues fit into which category.

The Big East is giving out 704 ipod touch MP3 players, while the Big 12 is going the same rout, dispensing 720 of them. On the other end of the spectrum, 400 Atlantic Sun tourney participants last week received a sweatshirt.

Some conferences, such as the ACC and SEC, are opening up gift suites, which are common practice in college football bowl games, allowing athletes to take their pick from a variety of electronic goodies.

For example, the ACC is giving everyone an Under Armour sweatshirt, plus their choice of one of the following (each valued at $300): an iLuv 8.9-inch portable multimedia player; a Flip Slide HD video recorder; a Garmin Nuvi 1490 GPS unit; an iPod touch 8 GB with a hard case, car charger and 25-song gift card; a Toshiba Regza 19-inch LCD/DVD Tv.

An interesting note out of the list of conference gifts is that the Pac-10, one of the 'Big Six' conferences, only gives its participants a league-branded backpack filled with snacks — and, it's pointed out, a bottle of Dr. Pepper.

The SBJ's report notes that Conference USA's on-site gift suite in El Paso, Texas, this week is college basketball's first.

It's no secret that a major motivation behind holding conference tournaments is for the leagues to make money, and it's at least nice to see some of that revenue, indirectly, going back to the kids that are largely responsible for bringing it in — Even if they hit the first round Double Whammy.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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