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Is bowl swag ethical for schools in final BCS standings?

A spot in the final BCS standings means a post-season bowl game – and buckets of free stuff after a season in which players are told to avoid "free."

The University of Alabama Crimson Tides' players celebrate their 31-21 win over the University of Texas Longhorns in the NCAA's BCS National Championship football game in Pasadena, Calif. on Thursday. After the final BCS standings were released the next day, a look back at bowl goody bags raises the question: Are they ethical?

Jim Ruymen/UPI/Newscom

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During the majority of their college football careers, players at the football powerhouses populating the final BCS standings have to eschew free stuff.

They do so because getting untoward benefits as student athletes can jeopardize their future eligibility to run, block, and tackle and, by extension, their opportunity to reap a bigger future payday in the NFL. (And forget sponsorships. College athletes lose their ability to take the field by entering into corporate pacts.)

But during bowl season, game organizers shower these same athletes with up to $500 in free merchandise that athletes then wear and use on campuses across the country, giving brand names a boost in the process. What happens at a bowl gift party that makes it any different from the other 364 days a year?

"When players come down to these bowl games, you don’t want to just lock ‘em in the hotel room," says Geoffrey Rapp, a law professor at the University of Toledo who contributes to the Sports Law blog. "Part of the fun is going some place warmer, getting to to go Disney land, and if there was a strict ban on any contributions or any value given to players, you’d have to be very vigilant on your players. But that said, iPods and PlayStation 3's and other electronics seems to be a bit inconsistent with the spirit of the NCAA rules."

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