Right up until they walked up two flights of stairs to the University of Texas at El Paso’s Durham Center, Monday didn’t feel much like Christmas for the football players from Arizona State and North Carolina State.

The Sun Devils spent their afternoon practicing for the Hyundai Sun Bowl at the Socorro Student Activities Complex, while the Wolfpack spent a big portion of it flying across two time zones from Raleigh to El Paso.

What they found when they reached the Durham Center, though, felt a lot like Christmas, or at least like the run-up to it.

That’s where they sampled the Sun Bowl gift suite, where they got to shop for $350 worth of swag to go with all the other gear they get this week.

“It’s a pretty neat thing, a great thing for players to get to choose gifts,” Sun Bowl Executive Director Bernie Olivas said. “There’s an array of 80 items they can pick from; they have $350. They can pick seven $50 gifts, one $350 gift or anything in between. It’s a good concept. In the old days, everybody would get a DVD player; now they can pick.”

Wide variety to choose from

Specifically, the 80 items they can pick from come in seven ranges with seven point scores. The gifts that are roughly $50 (a folding lawn chair, a slow cooker) are worth one point, the $100 gifts (a coffee maker, wireless earphones) two points, on up to the seven-point table that included a 39-inch television and a mountain bike.
Each player gets seven points and an order form to check off those points, and next week a load of gifts will arrive in Tempe and Raleigh.

“I actually got my parents Christmas presents from last year’s gift suite as well,” North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb said. “Each year at the bowl game, I try to use the gift suite as a little helper with my Christmas shopping.”

The players here, most bowl veterans, know the drill. The gifts, as well as the processing and shipping costs, are handled by PAC Inc. (Performance Awards Center), the company that handles the gift suites at most bowls. (Not all of them, though; the department store Belk handles the gift suite at the Belk Bowl, for example).

Per NCAA rules, bowls can give each player $550 worth of gifts, so in addition to the $350 shopping spree, each player gets a Hyundai Sun Bowl watch and other Sun Bowl gear.

From TVs to a purse

The gift suite runs the gamut from electronic gizmos, televisions and computers to household appliances to designer sunglasses and one nice purse.

“Lots of gifts; there are a lot of different selections, a variety of different gifts for a variety of different people,” Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins said. “It’s nice to get rewarded.”

ASU tight end Jay Jay Wilson spent more time on the front end of the suite, getting some headphones, a chair and a slow cooker.

“A bunch of smaller things; the more the merrier,” he said.

So, did he end up enjoying his Christmas evening?

“It’s fun,” he said. “Free is fun.”