I watched exactly zero seconds of the Belk Bowl last week, because I did not go to Arkansas or Virginia Tech, I am not a gambler, and Thursday at 5:30 in the afternoon is a weird time for a football game. As it turns out, I missed what seems to have been quite the exciting affair, what with the Razorbacks scored the first 24 points of the game only to see the Hokies score the last 35 and win going away.
What I did not miss was one of my favorite stories of this entire stupid year, a story that firmly establishes the genius of the Belk Bowl itself.
The history of naming college football bowls is a wonderful tale of corporate America, going back to the Rose Bowl and the stadium of the same name being intertwined, as were the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl. In 1986, the Fiesta Bowl became the first bowl game to gain a title sponsor, and Pandora’s Box was opened. Soon enough, just about every bowl game had a title sponsor, and bowls started to pop up with no pretense of being anything but a cash grab for everyone involved but the players.
This is how we got the Belk Bowl, which started in 2002 as the Queen City Bowl, but was never played as such. It was immediately branded as the Continental Tire Bowl, then became the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2005 before settling into its current name in a sponsorship deal that runs through 2019.
This week was when Belk – for the uninitiated, Belk basically Waffle House if Kohl’s were the International House of Pancakes – got its money’s worth on the deal.
While college football players cannot be paid, they can receive goodies from bowl game sponsors, and part of the swagfest at the Belk Bowl is a 90-minute shopping spree where players are allowed to spend up to $450 on whatever they want. This sounds fun, although it would be much cooler if they made it five minutes for players to grab absolutely anything they could get their hands on in a hyped-up version of the old game show Supermarket Sweep – a show that needs to get back on the air, for the record.
Enter the protagonist of this tale, Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. For him, $450 worth of merchandise, plus a free Fossil watch, was not enough, because Belk just has too much damn stuff to pass up. According to the police report obtained by SEC Country, Sprinkle was busted for shoplifting four shirts, two wallets, some socks, and boxer shorts.
Sprinkle, a fringe NFL prospect, was suspended by Arkansas for the bowl game. Fair enough. You can’t be caught shoplifting on the free shopping spree at the store that sponsors the game you’re about to play in.
That said, Belk should let Sprinkle have the merch, or let him do his penance by cutting an ad for them. His college career is over now, so impacting his eligibility is no big deal, and the guy just gave the store the best publicity it will ever get. For one thing, now we all know what Belk is. For another, what an endorsement!
Belk, the store where you can get $450 worth of free stuff and still want more. If anything, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department did Belk a disservice with that incident report, because the listed prices are full retail. If you go to Belk’s website and click on, for instance, the Saddlebred marled polo shirt, you’ll find it available for half the police report price of $45.
Without putting its name on an entirely inconsequential football game, and having this happen, how many fewer people would know about the existence of Belk and its great deals on quality products? Not this New Yorker, that’s for sure.
Now, I did get pretty riled up for the TaxSlayer Bowl, but only because I was led to believe that it featured the Trump University Fightin’ Cheetos. They weren't, the game sucked and no one on either team has been arraigned for tax fraud.
Jesse Spector is on Twitter @jessespector