Just like in the movie Drumline, halftime is indeed game time for a certain elite corps of college students. But these folks don’t have drums or trombones. They have footballs.
They are the chosen ones in the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway, a mini college football tradition at halftime of each Power 5 conference championship game.
You’ve likely seen the striking visual of people throwing balls into oversized Dr Pepper cans.
It’s as integral a part of conference championship weekend as the trophy presentation and confetti. Somehow, this corporate-sponsored contest has become a unique niche, but debate reigns on the proper way to go about winning it.
The rules are straightforward.
Per Dr Pepper, it’s an “On-field competition to see who can throw as many footballs as possible within 30 seconds from the 5-yard line into an oversized Dr Pepper can replica. The finalist who throws the most successful passes at each game will win the $100,000 tuition prize, the runner-up $20,000 and the remaining two finalists will each receive $2,500 towards their college education.”
Students enter the contest online via video in early October. Submissions must include what an entrant will do with the money, and prospective contestants must get 100 pledges of social media support.
When it happens every year, the debate rages: Chest pass or overhand throw?
You can throw the balls any way you’d like, as Dr Pepper has no rules about technique. Many contestants go for something that resembles a chest pass. 2017 Pac-12 winner Trent Waring demonstrates:
For a few minutes each year, nothing is more hotly debated in living rooms and bars across the country. Social media levies its opinion too, and the chest pass is widely disparaged.
Is there still one more Dr Pepper chest pass challenge at half time? #NationalChampionship— JinglePorgsJinglePorgs Porgle all the way (@gjb512) January 10, 2017
Will we get what we've all been waiting for? A Dr. Pepper chest pass competition at halftime?— Randy Carlson (@rcandy24) January 10, 2017
Did I miss the "chest pass a football through a big Dr Pepper can to win money for school" Bowl?— Jeff the Giant (@SoxofWhite) January 3, 2017
What's worse? Dr Pepper chest pass or this kid's free throw motion?— Ty-Quinn (@tyquinn939913) December 11, 2016
Ban the chest pass in the Dr. Pepper tuition giveaway— Austin Moore (@AustinMooreNV) December 4, 2016
Is it asking too much to ban the chest pass in the Dr Pepper challenge? Asking for a friend.— Justin Toole (@Tooleyj24) December 4, 2016
The greatest trick the devil ever played was allowing the chest pass toss in the Dr Pepper halftime challenge #DrPepperTuitionGiveaway— Kevin Wright (@KWright301) December 4, 2016
Sometimes, the connotation turns misogynistic. Some viewers will argue the win was somehow invalidated because the throw happened in a “girly” way.
But what’s pride to one person is pragmatism for another.
The non-overhand throw is for winners, like Kyle Degman, who won the contest at the 2016 Pac-12 Championship. He’s a junior at George Fox University, a small Christian school in Oregon. Here’s his submission video:
He was in chapel when he got the call from a weird number from Texas that wasn’t in his phone book.
“I was like uhh, I’ll call back, if they really need me,” Degman told me. “I declined it the first time, and they called back immediately after. Then I was like, ok, oh shoot, this could be Dr Pepper. So, I answered it in the middle of chapel with the quietest voice I could.
“There were like eight of them on speaker phone: ‘Congratulations, you’ve been chosen in this.’ I was trying not to freak out in the middle of chapel; one of the pastors was speaking.”
After telling his family and getting excited, it was time to strategize.
“I played football for probably 11 years in my life growing up, so originally I was like, ‘oh, we’re only like six yards away probably, throwing these footballs into these big cans. I’ll easily be able to do that.’ So I looked up past winners, last year’s winners, and all I saw were these big, macho guys with huge egos — like probably played football or something in high school — and they were losing to these girls who were doing two-handed chest passes.
“No way, my pride is not big enough that I’d be giving up $100,000 to throw overhand. So I was like, OK. So I committed to doing two-handed, kinda like a Pop-A-Shot, more than like a chest pass thing. Originally I had seen like a one-handed shovel pass, but then I changed.”
He practiced over Thanksgiving weekend with a mock-up version of the can, thanks to measurements provided to all contestants. He trained at his local high school, with his girlfriend timing.
He says he ended up breaking the 30-second record during the preliminary contest before the one millions watch.
Pride didn’t get in the way for Christopher Curry either.
The Texas A&M sophomore won the contest at 2016’s ACC Championship. His submission was at first a throwaway. He was browsing scholarships and applied for Dr Pepper’s because, “Why not? I got nothing to lose.”
When he found out he was headed to the game, he used his skills as an engineering student to prepare. He and his brother, also an engineering student at A&M, went to Home Depot and got two-by-fours to build a practice structure over Thanksgiving.
“Then I had about a week after Thanksgiving to practice as well, so I hauled it back [to College Station] — the whole big structure and the footballs in the back of my truck — and I was living in an apartment, so I couldn’t have this giant, eight-foot structure in my apartment. So I left it at a friend’s house, and I woke up each morning before class and went out there for about an hour or so and just practiced.”
He even practiced the day they flew he and his brother to Florida for the contest.
“I started out as overhand, and I was accurate with it,” Curry said. “It worked fine. Then you know, you see a bunch of people do chest pass, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. It wasn’t working for me. I tried every method imaginable because I wanted to explore all my options. One thing we found — we were watching a football game, my brother and I — and we noticed how referees do this kind of underhand flick where they swing their arm kinda like a softball pitcher. They flick the ball to kinda spin it to have a really good spiral.”
He would go back and forth between the overhand throw and the underhand flick while practicing. The underhand became more efficient because he could grab two balls at a time, and he found the flick more accurate. He was right.
After the contest, it’s time to figure out what to do with the money.
Overhand, chest pass, Pop-A-Shot, or ref spiral. It doesn’t matter, as long as you win.
Like he pledged, Degman will put the money toward the optometry school he was recently accepted into. He’ll use his lack of debt to pursue his dream of improving eyecare in inner-city Portland and internationally.
For Curry, the money is about family. He’ll take care of himself combine scholarships to make sure he’s set. Then he’ll get to giving.
“My older brother, he graduated from A&M in December of last year, right after I finished the competition,” Curry said. “He was coming out with about $20,000 in student loans. I was able to use those funds to pay that off.
“I probably will have some left over by the time it’s all said and done, and so ideally, what I would like to do is give the rest to my sister because she is a senior at Texas Tech. She’s gonna come out with some student debt as well.”