Tale of Fiesta Bowl is excess and greed
As birthday bashes go, it must have been one sweet affair. John
Junker was turning 50, and no better way to celebrate than
gathering up some buddies and heading to Pebble Beach for a few
days of golf and toasts.
The bill was at least $33,000, but no one seemed to care. The
Fiesta Bowl would pick up the tab, just as it always did.
Golf with Jack Nicklaus in Florida? Why not, if you can put it
on the credit card and get the $110,000 reimbursed, no questions
And then there was the night at the strip club – $1,200, all in
the name of college athletics.
It was good to be one of Junker’s friends. It was good to be a
It was even better to be Junker himself. The longtime president
of the Fiesta Bowl operated it like a private ATM machine,
rewarding friends, family and any politician who asked.
Need any more reasons to trash the BSC? Just read the 283-page
investigative report that led the Fiesta Bowl’s board Tuesday to
take away Junker’s ATM card. He was unceremoniously booted out the
door, $600,000 salary and all.
The good ol’ boys in Arizona turned on one of their own, if only
because they had no other choice. The embarrassing excesses were
documented throughout the report, all the way down to a $75 bouquet
of flowers Junker sent to the director of honors admission at the
University of Texas, where his daughter was accepted, at Fiesta
The people running the BCS reacted with righteous indignation,
threatening to kick the Fiesta Bowl out of their little cartel for
being caught living large on bowl money. The same people who
enjoyed lavish accommodations, fine dining and the best tickets to
the BCS title game in Arizona barely two months ago didn’t take
long to pass judgment on the man who provided it all.
Organizers of the other BCS games, meanwhile, have to be feeling
a bit nervous.
”This is not isolated conduct,” said Matthew Sanderson,
co-founder of Playoff PAC, a group formed specifically to try to
bust the BCS. ”A lot of the most troubling behavior was not
revealed until the books were revealed at the Fiesta Bowl. Who
knows what happens when we peel back the curtain at the Sugar and
Sanderson’s organization followed up on revelations by The
Arizona Republic about a campaign donation kickback scheme at the
Fiesta Bowl by filing complaints with the Arizona secretary of
state’s office and the Internal Revenue Service about possible
illegal use of charitable funds by the ostensibly nonprofit Fiesta
Sanderson, a campaign finance attorney in Washington, D.C., and
a graduate of the University of Utah, admits he helped found
Playoff PAC because his school was passed over by BCS bowls. But
the more he studies financial documents from the four BCS bowls,
the more the cause has evolved.
”We’ve kept going with this just because we’ve seen too much,”
he said. ”We know this type of misconduct is inherent in a closed
system run by a few for the benefit of a few.”
Sanderson wants to know why the Sugar Bowl paid its director
$645,386 in 2009, a year in which it received a $1.4 million
government grant yet still lost money. He wants to know how the
Orange Bowl could spend $756,546 on travel that same year, and
another $100,000 or so on postage and shipping, all detailed in IRS
990 forms the bowls are required to file.
Good questions, all, and so far the bowls have answered them by
declaring they are in compliance with all IRS regulations on
non-profit groups. Though they must file federal tax reports as
non-profits, they have broad discretion on how detailed those
reports are, and neither bowl has opened up its books.
Under pressure, the Fiesta Bowl finally did, though even
investigators who studied credit card receipts, expense accounts
and other financial documents still had a hard time figuring where
the money all went.
What was clear is that almost everyone with a connection to
Junker was on board for a long ride on the gravy train. He handed
out gold coins to workers, sent a former board member and his wife
on a first-class, all-expenses-paid trip to Ireland and paid for
both the wedding and honeymoon of his assistant.
Don’t forget the $2,285 he shelled out on a new set of Nike golf
clubs for himself, all the better to play the four country clubs he
All on the Fiesta Bowl’s dime, of course. One year Junker was
reimbursed for an astonishing $770,865.858 in charges on his
personal American Express card, and investigators said they
couldn’t figure out whether nearly half the $4.8 million he charged
over 10 years was legitimate.
Until it all came crashing down, the personal fiefdom served
both Junker and the Fiesta Bowl well. He got the bowl into the BCS,
drew alumni of big-spending schools to spend hundreds of millions
over the years in the Phoenix area, and made yellow sports jackets
all the fashion in January.
Now it may be over for good. The Fiesta Bowl could be booted
from its lucrative spot, replaced, perhaps, by the Cotton Bowl at
the palace Jerry Jones built outside Dallas.
It’s a shocking tale of greed, excess and entitlement in college
sports. Almost enough to give the BCS and big-time college football
a bad name.
As if that was possible.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org