BCS should spare us false outrage over Fiesta Bowl

BCS should spare us false outrage over Fiesta Bowl

Published May. 11, 2011 8:20 p.m. ET

The decision to keep the Fiesta Bowl in the Bowl Championship Series came at a price - a $1 million donation to the kids of Arizona.

Put in terms Fiesta Bowl accountants can understand, that's a couple of golf outings, three trips to strip clubs, and one big birthday bash.

And you thought it was hard to figure out the system used to pick teams for the BCS title game. Try figuring out how $1 million buys forgiveness for the guys in yellow jackets who got caught with their hands in a very lucrative cookie jar.

It doesn't. As hand slapping goes, this was a million-dollar waste of time.


It hardly seems possible that it was only a month or so ago when the good ol' boys who run the BCS were so outraged at the Fiesta Bowl shenanigans that they threatened to boot the site of the last BCS title game from their cozy and incredibly profitable cartel.

BCS executive director Bill Hancock declared at the time that the BCS ''will not be associated with this kind of behavior.''

Unless, of course, there's money to be made. Then all bets are off.

The Fiesta Bowl was never going anywhere. It's a cash cow among cash cows, a reliable generator of television ratings, and the favorite January haunt of wealthy alumni everywhere.

But a show is a show, and the show of outrage had to be made. The internal investigation the Fiesta Bowlers really never wanted to do, turned up such embarrassing and lavish spending that even the firing of then-CEO and president John Junker wasn't enough to stop people from talking.

Besides, there were other BCS bowls to protect, like the Sugar Bowl, which paid its director a whopping $645,386 in 2009. Or the Orange Bowl, which spent $756,546 on travel alone that same year.

So the BCS formed a task force, looked at the evidence, and came up with a ruling. A bowl game accustomed to giving big payouts would have to give one more.

The check was presumably in the mail the minute the BCS made its decision. The Fiesta Bowl may have problems, but money is not one of them since there were reported assets last year of more than $15 million.

That's not surprising when you consider how much money there is to be made on the backs of athletes whose only reward is a week in the desert and maybe a Sony Playstation or a leather recliner for the dorm room. The television contract with ESPN alone pays an average of some $31 million a year to each BCS bowl, and alumni spend many millions more for seats to the games.

Junker, bless his soul, wasn't above spreading some of that largesse around. He spent $1,200 of bowl money at a strip club, $110,000 on a charity auction for a round of golf with Jack Nicklaus, and $33,000 so he and his buddies could go to Pebble Beach for a 50th birthday blowout.

Politicians got their share, too. The report said Junker used employees to funnel campaign contributions around like they were Tostitos chips, then reimbursed them with bowl money.

The chairman of the Fiesta Bowl told BCS commissioners at their annual meeting last month that he was horrified by it all and was working hard to make sure the bowl's spending would be curtailed and that all transactions would be transparent. As part of the penalty, the Fiesta Bowl must agree to conduct an annual internal audit and consult with the BCS on the hiring of a new executive director.

That's pretty much it. The bowl won't be replaced by the Cotton Bowl. There's no requirement the new director make less than the $674,000 that Junker was making.

And everyone gets to keep their prized yellow jackets.

There still could be trouble for the Fiesta because the NCAA is deciding whether to continue licensing the bowl in wake of the revelations. But the NCAA has generally done the BCS's bidding over the years, and it's unlikely to change its laissez-faire approach to regulating the elite of college football now.

Did I mention that nine of the 11 members of the NCAA panel that will decide the bowl's fate attended a ''Fiesta Frolic'' in 2008 where rooms, food and golf were all on the Fiesta Bowl tab?

A cozy place, indeed, this world of big-time college football. Trips to be taken, money to be made, a little something for everyone.

The system is rotten, but don't expect anyone to risk their flashy jackets by suggesting it might be changed.

Next time someone is caught, though, the least they can do is spare us the false outrage.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg