Fiesta Bowl Scandal Shows BCS System Fosters Corruption
Yesterday, the Fiesta Bowl fired president and CEO John Junker after an investigation revealed alleged misuse of bowl funds. Apparently, he spent $1,200 of the bowl’s money at a Phoenix strip club, $13,00 to fly to an assistant’s wedding in Missouri, over $18,000 total on four golf club memberships, and $33,000 on his own 50th birthday party, and that’s just the beginning. Several employees told investigators that Junker and other executives encouraged them to make political contributions, which were reimbursed under the guise of bonuses. The bowl also sponsored candidate fundraisers, flew politicians to out-of-state football games, and provided them with tickets worth thousands of dollars. Junker was reimbursed $4.85M for expenses from March 2001 to March 2011. More than half of those expenses could not be verified as legitimate.
Investigators questioned Junker about his excessive spending over the course of two days in January. Not once did Junker admit that he made improper expenditures, and he refused to talk about the allegations that employees were reimbursed for making political contributions. But he did admit the benefits lavished on politicians and other people in power were used to convince them to help with efforts to build a new stadium, pass beneficial legislation, and secure TV contracts. Junker succeeded in getting what he wanted, but at what cost?
If the Fiesta Bowl did in fact make political contributions, it violated IRS requirements for tax-exempt non-profits. If Junker reimbursed employees for political contributions, he violated Arizona campaign finance laws and may go to jail. The NCAA can revoke the Fiesta Bowl’s operating license. Conference commissioners and university presidents can rescind the Fiesta Bowl’s BCS contract, which has three years remaining. The Big 12, which sends its champion to the Fiesta Bowl, is considering whether it should stay aligned with the bowl. The repercussions are staggering.
The BCS, of course, is not amused. In its official statement on the scandal, the BCS announced it “will consider whether the Fiesta Bowl should remain a BCS bowl game or other appropriate sanctions.” The Fiesta Bowl must “demonstrate [to the BCS] why it should remain a BCS bowl game.” So the burden has shifted to the Fiesta Bowl, which now must prove in writing that it deserves to remain a BCS bowl. Jerry Jones and the Cotton Bowl must be chomping at the bit for the chance to replace the Fiesta Bowl in the BCS lineup.
Maybe, and perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, this scandal is the beginning of the end for the BCS. The BCS system was already unpopular among college football fans before there was real proof of corruption. The BCS says it expects “all parties contracted with the BCS will live up to the highest standards.” But the bowl system fosters corruption and only continues to exist because of greed. I can’t imagine these sorts of shady dealings are limited to the Fiesta Bowl, or even the BCS bowls. The FBS schools should take a hard look at all of the bowls. I don’t think they’ll like what they find.