"Second to none."
That's how Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe described, in 2009, the Fiesta Bowl and the "customer care" from Fiesta officials. Maybe Beebe was referring to the customer care given him by Fiesta CEO John Junker, who was personally reimbursed for $4.85 million in expenses over the last decade.
On Tuesday, the Fiesta Bowl fired Junker after an internal investigation revealed that the BCS bowl used its charitable funds to unlawfully reimburse employees' political contributions and pay for top executives' weddings, four-day junkets to Pebble Beach, and personal country club memberships, among other things. The investigation followed months of pressure by Playoff PAC, a political action committee founded by supporters of a college football playoff.
(If you want to know more of the grisly details, check out this Arizona Republic report. My favorite: "In March 2010, the bowl paid for $75 worth of flowers sent to an admissions official at University of Texas-Austin where Junker's daughter was accepted into the honors program.")
But now, in the wake of Junker's firing, the question is whether the extent of the Fiesta Bowl's corruption is also "second to none."
Don't count on it.
From the Orange Bowl's four-day cruise to the Bahamas for executives and college athletics directors to the $700,000 the Sugar Bowl spent in 2007 and 2008 on "special appropriations," the spending at these nonprofit "charities" is out of control and Playoff PAC has meticulously documented these improprieties.
Not to mention the executive salaries.
At the time he was fired, Fiesta CEO John Junker was making over $700,000 per year for running a nonprofit charity that claimed $15.8 million in expenses in fiscal 2008. By contrast, during that same year, the average salary for the CEO of a nonprofit that had between $13.5 million and $25 million in expenses the same year was $212,000.
And since you're wondering, in 2008, Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms received over $300,000 and Rose Bowl CEO John Dorger received around $275,000.
As for Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan, according to Playoff PAC, in 2008, he received over $600,000, and in 2009, he received $645,000. Keep in mind that the Sugar Bowl lost money in 2009 despite receiving a $1.4 million government grant. And, as Playoff PAC points out, Hoolahan collected $25,000 more than the Rose Bowl's top three executives combined.
Clearly, there is an atmosphere of entitlement in these bowl organizations. And it's undoubtedly going on at the smaller bowls as well. (Think the wannabe-BCS Cotton and Gator Bowls act any different?)
The problem isn't one bowl. It's the BCS system. A system that encourages such absurd entitlement.
The BCS immediately put distance between itself and the Fiesta Bowl -- one of the four bowls that make up the BCS. The BCS initiated its own investigation and has asked the Fiesta Bowl to explain why it still belongs in the BCS, which is a little like Lex Luthor asking the Riddler why he still belongs in the Legion of Doom.
Clearly, hard work of Playoff PAC, the Arizona Republic and other media outlets is starting to make a difference. Problem is, there is a long way to go.
It's truly sad that college football's postseason is so rife with corruption. A sport that starts with such hope and innocence in early September ends in IRS and ethics investigations in March.
The absurdity of the BCS system continues to be "second to none."
Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and lives in Washington, D.C. Email him at email@example.com.
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