We’re not talking about something of the stature of the green sport coats awarded to the winners of the Masters, but in college football circles, everyone seemed to be happy when the yellow jackets showed up in your town.
Those coats belong to the folks who run the Fiesta Bowl, one of our designated BCS bowl games; when the yellow jackets show up in town, it probably means you’re having a pretty good season and an invitation for a January trip to Phoenix could be on the way.
And as we found out this week, maybe some other goodies as well.
After a third-party investigation into his conduct wrapped up this week, the Fiesta Bowl’s board abruptly fired the guy who had built a minor bowl game into one of big ones over the last 30 years. Why was John Junker shit-canned? It’s tough to say whether the Fiesta Bowl would have gained its current stature without his apparent schemes to compensate Bowl employees for their “suggested” contributions to politicians and as much as $2.5 million in personal, potentially inappropriate or undetermined expenses Junker charged to the organization between 2001 and the start of this year.
The political contribution scheme was simple. Employees said they were never told they had to make contributions to politicos friendly to the bowl’s cause, but the practice was “encouraged.” In return, they were reimbursed for those contributions. And yes, that is illegal.
Junker apparently roared though money like the bowl game had a license to print it. The report issued by the investigators said Junker averaged more than $37,000 a month in expenses — many of which weren’t documented — and in December, 2005, he claimed $348,000 in business expenses. I’m sure the executive running a BCS game is going to have to be a little spendy in the weeks before the event, but Junker apparently didn’t like including documentation when he submitted those bills; in the report, the bowl’s controller told investigators that going through Junker’s monthly American Express bills was “taxing.”
I don’t think she was talking about the IRS, either.
When Junker was fired on Wednesday, the BCS fired an ominous-sounding shot towards Phoenix, saying the Fiesta Bowl would have to justify its future participation as a BCS game (something, I imagine, that the people who run the Cotton Bowl loved to hear, given their recent move into the Jerry Jones Dome in Dallas). Here’s a snippet, attributed by the Associated Press to BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock and Penn State President Graham Spanier, who runs the group of college presidents who oversee the BCS:
“We are deeply disappointed and troubled to learn of these findings related to the Fiesta Bowl. Unprofessional, unethical or improper behavior is unacceptable. There is no place for such activities in higher education or in collegiate sports. It is expected that all parties contracted with the BCS will live up to the highest standards. We do not wish to be associated with entities that believe otherwise. “
Tough talk, yes, and probably the appropriate response.
But wait, the BCS folks said today. Perhaps we were a little hasty. Especially after the Arizona Republic revealed that some of the BCS folks who will be investigating the Fiesta Bowl — including Hancock — had accepted gifts from Fiesta Bowl, usually involving golf and other freebies at the rather expensive courses in the Phoenix area, and from the Orange Bowl, in the form of an annual Caribbean cruise for athletics directors, conference commissioners and their spouses.
In that story, Hancock said he didn’t see anything wrong with letting the Fiesta Bowl pay for his rounds of golf (Hey, maybe those would have shown up in the expense forms that Junker never filed!); he also told the Republic that discussions about cutting the Fiesta out of the BCS were “premature” and chided the media for speculating about a possible replacement (which is exactly what I just did a couple paragraphs ago. Sorry ’bout that, Bill).
The Fiesta Bowl is in trouble because its former CEO couldn’t — or wouldn’t — be transparent about what he was doing to run the organization. And then a day after the BCS shouts about ethics and the highest standards, etc., we find out that some of the people who will be deciding the Fiesta’s fate had been happily receiving gifts from Junker and the bowl for years.
Does anyone else feel like they need a shower?
Want to read all 283 pages of the investigators’ report on Junker and the Fiesta Bowl? You’ll find a .pdf here.