Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fiesta Fallout: Bowl might lose its BCS membership

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Updated to add the link to the Arizona Central website.

John Junker, CEO of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, was fired Tuesday after the release of an independent committee investigation report of alleged political campaign finance law violations, lavish parties, exorbitant gifts and financial misconduct.

Among some of the juicier details: A $1,200 tab at a local strip joint, tens of thousands in bogus bonuses paid to employees who funneled the money to political campaigns, a lavish 50th birthday party for Junker, Gold coins, cars… These people were living a lifestyle that would make Charlie Sheen proud.

The fallout could be very serious. Some of these activities and violations run afoul of a whole bookcase full of federal and state civil and criminal statutes. People could be on the hook for millions in fines, penalties and restitution and some of them might even be facing jail time.

But for college football fans, the most serious fallout could be the Fiesta Bowl losing its membership in the elite Bowl Championship Series. There are currently four bowls in the BCS: Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose. The BCS National Championship game is rotated among the four bowls each year and the Fiesta hosted Auburn and Oregon last January. Could the BCS drop the Fiesta, leaving only three?


Bill Hancock, commissioner of the Bowl Championship Series, said the Fiesta Bowl could be removed from the elite group that hosts a national championship game every four years.

"The BCS group takes this matter very seriously and will consider whether they keep a BCS bowl game, and we will consider other appropriate sanctions," Hancock told The Arizona Republic. "If the bowl does remain a BCS bowl its handling of thing will be closely monitored going forward."

In December 2009, The Arizona Republic reported on political contributions by Fiesta Bowl employees who said they were reimbursed by the organization, a potential legal violation as well as a violation of the organization's tax-exempt status. The article also described bowl lobbying efforts and spending practices, both of which could breach federal rules for nonprofits.


It’s serious business, because the BCS is BIG business. The Fiesta Bowl has an estimated $200 to $250 million impact on Arizona. Tens of thousands of the most ardent fans on the planet visit the state and spend big bucks on lodging, food and entertainment. They’d still come if the BCS drops the Fiesta, but the Fiesta would then be stuck competing with bowls like Capital One and Outback for the teams not chosen to play in the BCS bowls.

With the NFL owners and players locked in a labor dispute that is more and more likely to bust up the 2011-12 season, college football will be a major relief outlet, so the upcoming season—and the bowl allegiances and matchups—are no doubt going to be affected by how the BCS resolves this matter. It’s going to make for a high-drama spectacle during the offseason.

What’s scarier than the prospect of no NFL football and an uncertain bowl season alignment?  Well, this is exactly the kind of stuff that Congress likes to wade into. Tax laws have probably been broken. Campaign finance laws probably have, too. There are literally billions in revenues at stake here and what appears to be an increasingly corrupt cartel lavishing it all on themselves. Congress will scarcely be able to control themselves and the pessimist in me says that they won’t.

Exit Question: Who do you think is smiling over the possibility of the BCS committee dropping the Fiesta?

 

 

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