Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fiesta Fiasco: BCS Forms task force, and the Bowl’s outlook is grim

image Late yesterday, the Bowl Championship Series issued a statement on the firing of Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker and the damning report alleging numerous instances of illegal behavior and excessive spending. The BCS is forming a task force, and will take the unprecedented step of having the Fiesta Bowl justify its existence in the series. Such a “show cause” process is a step on a slippery slope, especially if someone decides to investigate the Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls and find similar (maybe even worse) transgressions.

The statement, in its entirety:

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.

The fact that Fiesta Bowl officials have turned a spotlight on their bowl's activities is a sign that many individuals within the organization feel the same way. It is appropriate that the Fiesta Bowl conducted this investigation. The Fiesta Bowl volunteers and many others in the Phoenix area have worked hard through the years to build a tradition and provide lifetime memories for thousands of student-athletes.

Nevertheless, the BCS takes this matter seriously and will consider whether the Fiesta Bowl should remain a BCS bowl game or other appropriate sanctions. To make that determination, we are taking these actions:

1. We have appointed a task force to evaluate the bowl's findings and its recommendations.

2. We have asked the bowl to demonstrate why it should remain a BCS bowl game. The task force will evaluate the bowl's response, along with the full slate of reforms instituted by the bowl.

3. If the bowl remains a part of the BCS, its handling of this matter will be closely monitored going forward.

It is imperative that Fiesta Bowl officials take all necessary steps to fully address and correct the problems they have reported. The task force will begin its deliberations immediately.

The members of the task force are Chairman Graham Spanier, President, Penn State University; John Peters, President, Northern Illinois University; John Marinatto, Commissioner, Big East Conference; Wright Waters, Commissioner, Sun Belt Conference; Jeremy Foley, Athletics Director, University of Florida; Bob Bowlsby, Athletics Director, Stanford University; and, Richard Giannini Athletics Director, University of Southern Mississippi.

It’s worth noting that three of the task force members are from schools or leagues that could only reach a BCS bowl through an at-large bid. It’s in their interest to see that the Fiesta Bowl remains in the mix because that’s one more slot open to them.

But it’s also worth noting that the Fiesta folks are going to have a big mountain to climb in showing cause for their existence when the IRS is filing liens, revoking tax exempt status and having former bowl officials indicted by grand juries. There are literally bookshelves of potential state and federal violations here. Some of those could result in criminal convictions and the perpetrators sentenced to real prison time. There are also civil violations as well, with the Department of Justice filing claims in civil courts.

And all of this is gonna have to get sorted out in about six months, amid a flurry of activity by other bowls and conferences whose alliances could be affected by the loss of the Fiesta. The Cotton Bowl looms as a potential replacement, but as Dennis Dodd of CBS notes, the Cotton has a three year deal with Fox Sports and the BCS Bowls are contract bound with ESPN/ABC.  The Capital One could also make a run at the BCS, and we might even see a mini bidding war between Orlando and Dallas. That would make for a pretty darned interesting offseason, won’t it?

Exit Question: Disney is all over Orlando, and Jerry is all over Dallas. And Disney owns ABC and ESPN. Could the Capital One outmaneuver Jerry?

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