Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fiesta Bowl: too rich, too corrupt

Express Staff Writer

Amateur sports have never seen a scandal like this. Not only were shenanigans out in the open, but powerful politicians and so-called pillars of the Phoenix community were in the cast. Next to this, football recruiting violations look cheesy.

Details are incredible. Arizona has another black eye, too.

Arizona's Fiesta Bowl executives routinely dipped into the millions of dollars generated by the sweat of college football players for purposes that were illegal, possibly threaten Fiesta's tax-exempt status and raise the question of whether Fiesta should be booted from NCAA and Bowl Championship Series.

Friends blame Fiesta CEO John Junker's ruin on his obsession to elevate Fiesta from a regional event to the top tier of national BSC events.

Now he's in disgrace and fired, along with other Fiesta execs, while auditors, the IRS and sports-governing bodies look into his use of Fiesta as a personal cookie jar, and ask why Fiesta auditors and the bowl's prominent directors never blew the whistle.

Maybe nobody wanted to upset Fiesta's $230 million contribution to Arizona's economy?

After stories in The Arizona Republic reported smelling smoke, outside investigators dug up what the Republic editorially called a "wretched mess."

In their 276-page report, investigators found that Fiesta—where Boise State triumphed over Texas Christian University in 2010—raised money for and donated to politicians' campaigns, paid for junkets for politicians, paid for strip club partying, set up a $16,000 college savings account for the daughter of a former Big 12 commissioner, paid for pricey golf club memberships and spent $6,000 on pro and college football tickets for Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce (he of anti-immigrant legislation fame).

Incredibly, Fiesta Bowl also laid out $100,000 for Fiesta's Junker to join a pro-am charity golf tournament, paid $33,000 for his birthday party in faraway, ritzy Pebble Beach, Calif., and over time reimbursed him for more than $4 million in expenses—even though initial audits could only justify half that. This is Fiesta's idea of keeping the boss happy.

Should Fiesta lose its tax exemption or be required to pay on impermissible deductions, a fortune in back taxes and penalties would be involved.

Republic sports columnist Aola Boivin saw this as the BCS system "fostering an environment" that led to Fiesta corruption. "The truth is out. The BCS is an acronym for bribes, cash and strip clubs," she wrote.

What's not new about the Fiesta Bowl mess is the presence of what usually corrupts even the noblest of men and women—the ethics of weak people wilting at the first sight of easy-come, easy-go big money in their hands.

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