Fiesta Bowl scandal could put BCS game in play
THURSDAY, 14 APRIL 2011 11:26
New Jersey would be viable location for one of college football’s biggest games
BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
College football media partners, marketing partners, boosters, and politicians should be circling the date of April 28 for a meeting near the site of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. That's the day when a subcommittee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association reviews the license that the group has given to Fiesta Bowl operators to run the annual game in Glendale, Arizona.
The Fiesta Bowl is part of the Bowl Championship Series with Glendale hosting a national championship game every four years. The Fiesta Bowl, South Florida's Orange Bowl, Pasadena, California's Rose Bowl and New Orleans' Sugar Bowl are college football's big events and are worth a lot of money. Each bowl is a fiefdom and one of the reasons that there isn't a college football championship is that none of the powers to be behind those particularly bowls wants to cede one iota of importance that those bowls have.
Until the NCAA gets all of the fiefdoms to agree that a college football championship game that makes (financial) sense, the system will not change. That is unless Congress decides to remove the NCAA’s tax exemption status and the part of the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 that applies to the group.
Neither action seems to be very likely.
The sacking of Fiesta Bowl chief executive John Junker along with two other top officials could open a Pandora’s Box of problems for Glendale, the Fiesta Bowl and the (college football's) Bowl Championship Series for Arizona politicians who allegedly accepted gifts from Junker.
Arizona elected officials have to abide by state laws, which included an “entertainment ban” that prohibits, state employees and elected officials from accepting tickets or "admission to any sporting or cultural event" for free.
The Fiesta Bowl organizers have been summoned to New Orleans to meet with NCAA members and will be given a day in the NCAA courtroom to explain away a 276 page report by a Fiesta Bowl Special Committee that provided unique details of "excessive" spending on employees and the relationship between Arizona politicians and bowl officials. Apparently Arizona elected officials had no problems accepting gifts from Fiesta Bowl organizers which is a violation of Arizona laws if the gifts bestowed on the elected officials were more than $500.
The Fiesta Bowl organizers seem to have thought the best way to keep their fiefdom going was to have Arizona’s elected officials at their side.
Some Arizona lawmakers are "amending" their campaign financing reports to reflect that they suddenly remembered they took money from Fiesta Bowl officials or got tickets for the game or went on Fiesta Bowl related trips or received campaign contributions from Fiesta Bowl employees.
The Fiesta Bowl officials apparently knew which palms to grease. Among the politicians that got some benefits from the Bowl hierarchy include Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Senators John McCain and John Kyl, Congressmen J. D. Hayworth and Shadegg. McCain's Political Action Committee — Straight Talk Express — also got some money from bowl officials. Additionally, there were Fiesta Bowl employees who gave $46,000 to 23 political candidates who were reimbursed for their campaign contributions by the Fiesta Bowl.
Interestingly enough, The Goldwater Institute is not involved in any complaining against the Fiesta Bowl which seems to be a contradictory stance for the conservative fiscal watchdog group. The Goldwater Institute doesn't want Glendale to sell bonds to help complete the sale of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes to a Chicago businessman, Matthew Hulsizer, nor do they seem to care that things didn't work out attendance wise for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox during the 2011 Cactus League Spring Training part of the baseball season at the new Glendale baseball park.
Glendale had an open checkbook for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill (a new stadium), former Phoenix Coyotes owner Richard Burke (a new arena), Jerry Reinsdorf's White Sox, the McCourt family's Dodgers (a new spring training facility) and the city is attempting to work with Jerry Colangelo to build the headquarters for USA Basketball in Glendale.
The Goldwater Institute is nowhere to be found on this issue. Meanwhile, another watchdog group — the not for profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics of Washington, D. C. — has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and asking the agency to investigate whether any laws were broken in the Fiesta Bowl's campaign contribution acts.
It will be interesting to see how the NCAA will put together the investigation. Will the NCAA consult cable TV partner, the Walt Disney Company, on this matter? Does the NCAA really want to go after the Fiesta Bowl and pull the license or will they slap someone on the wrist and say don't do that again knowing that every bowl committee does what is best for them not the "game" of college football?
A question that should be directed to NCAA delegates deciding the weighty matter of bowl licensing is this. Do they want a championship game in Glendale or can they line the coffers with another organizer in a bigger market?
Will the NCAA revoke the license and then put the fourth game of the Bowl Championship Series up for bid? If the Super Bowl can be played in East Rutherford in February in 2014, why not a Bowl Championship Series game at the Meadowlands in January? Think of the money that could pour into the BCS if New Jersey, Jerry Jones and his Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas or Dan Snyder's and Washington Redskins stadium in Maryland outside of the District were involved in a bidding war for that spot in the Bowl Championship Series?
The NCAA more than likely should not be trusted with a real investigation of a bowl and corruption. After all this is a body that created the term "student-athlete" to get out of paying disability benefits in the 1950s after a Colorado football player could not work because of an injury suffered on the football field. This is an organization that pockets billions in television money yet limits players' off field, off court, off ice, off diamond earnings to be $2,000. This is an organization that receives a tax exemption from Congress and colleges whose football teams appear at say the Fiesta Bowl don't have to pay taxes on their take from the game.
School presidents and chancellors shop around looking for conferences that will further exposure (big money TV contacts).
This is an organization that has somehow convinced people and politicians that "student-athletes" should be lucky to get a scholarship and feel fortunate that they can play for good old whatever university and entertain stadium or arena audiences, boosters, advertisers, politicians and have their talents used by coaches who earn millions annually from schools, marketing partners and TV partners.
In New Jersey, the state's highest paid employees are the Rutgers football coach and the men's and women's basketball coaches. Go around the country and you will find that college football or basketball coaches are the highest paid employee in a good number of states.
College sports is nothing more than a business.
Congress holds hearings on college sports every so often and generally these hearings go something like this. Congressmen genuflect in front of NCAA honchos then complain about the unfairness of the Bowl Championship Series in that only BCS members have a real shot at a title and that outsiders are just that outsiders with a limited chance of ever winning a NCAA football championship.
Never once do these hearings ever produce anything worthwhile for the "student-athlete" who has to prove to a coach annually that he (or she) is worth the scholarship and if a marginal player gets hurt and is unable to return to sports, that athlete loses their scholarship. The myth of the student-athlete is just that.
In Arizona, politicians are scrambling for cover. In New Orleans, Fiesta Bowl officials might be scrambling for the cover of Bourbon Street if indeed the NCAA pulls the bowl game license. The NCAA doesn't seem to be too concerned ever with "moral" problems. The group has pulled two bowl licenses, the Seattle Bowl and the Silicon Valley Football Classic, because the games were poorly attended.
The NCAA is acting because people were caught with their hands in the cookie jar and dispensing money to court politicians. The whole college sports industry needs a review but as long as there is money to be made and college presidents and chancellors looking for the yellow brick road for that pot of sports gold, nothing will change. The Marx Brothers lampooned college football in 1932 in “Horse Feathers,” a remarkable movie that hit on corruption in college football and nothing has changed in 79 years since that Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S. J. Perelman, and Will B. Johnstone came up with a screenplay that had Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) recruiting players for Huxley for their big game against Darwin. The plot and the jokes of "amateurism" in 1931-32 could easily be used today.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle.