This Fiesta Bowl story makes normal college sports corruption stories seem warm and fuzzy
I'm not sure what will happen to sports journalism when newspapers go the way of VCRs and landline phones. However, Yahoo Sports has picked up the ball and run with it, with its reporting of Ohio State's football mess involving Jim Tressel.
The Arizona Republic newspaper honored its business by being out front as far back in 2009 in writing about alleged questionable acts by the Fiesta Bowl, most notably allegations that bowl employees were reimbursed by the bowl for making polticial campaign contributions. The bowl's own investigation has shown there was cause for questioning, and much more.
Fiesta Bowl CEO/President John Junker has been fired, and "junker" may be a good way to describe this bowl before it's all over.
Here are some of my favorite aspects of the Fiesta Follies:
According to Republic reporter Craig Harris in his live chat Wednesday at the Republic's site:
* For at least five years Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce took free out-of-town trips from the Fiesta Bowl and regularly took free tickets to the game. Pearce supported legislation that was favorable to the Fiesta Bowl, and sponsored legislation that called for audits of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which had been in legal disputes with the Fiesta Bowl.
From the Fiesta Bowl's report itself, which can be viewed in its entirety here, with my snarky remarks in parentheses:
* Today, the Fiesta Bowl has $15 million to $20 million in the bank. (Which is more than the University of Connecticut athletic department can say after losing more than $1.6 million for its participation in the game, which it lost by four touchdowns to Oklahoma.)
* Several of the 11 individual contributors who report that they received reimbursements stated that they gave without regard to their own personal beliefs. (Everybody has a price, eh?)
* On June 23, 2007, Junker received a $4,200 net bonus check. Peggy Eyanson, a director of business operations for the bowl, identified the check as a likely reimbursement to John and Susan Junker's presidential campaign contributions of $2,100 apiece to Arizona Senator John McCain. (At least the Junkers shopped locally.)
* Over 92 percent of the income Junker made from the Fiesta Bowl was deemed "potentially appropriate" or "undetermined" by the bowl's Special Committee investigation, while 8 percent was classified as "potentially personal" and "potentially inappropriate." His total income from March 31, 2001 through March 31, 2111 was $4,856,680. The "potentially appropriate" was $2,231,420, the "undetermined" was $2,265,058." (He could have made a nice living just on "potentially appropriate.")
* For at least the last five years, the bowl has taken Arizona legislators on an annual out-of-state trip to a college football game. The bowl paid for travel, and lodging at top hotels like the Ritz-Carlton. Legislators often brought family members, who were apparently comped, as well. (If only Arizona State and Arizona had BCS-quality teams over the last several years, this wouldn't have been necessary.)
* According to Chuck Coughlin, one of the bowl's public affairs consultants and someone who was Jan Brewer's campaign chairman when she made a successful bid to become Arizona's governor, "the trips were an integral part of educating elected officials on the economic significance of the bowl games and how they existed in an extremely competitive environment. Christine Martin, the bowl's director of team services, told the committee "They aren't necessary at all." (Oh, I don't know. If I want to figure out if movie-making is part of a competitive environment, I'm going to need to be flown to Los Angeles, and housed at Beverly Hills' finest hotel along with my family, and maybe several close personal friends.)
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany gave a talk in Chicago to one of these Fiesta Bowl groups of travelers seeking knowledge in 2005. The meeting was titled "Arizona's College Bowl Impact Forum." On Saturday, the group -- which included nine Arizona legislators and 13 of their relatives and guests including two grandsons - attended the Michigan-Northwestern game in Evanston. The group totaled over 30 people. (Yes, if you want to see the big business of college football, there's nowhere better in the Big Ten to witness it than Northwestern.)
* The Fiesta Bowl paid over $65,000 for a similar trip to Boston in 2008 that included attending the Virginia Tech-Boston College game. (Boston. Another major hub of college football. Why were these legislators never taken to Tuscaloosa or Lincoln? Oh right, there are no Ritz-Carltons or five-star restaurants there.)
* This is the wording from page 198 of the 283-page report: The Fiesta Bowl would sometimes provide items of value to certain politicians.
Such as then-Tempe city councilman Ben Arredondo receiving $4,000 worth of tickets to the 2009 Super Bowl. (Hey, the Arizona Cardinals were playing. That's a once-in-an-Arizonan's-lifetime thing.)
* The Fiesta Frolic -- now officially known as the Fiesta Bowl Spring College Football Seminars by request of some attendees to make it sound like less of a "boondoggle" -- take place during the first week of May each year. Its invitation list includes all NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision football head coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners, as well as representatives of ESPN, Nike and other businesses associated with college football.
The bowl pays for the hotel expenses, two days of lodging, and two rounds of golf at TPC Scottsdale, as well as expenses for spouses. (NCAA rules allow the bowls to give gift packages to the players in their games, though the monetary value cannot exceed $500.)
The bowl paid for Junker to be a member at four golf clubs, two in Arizona, one each in Oregon and Oklahoma. Junker said the rise of Oregon and Oregon State as football powers was one reason for the membership to the Oregon club. (The man was a visionary. Oregon played in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz., in January. OK, it would have done so even had Junker not become a golf club-member in Oregon, but that's quibbling.)
* Donnie Duncan, former Iowa State football coach and University of Oklahoma athletic director, has been paid $4,000 a month plus travel expenses by the bowl since 2006 to serve as an ambassador for the game. (Nice work if you can get it.)
* Junker took Mariciopa County Sheriff's lieutenant Aaron Brown and former bowl vice president of media relations Shawn Schoeffler to a Phoenix strip club in 2008. Brown owns a company that provides security services to the bowl. In fact, Brown receives $182,000 a year to do that even though he is a full-time deputy.
Besides arranging motorcycle escorts for teams and working as a security liaison, the report says, Brown provided a deputy to chauffeur Junker's daughter on prom night. Junker told investigators the expense was reasonable: "I don't think anybody would have a problem with someone doing that for my daughter as a measure of my daughter's security."
Junker's American Express statement showed five separate charges totaling $1,241.75 at the club, paid for by the Fiesta Bowl. Junker acknowledged the money wasn't all for food and drink, but "in all likelihood," also for women to dance for them. Junker stated they did discuss business during the evening. (Insert your own punch line here.)
There's more. There's so much more. Check out the report if you have an hour or two to kill.