An internal investigation exploring alleged reimbursement of campaign contributions made by Fiesta Bowl employees to certain politicians has resulted in the firing of the bowl's CEO, John Junker. A lengthy report (check it out HERE if you feel like doing some light reading) revealed that the Fiesta Bowl reimbursed employees for campaign contributions to several political candidates/entities that the report identified as:
Carolyn Allen, Ken Bennett, Jan Brewer, Scott Bundgaard, Ted Carpenter, Christopher Cummiskey, Jake Flake, Mike Gardner, JD Hayworth, Laura Knaperek, Andrew Knunasek, Jon Kyl, Jim Lane, Mary Manross, Phil Martin, John McCain, Harry Mitchell, Russell Pearce, Pete Rios, John Shadegg, James Weiers, Mary Wilcox, AZ Wins, Navarro for City Council and Arizona Republican Party.
The report concludes that at least $46,500 in illegal contributions to campaigns was made by the bowl and its employees. The report states that "the predominant means of reimbursing employees for campaign contributions was through the receipt of a subsequent 'bonus' check."
Also of concern in the report was "excessive executive compensation; and…inappropriate expenditures and gifts," according to a press release issued by the bowl.
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Among the items mentioned is a 50th birthday celebration that was thrown for Junker in 2005. The event took place in Pebble Beach, California and the bowl spent over $33,000 on the celebration. Among the additional benefits provided Junker by the bowl were his $2,500 annual dues in 2005 and $2,750 in 2006 for his membership in Legatus—a Catholic organization "open to top-ranking Catholic in businesses of a certain size." The Fiesta Bowls also pays for Junker's membership at four golf courses. The report notes:
Based on current rates, the Fiesta Bowl pays $10,800 per year for Junker's membership at Whisper Rock Golf Club. Memberships in the Whisper Rock Golf Club for Junker and Blouin were purchased through separate $100,000 interest-free loans that the Fiesta Bowl granted to Junker and Blouin in April 2002. Under the terms of the promissory notes, Junkers and Blouin were to each pay back the $100,000 loan through a $10,000 payment made to the Fiesta Bowl each year. Junker's and Blouin's compensation was then increased each year by $10,000, plus tax withholding, so that the additional payment made by the Fiesta Bowl would net to $10,000.
The report also notes that, "[t]he Fiesta Bowl compensates several employees for their home internet, cable television and/or cell phone service." It goes on, "In past years, the Bowl has also paid for satellite television, a Golf Channel subscription, Onstar car services, and satellite radio for Junker." What's more, "Junker regularly purchases phone accessories, such as chargers and head phones, for which the Bowl has reimbursed him in the amount of $1,744 over the past four years."
Perks are nothing new among top executives at bowl games or any large organization, but for a tax-exempt organization, the expenditures and benefits given to Junker and other top executives is excessive.
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Among the issues at stake at this point is the bowl's status as a BCS bowl game. BCS Director Bill Hancock is quoted by the Arizona Republic as saying, "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. If the bowl does remain a BCS bowl its handling of thing [sic] will be closely monitored going forward."
The current bowl system touts the bowl payments made to schools who participate in the bowl game as one of the benefits of the current system. While some teams may turn a little profit by going to a bowl game, many lose money when they attend a bowl game. They typically pay their own travel expenses, accommodations and food in addition to the requirement that they purchase a certain amount of tickets to the game, which most schools have a very hard time selling. A good portion of the revenue generated by the bowl game itself typically does not go to the schools participating in the game, but rather goes to hefty executive paychecks and perks.
The BCS is a scam of a postseason system. I'm not lumping all bowl games in with the Fiesta Bowl, but the report reveals what is probably much more common than we would have previously believed in terms of how bowl games choose to spend their money. As pointed out in Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan, Derrick Fox, CEO of the Alamo Bowl, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, "Almost all postseason bowl games are put on by charitable groups, and since up to one-quarter of the proceeds from the games are dedicated to the community, local charities received tens of millions of dollars a year."
The authors point out, however, that "of the then twenty-three tax-exempt bowls (the Congressional Bowl was in its first year and had not filed), plus follow-up interviews with representatives of nearly every bowl, showed Fox wildly embellished the truth of the games' generosity." They go on, "The total payout to charities: a combined $3.2 million." Consider that "[m]ore than half of the $3.2 million in charitable contributions came from just two bowl games, the Orange and the Chick-fil-A," and the way that these bowls spend their money is…interesting.
What makes the charitable contributions so interesting is that one of the arguments that supporters of the BCS use is that the bowl games donate money to charity, and that if bowl games begin to fall by the wayside, charities would feel it. Given the revelations provided by the Fiesta Bowl report (again, I'm not saying this is how every bowl game conducts business) and considering the lack of donations made to charitable organizations, it's time we start seeing the system for what it is: a business. It's not the ambivalent system that rewards players with great bowl experiences and donates "tens of millions of dollars a year" to local charities, but a business as much as any other business is a business. It's time the schools start reaping more of the financial rewards of the college football postseason; not some neutral site bowl game with an executive who draws a salary in the triple digits for putting on a game a year.
I love the bowl games as much as the next guy and would agree that the 'bowl experience' is great for players. But bowl games would go on even if a playoff were implemented. Not all the bowls would survive, of course, but the bowl game in general would not go the way of the dodo bird. The top tier bowl games (of which the Fiesta Bowl's inclusion is now in question) could even field their teams based on the results of a playoff.
The Fiesta Bowl report may not lead to the demise of the BCS system, but is an eye opener in terms of the way money generated by the college football postseason is currently spent. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the $1,744 that Junker spent on phone accessories could have been put to better use.
Danny Hobrock, is our College Football Editor and On-Air Personality. Danny's writing on NCAA Football has garnered national attention and has been critically acclaimed. You may email Danny directly @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ DannyHobrock