Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fiesta Bowl gets reprieve after BCS hands out $1 million fine

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The language was stern. The terms included a $1 million fine.

  • Duane Woods, chairman of the Fiesta Bowl board, is tasked with rebuilding the organization's credibility.

    By Gerald Herbert, AP

    Duane Woods, chairman of the Fiesta Bowl board, is tasked with rebuilding the organization's credibility.

By Gerald Herbert, AP

Duane Woods, chairman of the Fiesta Bowl board, is tasked with rebuilding the organization's credibility.

But the bottom line Wednesday, when the first of two critical verdicts was delivered on college football's scandal-plagued Fiesta Bowl, was that it will remain a part of the top-tier Bowl Championship Series.

Following recommendations from a special task force set up to assess the bowl and its future, the BCS levied the $1 million penalty and imposed new controls "designed to create stronger oversight and better management" of the game.

The action came a little more than two months after a scathing independent report that outlined grossly excessive spending by former Fiesta CEO John Junker and others and possibly illegally orchestrated political contributions. Junker was fired, and both the BCS and the NCAA committee that licenses bowls initiated inquiries.

    The NCAA said it would take the BCS' decision into account in determining whether to recertify the Arizona-based Fiesta. Its committee meets next week, and spokesman Bob Williams said a decision — on both the Fiesta and its sister game, the Insight Bowl— are expected in the near future.

    "The BCS task force actions regarding the Fiesta Bowl are serious and constructive steps in the right direction," Williams said.

    Said BCS executive director Bill Hancock: "They have a long way to go. They have to rebuild. They have to regain the trust of the community. We think these will reforms will head them in that direction."

    Had the Fiesta, itself, not taken corrective action including Junker's dismissal, reorganizing its board and changing some of its fiscal operations, the BCS' seven-man task force said in its report that it "almost certainly would have recommended the termination of the BCS Group's involvement with the Fiesta Bowl." Final action was left to the conference commissioners and university presidents who oversee the 13-year-old system.

    Beyond the fine — which will be funneled to charities benefiting youth in Arizona — they ordered the Fiesta to tighten oversight of its board of directors and undergo more stringent auditing.

    The bowl must remove any board members found to have engaged in the kind of "inappropriate conduct" detailed in the independent report. Future boards, the BCS said, should include two school presidents or other university administrators. And the bowl was told to consult with the BCS' presidential oversight committee in its selection of Junker's replacement as CEO.

    Duane Woods, who chairs the Fiesta's board of directions, called the terms "tough but fair," and said "we have learned some painful lessons."

    One of the BCS' chief critics was less accepting.

    "This rush to judgment was more about quickly moving past a bad headline during the offseason than addressing any misconduct," said Matthew Sanderson, co-founder of a Washington, D.C.-based, anti-BCS political action committee, Playoff PAC, that has filed an Internal Revenue Service complaint against the BCS-affiliated Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls.

    He reiterated a complaint that most members of the BCS task force that weighed the Fiesta's fate had been the beneficiaries of Fiesta-paid golf trips and other hospitality. "This was not a credible process," Sanderson said, noting that Arizona's attorney general also is continuing an investigation of Fiesta officials and its board.

    The Fiesta scandal has reverberated across football's bowl system, in part prompting NCAA President Mark Emmert to set up yet another special panel that will examine the process and criteria for licensing games. It's expected to come back by October with recommendations for tightening areas ranging from financial supervision to the suitability of sponsors.

    The BCS task force added a recommendation for stricter governance standards for all four of its bowls, employing an "independent expert" familiar with nonprofit organizations to draw them up. The games would be required to certify annual compliance.

    It stopped short, however, of subjecting the other three bowls to the same kind of in-depth audits that uncovered the Fiesta abuses.

    "There has not been any indication of any similar improprieties at the other bowls," Hancock said. "... It's unfair to paint innocent people with the same brush."

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