Graham Spanier finished the final wording on the most damning statement in BCS history on Tuesday morning. The Penn State president who doubles as the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee chairman had crafted it along with BCS executive director Bill Hancock.
They had already read the 276-page report that a lot of us are still trying to get our minds around: The Fiesta Bowl's in-house chronicle of what can only be called massive misappropriation of funds, resources and goodwill by CEO John Junker.
|John Junker for running 'a scheme' that reimbursed Fiesta employees for political contributions. (AP)|
"We're dead serious," Hancock said when contacted by CBSSports.com.
So serious that one member of the BCS task force assigned to review that membership said on Tuesday that it was a wake-up call for the entire bowl system.
"We've all kind of thought it [the report] was going to be ugly," said Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters. "We didn't know if it was going to be as ugly as it is ... This is now about: Everybody's got a black eye. The challenge of this group now is we can't stand up and tell the public everything is going to be great because the public isn't going to believe us."
How arguably the tightest-run, most-enjoyable bowl around got to this point is a discussion for another time. The report seems to indicate at least that the CEO, if not the entire bowl, ran amok with little oversight. Who signed off on a $33,000 Junker birthday bash in Pebble Beach? Who uses their company credit card for a $1,200 outing to a strip club and gets away with it? The sadness of the outcome is that none of it had to happen. The Fiesta had built up so much credibility in its community and around the country that it could have merely opened its doors every day and been a BCS member in perpetuity.
Now for the damage control. Before anything happens, the Fiesta must convince the federal government it should keep its tax-exempt nonprofit status, the financial prop by which most all of these bowls survive. It seems that there are significant breaches in the promise that the Fiesta is essentially a "community trust" without a profit motive.
"I think it would be difficult to operate without it," Fiesta board chairman Duane Woods said of the exempt status.
Woods is confident his bowl will keep the designation. The harder task might be keeping the Fiesta in the most exclusive club in amateur sports. As Waters mentioned, no one expected the breadth and width of the wrongdoing. If it fails to keep its nonprofit status, the BCS commissioners will not hesitate to drop the 40-year old postseason institution from the lineup. The presidential oversight group immediately formed that task force to review the Fiesta's report as well as its reforms.
"It's hard to describe until you work your way through it," Woods said. "It's painful page after painful page."
In short, the Fiesta screwed the pooch for everybody in the business. The result will likely invite more government scrutiny of other bowls. The Sugar and Orange are part of a tax complaint filed by PlayoffPAC, a political action committee. Noted tax attorney Wayne Henry immediately found red flags in the Fiesta's 2009 tax return that was released publicly earlier this month. The return dated Feb. 15 (the bowl filed for an extension) noted that, "The board of directors has become aware that organization may have engaged in excess benefit transactions with one or more disqualified persons."
Now we know.
But don't think Tuesday's news necessarily leads to a playoff, as the Fiesta's exclusive membership hangs in the balance. Even if the bowl is replaced, the BCS is determined to keep control of college football's postseason. That could mean a BCS with a different lineup. It could mean a return to the old bowl system, pre-BCS. Commissioners Jim Delany (Big Ten) and Dan Beebe (Big 12) hinted at such an arrangement during a December forum in New York.
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If challenged too much, they suggested, we'll blow up the BCS and go back to the old ways. In the every-man-for-himself before the BCS began in 1998, Auburn would have played in the Sugar Bowl, Oregon would have played in the Rose Bowl and it would have been up to the human polls to declare a national champion.
For all its faults, the BCS has arranged No. 1 vs. No. 2 games that agreed with those human polls in the majority of the 13 years it has been in existence.
"The BCS, for all of what may be negative publicity, at its heart, has done its job in putting No. 1 vs. No. 2," said Gary Stokan, executive director of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, a possible replacement for the Fiesta. "The BCS has set out what it has intended to do."
Meanwhile, the Fiesta is rallying its forces to hold onto its membership. The bowl executive committee of the board will have more oversight. But as one task member pointed out, that's what it should have been doing in the first place. What's going to change?
If there is an immediate bowl replacement it would likely be in the western U.S. (same as the Fiesta), have a Big 12 tie-in (same as the Fiesta) and have an ESPN affiliation (same as the BCS). That seems to eliminate, for now, the Cotton Bowl, a favorite mentioned elsewhere on Tuesday. While Cotton officials were privately encouraged by the news, the bowl still has three years to go on its contract with Fox. ESPN has the BCS rights for the next three years as well.
The Cotton, now played in opulent Cowboys Stadium, already has a Big 12 tie-in. The conference's champion plays in the Fiesta, unless that team plays in the national championship game. The Cotton also has a tie-in with the SEC which could complicate things. Once every four years each of the BCS bowls "double-hosts" two games -- its traditional game and the national championship.
The Chik-Fil-A has ESPN as a partner and an impressive infrastructure -- it will host two games in the 2011 opening weekend. But its tie-in with the SEC and ACC could be a deal breaker as a Fiesta replacement. The same tie-in problem exists with the Capital One Bowl (Big Ten-SEC) in Orlando, Fla.
The best fits, at this moment, seem to be the Texas Bowl and Alamo Bowl. Each has ESPN as its TV partner, a viable stadium and proximity to the Big 12. But that's getting way ahead of things after a dark day in Fiesta, BCS and college football history.
"At the end of the day this report is not good for me, it's not good for anybody," one BCS official said. "We're all dirty because we work in college football today."