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Fiesta Bowl, Where Political Slush Fund Meets College Football

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Today the Fiesta Bowl Committee announced the firing of President and CEO John Junker. According to the press release, he was canned after an extensive second investigation revealed (confirmed) allegations that have been circling for years. Junker used the non-profit "charitable" Fiesta Bowl as a conduit for political favors and potentially illegal campaign donations to his pals in the legislature. 

The full report of the investigation is available online at the Fiesta Bowl's website. It details a variety of nefarious activities by Junker over the years. It's a fun read, you should give it a look.

Details include $46,539 in campaign donations to various elected officials made by employees of Junker's who said they were reimbursed for their individual donations. This (alleged) illegal activity is still under investigation by the Attorney General's office.

Junker also used the considerable funds amassed by the Fiesta Bowl through corporate sponsorships to treat favored politicians to all expenses-paid trips to football games. The New York Times reports that Russell Pearce, the State Senate president, and his family, were flown to games in Chicago and Boston and put up at the Ritz. 

Junker himself did well. The Fiesta Bowl paid close to $20,000 in golf club fees for Junker at four resorts; $27,00 per year for cars for Junker and his wife; Junker expensed over $1,200 for visits to a strip club and much more on more family-friendly meals; and $33,000 was spent on Junker's 50th birthday party, held at Pebble Beach (of course). 

"We are in the business where big strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments. It was important for us to visit and we certainly conducted business," Junker said about his visits to Bourbon Street, a "World Famous Strip Club". 

Being a political ally of a bowl committee CEO is not a bad gig if you can get it. Sure does beat working for a living.

All of this isn't really a surprise. The story was first reported by the Arizona Republic in 2009 (bravo, journalists) and is just another example of the corrupt system known as NCAA college sports. 

The Fiesta Bowl is big business for Arizona. Not only a source of pride, but the annual event rakes in the dollars for everyone involved and generates both jobs and tax revenue for the local governments.

Everyone makes out like bandits, except of course the entertainers themselves (aka athletes) who don't see a dime. Wouldn't want to spoil the purity of amateur athletics, would we.

[Note by Seth Pollack, 03/29/11 2:28 PM MST ]

I suppose you could argue that without all the lavish slushing of funds, the Fiesta Bowl would have never reached BCS status. I certainly find it hard to believe that Junker's excesses, while perhaps excessive even by major bowl standards, are somehow unique. Hopefully, Junker will drop some dimes on his BCS comrades. 

In a statement that reeks of hypocrisy, the BCS is taking the moral high road:

[...]the BCS takes this matter seriously and will consider whether the Fiesta Bowl should remain a BCS bowl game or other appropriate sanctions. To make that determination, we are taking these actions:

1. We have appointed a task force to evaluate the bowl's findings and its recommendations.

2. We have asked the bowl to demonstrate why it should remain a BCS bowl game. The task force will evaluate the bowl's response, along with the full slate of reforms instituted by the bowl.

3. If the bowl remains a part of the BCS, its handling of this matter will be closely monitored going forward.