Published April 27, 2011
NEW ORLEANS – To Bowl Championship Series officials, the Fiesta Bowl appears "dead serious" about reform. And the BCS is "miles away" from considering whether to replace the Arizona game with another bowl.
"The Fiesta Bowl issue happened, and yes, it was disturbing," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Wednesday. "But people in Phoenix are as disturbed as we are and ... they want to do something about it."
The BCS commissioners are holding annual meetings in New Orleans, where next season's national championship game will be held. Fiesta Bowl officials were invited to rehash highlights of a presentation they made to a BCS task force at the Big Ten offices outside Chicago last weekend that focused on how they have responded to a recent scandal involving the bowl game's spending practices and political dealings.
"The Fiesta Bowl people were forthright," Hancock said. "It was a very good exchange, mirroring what happened in Chicago."
Fiesta Bowl officials, who also run the Insight Bowl, were scheduled to meet on Thursday with the NCAA's Postseason Bowl Licensing Subcommittee.
The subcommittee has said it will delay its decision on licensing the Fiesta and Insight bowls until it can gather more information and review the findings of the BCS task force that is examining related financial and political improprieties.
In March, an internal investigation by a three-member panel made up of two Fiesta Bowl board members and a retired Arizona Supreme Court justice uncovered widespread lavish spending, including $33,188 for a Pebble Beach, Calif., birthday bash for CEO and president John Junker, $13,000 for the wedding and honeymoon of an aide, and a $1,200 strip club tab.
In addition, the report detailed some $45,000 in reimbursements to employees for political donations, actions that Fiesta Bowl chairman Duane Woods has said were a violation of state campaign finance laws. The report outlined junkets and free game tickets for several Arizona legislators.
Junker was fired when the report was made public on March 29.
On Wednesday, Woods said the Fiesta Bowl is committed to transparency and listening to criticism as it adopts more stringent financial policies and controls.
"The most important thing is, when we discovered these facts, we wanted them to be absolutely, thoroughly investigated beyond just the political campaign contributions," Woods said. "When the board received that report, we made a commitment to revealing all of it, and then focused ourselves on the fix ... to ensure we have the proper compliance and oversight."
Woods said he remained confident in the Fiesta Bowl's future with the BCS, stressing that, "The failure here was in some leaders, and they're gone, and we've taken steps to fix that."
Hancock said he believes the BCS task force has the information it needs from the Fiesta Bowl, but will have more meetings and will need more time to make a recommendation.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive said the fallout from the Fiesta Bowl scandal also has commissioners discussing whether standards should be tightened for all bowl games.
"It's important that the bowls thoroughly review their processes and procedures and make sure that they satisfy various standards — appropriate standards," Slive said.
Also on Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert scheduled a Thursday conference call in which he planned to discuss possible changes to the standards for licensing bowl games.
Hancock said the BCS welcome's Emmert's initiative.
"We want to make sure bowls are held to highest standards just like the NCAA does," Hancock said. "I would think that more oversight in general would be good for college football."
Meanwhile, conference commissioners dealt with several other matters, including how bowl game scheduling could be affected by the NFL's labor uncertainty and how to improve the credibility of its computer rankings.
If the NFL season is delayed, that could affect scheduling of all BCS games except the Rose Bowl, which does not have an NFL tenant.
The BCS championship currently is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2012, with the Sugar Bowl being played a week earlier on either Jan. 2 or 3, the Orange Bowl being played on Jan. 3 or 4, and the Fiesta Bowl being played on Jan. 4 or 5. However, NFL teams in New Orleans, Arizona and Miami all have home games in the last week of the season, which is currently scheduled to end on Jan. 1. If the season is delayed by a week or two, the Jan. 2 and 9 dates could have Monday Night Football games.
Hancock said the BCS is looking at Jan. 7 or 10 as other possible national title dates.
As for the six computer ranking systems that help determine the BCS standings, Hancock said operators of each agreed to a "peer review" setup in which they would double check each other's scores.
The aim is to prevent further data entry errors such as one that occurred last season when the result of a game was omitted.
The individual operators had resisted sharing any data in the past for fear of compromising proprietary rights to their formulas, but agreed to review scores after BCS officials expressed deep disappointment with last season's error.
"This time, they understand they all need to be involved," Hancock said. "They need to not let us down again."
One matter not on the BCS agenda was how to handle BYU's decision to become an independent. Hancock said that for now, BYU will have the same ability to earn a bid to a BCS bowl as the other two "non-Notre Dame" independents, Army and Navy, which must be 14th or higher in the BCS standings to qualify for an at-large bid.