PHOENIX – The NCAA is delaying its decision on whether to continue sanctioning the troubled Fiesta Bowl until later this year, saying it needs time to gather information on how the event will be managed in the future.
The NCAA said in a release on Thursday that it also wants to review the findings of a BCS task force that is examining the financial and political improprieties uncovered in a Fiesta Bowl internal investigation made public last month. That report could be finished by mid-May.
While the Fiesta Bowl is a BCS event, the NCAA sanctions all 35 bowl games. Fiesta Bowl officials are to meet with the NCAA Postseason Bowl Licensing Subcommittee next week in New Orleans. But the NCAA said no decision will be made at that time.
"We welcome the opportunity to meet with the NCAA subcommittee," Fiesta Bowl board chairman Duane Woods said, "to inform them about the numerous steps and significant reforms that we have adopted to restore the very highest level of public trust and integrity in the Fiesta Bowl moving forward."
The BCS could remove the Fiesta Bowl's status as one of college football's four premier events, but the NCAA wields a more severe potential penalty — revoking the license of the game altogether. The Insight Bowl, also operated by the Fiesta Bowl organization, could suffer the same fate.
In addition, the IRS has been asked to examine whether the Fiesta deserves its nonprofit status, and the Arizona attorney general's office is investigating whether any indictments should be sought for those responsible for the bowl's reimbursement of political donations made by the event's employees to favored candidates.
"In the wake of allegations of financial and political improprieties at the Fiesta Bowl, subcommittee members have asked bowl representatives to provide details for how they will oversee and manage the bowls in the future, including specific business plans," the NCAA said in its release.
The 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 Woods 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.
The report drew immediate sharp criticism from BCS executive director Bill Hancock, who formed the task force to investigate whether the Fiesta Bowl deserved to keep its status.
The seven-member BCS panel is to meet with Fiesta Bowl officials privately in Chicago on Saturday.
The panel will file a report to be reviewed by conference commissioners and the BCS' presidential oversight committee, said Penn State President Graham Spanier, the panel's chairman. The oversight committee would make "any final determinations," Spanier said.
"We do not expect to have this drawn out very long," Spanier said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's a lot at stake for everyone. It's in everyone's interest to move this discussion along quickly."
But, two days after Spanier's comments, the NCAA issued its news release indicating it had a longer timetable.
Nick Carparelli, senior associate commissioner of the Big East Conference, chairs the NCAA Football Issues Committee, of which the licensing subcommittee is a part.
"We are delaying our overall licensing review and decision of the Fiesta Bowl and Insight Bowl," he said, "until we can discuss these details with bowl officials and fully examine all appropriate information."
The NCAA noted in its release that "bowl sponsoring agencies must meet the NCAA's licensing criteria each year of the four-year license to conduct the bowl game in future years. Should a sponsoring agency not meet any of the criteria, it can lose its bowl license. The subcommittee has the ultimate authority to make licensing decisions in the best interest of intercollegiate athletics."
Earlier this month, Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said he was encouraged by the Fiesta Bowl's response to its troubles. The Big 12 has a contractual agreement to send its team to the Fiesta Bowl if that team is not playing for the national championship.
AP Sports Writer Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., contributed to this report.