Listening the last few weeks to the tales of debauchery that appear to have become par for the course at the Fiesta Bowl and other college football exhibition games of its ilk, all those fond memories of the corporate scandals of the early 2000s came rushing back. There may not have been as many zeros at the end of the dollar figures, but the general sense of greed and excess was the same.
And if the lessons from the Age of Corporate Implosion hold true to form, the bowl game business may not survive.
As JJ pointed out, the Fiesta Bowl is living through its own Enron moment right now. The NCAA is threatening its certification. The BCS is asking the bowl for a good reason to let it remain a top-tier postseason game. Don’t be surprised if the federal government comes knocking soon, either.
While the Fiesta is being put through its paces by all the appropriate parties, the other bowls now have to prepare for a heightened level of scrutiny in the fallout. You can bet your bottom dollar that administrators and boards have already started taking a hard look at the expenses paid in the name of their games, as well as their executives’ compensation packages.
On the scale of possible outcomes here, igniting a meaningful discussion about the legitimacy of their tax-exempt status would have to fall in the “very bad” range for the bowls. Opportunistic congressmen will have a field day tossing around that political football. (Keep in mind that Playoff PAC, the political action committee formed to advocate for a playoff in college football, has already filed a complaint against the BCS with IRS.)
Of course, an even worse result would be a serious debate about the viability of bowls at all. Given the overall state of the public fisc at the moment, L’Affair Junker could not have come at a worse time for the bowl industry.
Whether or not you agree with its overall message, one point that Death to the BCS makes crystal clear is that the economics of the bowl system are grossly inefficient relative to a postseason tournament. John Junker’s case just reinforces the notion that schools – and, indirectly, the government – are footing the bill for guys like him to party year round and collect fat paychecks. Given all the money that could be made off of a playoff, paying to line bowl executives’ pockets makes for a hard sell.
There’s another possibility that, on its face, may seem more benign, but could turn out to be no less lethal.
Aside from countless shareholders discovering that billions of dollars in illusory paper profits had magically disappeared, the greatest gift the Enron-ites bestowed on Corporate America was a little piece of legislation known as Sarbanes-Oxley. In short, after deciding that publicly traded companies and auditing firms couldn’t be trusted to effectively govern themselves, Congress created new layers of costly compliance standards for them. And who’s to say how much corporations have spent since then to keep their names out of Wall Street Journal headlines.
If bowls are forced to enact their own versions of SOX, both formally and informally, that will mean more money spent on lawyers, auditors, accountants, consultants. Those whittle away your return pretty quickly. It will also mean a lot fewer of the finer things for the bowl execs, which could thin the ranks of carpetbaggers pushing to keep the bowls in place.
It’s death to the BCS by a thousand compliance cuts.