The scandalous report released recently by the Fiesta Bowl set off an interesting set of dominoes: the firing of their CEO John Junker; the initially harsh rhetoric of BCS chairman (and University of Oklahoma alum) Bill Hancock, who later softened his tone; the questions swirling about the future of the BCS and the possibilty that the Fiesta could lose its spot; and the general odor of controversy emanating from college football as a whole.
Originally, I was going to tell you to not expect a thing to change with the Fiesta and its position within the BCS. Television contracts and lawyers being what they are, the Fiesta could fight tooth and nail in court to remain a part of the rotation until at least 2014.
However, the latest development in this sordid affair could be a game changer. Basically, the NCAA wants to have a little chat with the Fiesta Bowl officials to discuss their annual bowl certification license.
The NCAA has been the butt of more than a few jokes in the last year, stemming from its handling of football incidents from North Carolina to Ohio State, USC to the Oregon-Will Lyles allegations, and almost everything related to college basketball. You know the Association has heard the chatter, and with each incident, it looks more and more foolish.
I can’t for sure say that the NCAA is going to go nuclear – or get nuked. I do think it’s tired of being pushed around. What better way to swing public opinion back in your favor than to punish an organization reviled by most fans as everything that’s wrong with the sport?
I don’t pretend to know all the contract details, but my understanding is that any contract with the BCS is null and void if the Fiesta is stripped of its NCAA certification. NCAA committee hearings are not a place any administrator wants to be, and I think that in this case, still new president Mark Emmert will have no problem filing this small bit of paperwork, putting the Fiesta on a forced leave of absence for a year or two. Ever since he assumed control, he has preached on justice and the integrity of his organization.
If the Fiesta is de-certified, it could leave the door open for a Cotton Bowl stand-in gig. The BCS will still need a location to host the Big 12 champion for the remainder of the latest bowl cycle, and the Cotton could still honor its TV contract with Fox (giving it access to the BCS again). Since the Fiesta already hosted the championship game this cycle, there would be no argument from ESPN about losing that valuable asset.
I almost feel bad for Junker, though. Don’t get me wrong – I think what he did gave the Fiesta more than enough reason to show him the door. But you have to understand that he was the last of a dying breed of men who operated their organizations as their own personal property because they lived, breathed and worked to make the bowls what they are today.
In an earlier time before the Internet and social media, the head honchos of the major bowls operated as the face of their cities and bowl games to the various schools and conferences they were wooing. Without conference tie-ins, which didn’t become as common until the mid-1990s, bowl executives were constantly looking for an edge to outbid the others. Junker and his contemporaries were compensated for being the best. Junker and his peers also pioneered the first title sponsorships and mega-TV deals for their bowl properties, helping to usher in the modern era of college football.
Now, his most lasting contribution to the Fiesta might be its demise.