The Fiesta Bowl fired president and CEO John Junker after a scathing internal report released Tuesday found “an apparent scheme” to reimburse employees for political contributions and “an apparent conspiracy” to cover it up.
The reimbursements, listed as at least $46,539, appear to violate state and federal campaign finance laws. The Arizona attorney general’s office is conducting a probe of the matter.
The BCS reacted swiftly, saying it would undertake an investigation of its own to “consider whether the Fiesta Bowl should remain a BCS bowl game or other appropriate sanctions.”
The Fiesta board of directors voted unanimously to fire Junker “for his improper and inappropriate activities documented” in the report.
Junker, in his ubiquitous bright yellow Fiesta Bowl sports jacket, had been the face of the event for three decades, leading it from an upstart event to one of the BCS giants. With an annual salary of about $600,000, he had been on paid administrative lead since Feb. 4 after, the board said, he failed to comply with two written directives to cooperate with the investigation.
The board said the probe also uncovered “excessive compensation, nonbusiness and inappropriate expenditures and inappropriate gifts.”
The 276-page report of an investigation that conducted by Fiesta Bowl board members and a retired Arizona state Supreme Court justice, was published on the bowl’s Web site fiestabowl.org.
The investigators said it found the “apparent scheme” to reimburse at least $46,539 for employees’ political contributions.
The probe also found “an apparent conspiracy to conceal the reimbursement scheme from the bowl’s Board of Directors and state officials,” according to the news release accompanying the report.
The BCS issued a statement from executive director Bill Hancock and Penn State University President Graham Spanier, chair of the presidential oversight committee.
“We are deeply disappointed and troubled to learn of these findings related to the Fiesta Bowl,” the BCS said. “Unprofessional, unethical or improper behavior is unacceptable. There is no place for such activities in higher education or in collegiate sports. It is expected that all parties contracted with the BCS will live up to the highest standards. We do not wish to be associated with entities that believe otherwise. “
BCS leaders said they will appoint a task force to evaluate the bowl’s findings and its recommendations. They have also “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.”
And if the bowl remains a part of the BCS, its handling of this matter will be closely monitored going forward.
Bowl officials said the initial, brief investigation of the reimbursements allegations was “flawed.” That probe found no evidence of any such wrongdoing.
Chairman Duane Wood said the board members “are extremely disappointed and angered by the findings.”
“While the Special Committee Final Report speaks for itself,” Wood said in a statement released with the report, “I must say that the actions undertaken and orchestrated by John Junker and others are shocking and completely unacceptable.
“Their actions, unfortunately, have tainted the stellar reputation that the Fiesta Bowl has worked so hard to maintain for more than 40 years. The Fiesta Bowl, however, is greater than a few individuals; it is the product of thousands of dedicated volunteers and exemplary employees who work tirelessly and care so deeply about the Fiesta Bowl and all it does for the state of Arizona.”
Retired state Supreme Court justice Ruth McGregor, one of the three-member investigative panel, said the trio was given full access to everything related to the probe without any resistance from the board.
“We are confident that our report is thorough and accurate,” she said. “Although the findings are deeply disturbing, I am gratified that the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors is moving forward with affirmative and concrete steps to address its problems.”
The board announced a series of steps to reform its operations and operate transparently to prevent any repeat of such problems.
The bowl has three years left on its four-year contract BCS contract. That could give it enough time to clean up its problems in the face of a possible challenge from the Cotton Bowl, which long has coveted a return to elite bowl status and now has a big, new stadium to bolster its case.