The new head of the scandal-tainted Fiesta Bowl says excesses at the top-tier bowl game are a thing of the past.
The bowl will no longer shower athletes and coaches at its game with lavish gifts, and bowl employees no longer can expect the same treatment, Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said in an interview Friday.
Shelton was hired to repair the bowl’s image after former President John Junker was fired in March for allowing excess spending, an apparent illegal system of political contributions and an effort to cover up the problems.
Shelton spoke to The Associated Press in his first in-depth interview since taking the job in June.
The scandal jeopardized the bowl’s NCAA license and its status as one of four bowls in the national college football championship rotation. But it has emerged with its role as host every four years apparently intact, although the NCAA placed it on probation for a year and the BCS fined it $1 million — to be given to charity.
Shelton said a new employee code of conduct has been enacted, new financial controls put in place and a fairer and more open way of distributing millions in charitable contributions from the nonprofit’s coffers put in place.
“I think some of the excesses of the past — we’re just not going to do that anymore,” Shelton said.
Shelton, 63, resigned from his post as president of the University of Arizona in June to take the Fiesta Bowl job. He had served on the presidential oversight committee for the Bowl Championship Series, the system that determines major college football’s national champion.
A 276-page report of an investigation conducted by Fiesta Bowl board members and a retired Arizona state Supreme Court justice detailed the “apparent scheme” to reimburse at least $46,539 for employees’ political contributions. The political contributions were first revealed by The Arizona Republic.
The probe released in March also found “an apparent conspiracy to conceal the reimbursement scheme from the bowl’s Board of Directors and state officials,” according to the report.
Junker was fired, and chief operating officer Natalie Wisneski, 47, resigned along with vice president of marketing Jay Fields.
Wisneski was indicted this week by a federal grand jury on charges of filing false income tax returns for the bowl game. She also faces federal campaign finance and conspiracy charges over allegations she solicited campaign contributions from bowl employees for federal, state and local political candidates and arranged for the bowl to repay them.
Federal and state investigations into Junker and others are ongoing.
Wisneski will make an initial appearance in federal court later this month. She did not return calls for comment after the indictment was announced.
The bowl has asked the politicians, including U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona, to return the contributions. Kyl and McCain instead gave the money to charity. The Fiesta Bowl also sent politicians accountings of freebies they received, such as game tickets, and asked them to justify the expenses while implying the Internal Revenue Service would be notified.
Those actions angered many politicians, prompting calls to Shelton. But he said the bowl’s board did it as part of its efforts to make things right.
Shelton said he knows he has a difficult job, mending fences, fixing years of moral lapses at the bowl and working to grow the franchise. But he also knows it will be difficult as the fallout from the Junker era continues.
“We will continue to take our lumps — as we deserve,” he said.