The Bowl Championship Series has a long history of sparking some of the most vicious arguments between college football fans during bowl season. It relies on a bizarre methodology that combines data from the AP Poll, the Coaches’ Poll and a computer algorithm to select the top two teams in the country to compete in the national championship. This system hardly leaves college football fans satisfied, since there are usually more than two teams with legitimate claims to play in the championship game.
While these year-to-year controversies might seem like part of the game for college football fans, the real problems lie slightly below the surface.
In 2007 the West Virginia Mountaineers were playing in the high-profile Fiesta Bowl against perennial powerhouse Oklahoma. Since West Virginia could not sell their full ticket allotment of 17,500, they needed the university, and thus the state, to step in and eat those losses. In all, the athletic department lost a little over $1 million, even though the Mountaineers beat the Sooners.
The ticket money, though, found its way to some pretty interesting places. Initially, it went to the Fiesta Bowl, which later that year paid the American Express bill of bowl CEO John Junker. Despite the fact that one of the charges on the bill was a $1271.75 trip to a gentlemen’s club called Bourbon Street, not one of the board members batted an eye.
Still think for-profit college sports are about the student-athletes?
When these indiscretions were unearthed, the public thought that it was just another CEO gone wild. Instead, it proved to be just the tip of the iceberg, as the lies and corruption proved to be a deep-rooted tradition in the Arizona desert.
Junker and other Fiesta Bowl officials had been making illegal political contributions in hopes of currying favor with various politicians since 2000. Their hope was to grease enough palms that they would become an untouchable economic force while being able to pay the teams that competed in their game exorbitant amounts of money.
Initially, the Fiesta Bowl ran an internal investigation, which was widely unquestioned by state officials. I wonder why? It took an investigation by Craig Harris of The Arizona Republic to bring to light many of the allegations that surrounded the Fiesta Bowl and its board members. In his findings, he found that Junker was only made a scapegoat to maintain the status quo. He saw the corruption on an even deeper level. It involved a plethora of coaches and athletic directors who were raking in the benefits from BCS bowls.
How is this different from the annual college basketball tournament, the largest single money-making event for the NCAA, you ask? The difference is in the details.
Rather than letting various independent corporations deal with March Madness’ money, the NCAA deals with the finances on its own. A small amount of the money generated will go to the NCAA, but the majority of it will go back to the schools that desperately need it. Unlike West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, a school wouldn’t have to come up with the rest of the money if it couldn’t sell its ticket allotment in the NCAA tournament; the NCAA picks up the tab and lets the schools relish in the moment rather than worrying about dollars and cents.
In the BCS system, the four bowls that comprise it negotiate a television contract, worth about $125 million, rather than letting the NCAA do it for them. Estimates show that if the bowl system — or, better yet, a bowl playoff system — were totally run by the NCAA, it would make over three times the amount the BCS system currently garners.
So why do the presidents still support the current BCS system? Well, it’s because they trust their coaches and athletic directors to give them honest feedback, which they have no intention of giving due to the benefits they receive from these bowls.
Up until 2008, the Fiesta Bowl put on what they called a “Fiesta Frolic.” It included athletic directors and coaches being put up in a 5-star hotel for three days with endless rounds of golf, drinks and other hospitality favors paid for by — you guessed it — the Fiesta Bowl. Despite this excess, bowl officials had the audacity to ask for a $300,000 government subsidy to make up for a budget shortfall. Combine that with the fact that no BCS bowls pay taxes, since they are registered as 501(c)(3) charities, and you have a breeding ground for top-down corruption.
Junker was fired, but his legacy remains in college football. Even though the entire Fiesta Bowl was wrought with corruption, it was not expelled from the BCS system. The $1 million fine that the Fiesta Bowl had to pay for its considerable indiscretions was a small price to pay for a decade of corruption. Until there is a grassroots effort by the presidents of large universities to put a stop to this corruption, the coaches and athletic directors will continue to soak up the lavish benefits bestowed upon them by the various BCS bowls.
Matt Emch is a sophomore in the College. Riding the Pine appears every Friday.