Through the years I have written often about those who SHOULD define what college sports is all about: the kids who play at Army and Navy; stories like those of Butler and VCU; coaches like Dean Smith, Joe Paterno and Mike Krzyzewski.
Of course we all know that, in the end, college athletics isn’t about people like that. It’s really about guys like Jim Tressel and Cecil Newton and the fabulous E. Gordon—“Jim please don’t fire me,”—Gee. It is about new NCAA President Mark Emmert who expresses concern for the ‘student-athletes,’ but won’t talk about how much he’s being paid.
I could go on and on.
But now we have a new poster boy for college athletics, a man who absolutely defines what college athletics is truly all about. His name is John Junker and, for most of 30 years, he ran The Fiesta Bowl. He was the absolute model of a modern bowl-game blowhard, only no one knew that he was also a crook. Now, a detailed report on The Fiesta Bowl’s finances has revealed that Junker used money from the bowl’s budget—much of it ill-gotten to begin with it should be remembered—to make contributions that were almost certainly illegal to politicians who had done him favors; to finance his 50th birthday party (for more than$33,000); to travel far and wide on boondoggles and to pay for his membership in at least four expensive golf clubs.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. After Junker denied all the charges when they were initially made by The Arizona Republic in 2009, he had a buddy of his conduct a fraudulent investigation that apparently lasted about 15 minutes in which the few witnesses spoken to were apparently coached on their answers. Junker’s pal concluded there was no credibility to the charges, accepted a check for about $20,000 and rode off into the sunset. The guy clearly has a future working for the NCAA down the road.
Wait, we’re still not at the punch line. One of the many items Junker charged to the bowl was for a trip to a strip club. Apparently he and his PR guy and his security honcho made a trip to a Phoenix strip club one night, ran up a tab of more than $1,200 and charged it to the bowl. If nothing else this is absolute proof that Junker thought he was completely untouchable, that he could get away with ANYTHING.
Wait, it gets better.
When the real investigation into the bowl’s finances took place, Junker was asked about the strip club tab. This is what he said, according to the report: “We are in the business where big, strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments. It was important for us to visit, and we certainly conducted business.”
Go back and read that again. Not since former DC-Mayor Marion Barry famously said, “The bitch set me up,” when he got caught in a police cocaine sting operation, have more extraordinary words been uttered.
Junker actually told investigators that as part of his job as a glad-handing phony, he needed to ‘conduct business,’ in a strip club. Jeez, why didn’t I think of that? “You know, as a reporter I have to deal with big strong athletes…”
The old definition of the Hebrew word ‘chutzpah,’ was the guy who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. John Junker may have just topped that.
Of course at this point Junker is just the sideshow. He’s been fired—ya think?—and will spend the rest of his life being a punch line. Now the question is this: will ANYONE do anything about this?
Oh, the hand-wringing is already well underway. My friend Bill Hancock, the BCS administrator, is doing his Inspector Renaud imitation: he’s shocked, SHOCKED to learn there were strip clubs in Phoenix. Emmert, who has yet to be caught in an actual truth since becoming NCAA President, thinks it really is bad that all this has gone on.
Okay boys, what next?
It could be that Hancock and The BCS might feel the need to remove The Fiesta Bowl from the BCS rotation for a little while if only to prove that they aren’t actually collecting on their winnings as they leave Rick’s Café. Jerry Jones is standing by ready to provide his palace and the Cotton Bowl as a BCS venue so there’s an easy fallback. Then, in a couple of years, if The Fiesta Bowl people make nice, they’re put back in the rotation and the BCS generously announces it is adding a bowl so that the third place teams in the Big Ten and The SEC can be added to the gravy train. TCU and Boise State need not apply for either of the extra two bids.
Of course if Emmert actually wanted to something he could: take away The Fiesta Bowl’s sanction for at least two years. Please spare me the speeches about the charities that benefit from the bowl game. It is pretty clear that the only ones really benefiting from this bowl were guys like Junker and his political cronies and guys like the associate commissioner of the SEC who got to play a round of golf with Jack Nicklaus. Spare me the tears about all the volunteers. They’ll find another way—perhaps even a meaningful way—to volunteer their time for a couple of years.
How much you want to bet Emmert uses the, ‘all these other wonderful people shouldn’t suffer because of the mistakes of a handful of people,’ dodge?
Here’s what should really happen: The IRS should immediately begin an investigation of every single bowl game. They’re all 501C3, tax-exempt entities, most with executive directors who make in the same ballpark as the 600K Junker was drawing—that’s not counting the money he was using for strip club expenses et al. I wonder how all those bowls with their various junkets for TV partners and conference commissioners and athletic directors would hold up under such scrutiny. Maybe the IRS will conclude that these bowls should be stripped (no pun intended) of their 501C3 status. Now THAT would change college football and college athletics and bring about a playoff lickety-split because then the self-righteous, pandering presidents would HAVE to find a way to make up for not being able to grab what they’re grabbing from the BCS right now.
I’ve always said that a playoff didn’t have to mean any change at all in the current bowl system. You could play four quarterfinals at bowl sites; two semifinals at bowl sites and the championship game at a bowl site. The remaining 27 bowls would continue as is, inviting all of America’s deserving 6-6 teams.
Now perhaps that position should be reconsidered. We all know the bowls rip off the schools anyway by forcing them to buy thousands of tickets they can’t sell so they (the bowls) can stay healthy and—more important—wealthy. Maybe now is the time to blow the whole thing up and start from scratch.
John Junker’s firing should be the equivalent of The Watergate break-in. It should only be the beginning. Somewhere there is a Deep Throat out there who is going to tell Bob Woodward, “everyone is involved.”
Because everyone is involved.
Oh, and one last word for John Junker: You should have used Marion Barry’s line. It was far more believable.
Some notes to posters: Memphis fan: Your question IS legitimate. To this day I have no idea why Duke wasn’t penalized for the Corey Maggette incident…To the questioner on why TruTV got games but not CBS College, I think it is two reasons: TruTV is available on most basic systems and, yes, Turner wanted them involved as part of the deal—remember, they are paying MORE to the NCAA than CBS.
To you Kentucky fans: First, thank-you for writing. If you didn’t I’d be worried I was losing my touch. Second, to the guy who went on about my ‘not being objective.’ Congratulations—you got one thing right. But please show me where and when I have ever claimed to be objective on any subject. And to the guy who thinks me self-righteous and not funny (come on, not funny?) why the hell are you reading? I’m sure you can find a copy of Cats Pause somewhere that you can curl up with.