Friday, April 1, 2011

The new poster boy for college athletics: John Junker; All bowls should be investigated; Answering a few questions

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 CafĂ©. 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.


Anonymous said...

So this is the bowl system that it is so important to preserve. Now I see why we can't have a college playoff system!

Gunnar said...

I believe Emmert is being paid between $1.7-1.8Million/year by the NCAA. He had been paid about $900k/year at the University of Washington + President's mansion, etc.

Anonymous said...

Always enjoy your blog, John.

And UK fans - remember, Kentucky is the only school on probabtion in each decade for the past 70 years. Shawn Kemp, Rex Chapman, Chris Mills; all names synonymous with your cheating background.

MarkS said...

EXCELLENT writing and insight as always, John! I can't believe more people in the sports media aren't writing about how the Butlers and VCUs of college football would never even get a sniff of a BCS bowl, let alone a national championship. Schools like Butler and VCU in college football would have to go 12-0 or close to it for several years just to be ranked high enough in the pre-season Top 25 to even be able to make a run at a title. And then if they go even 11-1 they'll probably end up playing in a December 28th bowl game, while an 8-4 SEC team will play in the Outback Bowl on New Years Day like they always seem to do. Seriously, how much is enough for these losers at the NCAA and the BCS? With all the power, money, and privelege these scumbags get they STILL feel the need to put their finger on the scale every chance they get. And I saw that interview with Mark Emmert...what a sanctimonius slimeball that guy is. I would love to see Watergate style Congressional hearings and class action lawsuits for Emmert, the NCAA, the BCS, the whole lot of them...

Anonymous said...

The trouble with voiding the Fiesta Bowl is that it gives the NCAA a moral pretext for putting a BCS game up for bid. Which is what they're itching to do, of course.

And wasn't the Fiesta Bowl the first national title game in the current BCS setup? Hmmmm. Something tells me the NCAA is not unfamiliar with Junker's remunerative powers.

Anonymous said...

Conducting business in a strip club? I guess this makes Junker a Wilbonian.

Jason Connor said...

One wonders if the NCAA fears Junker squealing though. Surely he gave some of his kickbacks to the good men on the NCAA payroll.

Gordon said...

I guess I just don't share everyones outrage. You all act as if this is somehow a surprise. We ARE talking about the BCS and the NCAA right?

With billions of dollars in play and a two groups of men who define the word narcarstic I'b be surprised if "Junkergate" DIDN'T happen. It wasn't a matter of the Fiesta bowl getting caught its a matter of the other bowls NOT getting caught ...... YET! And it would surprise me not at all if the criminals who run "March Madness" were not just as guilty and perhaps culpable.Both are college athletics answer to the Gambino and Luchase crime families.

It's a dirty business and has been for a long time. The NCAA and BCS live by their perverse money driven rules and justice system.

It would be fitting if the tax exempt status is revoked but I'm not holding my breath. Every politician in the Bowl states probably is getting a cut.

Bill Hancock can spin this anyway he wants but I'm not sure even he believes what he says.

Chuck B '92 said...

I agree with those that said that nothing will probably happen from the NCAA, the IRS or Congress - the three bodies that could do something about this - but what's truly sad is that the actions of this pig offers such a great opportunity for Emmert and the NCAA to even perform a tiny bit of incremental reform to the shady finances of the bowl system, and they almost certainly won't take advantage of that.

Like you said, dropping the Fiesta Bowl from BCS sanctioning is a great step, but you didn't mention the best part: that it offers a powerful message to all the bowls: shape up your finances and be on the up-and-up, or else face consequences. The other bowls that could step up to the plate in the rotation - the Sun Bowl? Alamo Bowl? - could have to be audited in order to deserve the "honor" of BCS membership. It would expose the BCS to that great cleanser - competition.

It would require a bold NCAA leadership to make happen. Will Emmert be bold? History dictates otherwise - and like others, I'm not holding my breath - but there still is a chance that Emmert will do the right thing. Let's hope so.

Anonymous said...

Your major college champs, Auburn and UConn. Congratulations, NCAA.

Pending the latest UConn investigation, we could have both flagship sports scented with the stink of corruption. And the likelihood that nothing will be done about either.