BCS takes small step in right direction with Fiesta punishment

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To the surprise of almost no one, the Fiesta Bowl will remain a BCS game. As penance for its sins (illegal campaign donations, lavish expenses and inappropriate reimbursements, etc.), a task force headed by Penn State President Graham Spanier decreed that the troubled bowl should pay a $1 million fine, payable to local youth charities. BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said that the task force came up with a dollar figure that "reflected the severity of the allegations in the report."

Indeed, $1 million is not a small chunk of dough by anyone's standard, but nor will it be hitting bowl organizers in their guts. For perspective, note that the Arizona game collected nearly three times that much from UConn for unsold tickets to last year's game. The Fiesta Bowl will be able to incur the tab, and in fact, according to the task force's report released Wednesday, it was apparently supposed to be doing so all along. An excerpt from page 13 tell us: "the Bowl's articles of incorporation state that '[a]ll funds not paid to the participating colleges shall be used by the corporation for educational and charitable purposes.'"

As opposed to before, when some of those funds were going toward strippers and golf memberships.

But while many will scoff at Wednesday's sanctions as a slap on the wrist, those hoping for full-on blood -- for the BCS to kick out all the Tostitos -- wanted more than just punitive damage. They wanted change for change's sake. In reality, the Fiesta Bowl's miscreants have already paid a stiff price. Numerous execs (most notably CEO John Junker) and board members have already been dismissed, some may still be criminally prosecuted, and the game's reputation has been irreparably damaged. The bowl has made massive overhauls to its governance structure. The only further effect of kicking the bowl out of the BCS would have been to cost the Phoenix area a huge blow to its economy, and the people of Phoenix weren't the wrongdoers here.

The reason the $1 million fine won't be seen as harsh enough punishment is the same reason the Fiesta Bowl scandal angered so many people in the first place: They don't like the BCS, and they believe greed is the central force keeping it together. Announcements like Wednesday's come off as just another example of the good ol' boy network protecting one of its own.

To that end, the most encouraging tidbit to come out of the task force's 15-page report Wednesday wasn't the fine itself, or any of other six housekeeping sanctions levied at the Fiesta Bowl. In fact, it did not even mention the Fiesta Bowl. It said this:

"The Task Force recommends that the BCS Group retain an independent expert with a background in management of nonprofit organizations to develop standards for responsible bowl governance. Following the dissemination of such standards, each bowl associated with the BCS will be required to certify annually to the Executive Director of the BCS that it is conducting its business in accordance with the standards."

What's this? Persons associated with the BCS are actually acknowledging that there may be a better way of conducting business than that which they currently employ? They'll actually allow someone to come in and examine the other three games' governance before the discovery of a massive fraud scandal?

Ideally, the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls would all submit to the same scrupulous, independent and public financial audit the Fiesta Bowl just undertook, for consistency's sake. But Hancock continues to reiterate that won't happen because, "We [have] no reason to suspect there's any other kind of issue with the [other] bowls," and, "It's unfair to paint innocent people with the same brush."

Fair enough. But it's not unreasonable for the public to know how the four major bowls -- to which millions of fans watch and attend -- conduct their business. They're sick of reading about four-day cruise junkets for athletic directors and unreasonable ticket guarantees that take athletic departments to the cleaners. A Minneapolis law firm had to come in and conduct oversight of the Fiesta Bowl in large part because the BCS exercises almost no oversight of its own.

The Fiesta Bowl will live on to host another game (and at least two more after that), but the aftermath of its scandal will live on. As part of its sanctions, the bowl must go before the BCS Group annually to ensure it's following through on the reforms it has promised. The rest of us would like to see more reform from the bowl business in general.