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No fiesta for the Fiesta Bowl

Officials scramble to keep BCS affiliation

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe says he is encouraged by the Fiesta Bowl’s response to an investigative report that led to the firing of its longtime president for alleged misuse of funds.

The Big 12 has a contractual agreement to send its champion to the Fiesta Bowl if that team is not playing for the national championship.

“I feel good about their commitment to do the right thing,” Beebe told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday. “There hasn’t been a reluctance or pushback (from Fiesta officials) at all.”

Beebe said he has been in contact with Fiesta Bowl officials often in recent weeks and they have asked for help and suggestions for how to reform the organization’s leadership structure to ensure similar mistakes won’t be made again.

“I don’t feel good about what happened,” Beebe said. “I’m saddened by what occurred.”

While he said he is optimistic about the Fiesta’s future, Beebe stressed it is still too early to determine whether his conference and the Bowl Championship Series will continue to do business with the Arizona game.

“Yes I am confident,” he said, “but I’m not there yet.”

The BCS issued a stern statement this week saying the Fiesta Bowl must prove it is worthy of remaining one of the four games that make up the system. BCS executive director Bill Hancock has said the BCS has the authority to revoke the Fiesta Bowl’s BCS status even though the event has three years remaining on its contract.

The Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl have been partners since the BCS was implemented in 1998.

“We certainly have the highest stake in this,” Beebe said.

The report that resulted in the firing of Fiesta Bowl CEO and President John Junker on Tuesday revealed lavish expenditures over the past 10 years.

The report’s most significant findings involved possible criminal misconduct under a system in which employees were strongly encouraged to make political donations to certain candidates. At least $46,539 in contributions then were reimbursed to the employees by the bowl, an apparent violation of state campaign finance law as well as IRS rules for non-profit corporations.

The Arizona attorney general’s office is investigating.

The BCS also has appointed a task force to look into the improprieties uncovered by the Fiesta Bowl’s internal probe.

Meanwhile, the Fiesta Bowl has canceled this year’s “Fiesta Frolic,” a gathering at a Phoenix-area resort that involved athletic directors and head football coaches, television executives and others with a strong business interest in major college football.

The event, dating to the bowl’s early days, provided free golf, a resort stay and sometimes spa treatments for those invited and their families.

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