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Fiesta Bowl scandal full of excess, greed

As birthday bashes go, it must have been one sweet affair. John Junker was turning 50, and no better way to celebrate than gathering up some buddies and heading to Pebble Beach for a few days of golf and toasts.

The bill was at least $33,000, but no one seemed to care. The Fiesta Bowl would pick up the tab, just as it always did.

Golf with Jack Nicklaus in Florida? Why not, if you can put it on the credit card and get the $110,000 reimbursed, no questions asked.

And then there was the night at the strip club -- $1,200, all in the name of college athletics.

It was good to be one of Junker's friends. It was good to be a Junker employee.

It was even better to be Junker himself. The longtime president of the Fiesta Bowl operated it like a private ATM machine, rewarding friends, family and any politician who asked.

Need any more reasons to trash the BCS? Just read the 283-page investigative report that led the Fiesta Bowl's board Tuesday to take away Junker's ATM card. He was unceremoniously booted out the door, $600,000 salary and all.

The good ol' boys in Arizona turned on one of their own, if only because they had no other choice. The embarrassing excesses were documented throughout the report, all the way down to a $75 bouquet of flowers Junker sent to the director of honors admission at the University of Texas, where his daughter was accepted, at Fiesta Bowl expense.

The people running the BCS reacted with righteous indignation, threatening to kick the Fiesta Bowl out of their little cartel for being caught living large on bowl money. The same people who enjoyed lavish accommodations, fine dining and the best tickets to the BCS title game in Arizona barely two months ago didn't take long to pass judgment on the man who provided it all.

Organizers of the other BCS games, meanwhile, have to be getting nervous.

"This is not isolated conduct," said Matthew Sanderson, co-founder of Playoff PAC, a group formed specifically to try to bust the BCS. "A lot of the most troubling behavior was not revealed until the books were revealed at the Fiesta Bowl."

Sanderson's organization followed up on revelations by The Arizona Republic about a campaign donation kickback scheme at the Fiesta Bowl by filing complaints with the Arizona secretary of state's office and the Internal Revenue Service about possible illegal use of charitable funds by the ostensibly nonprofit Fiesta Bowl.

Sanderson, a campaign finance attorney in Washington, D.C., and a graduate of the University of Utah, admits he helped found Playoff PAC because his school was passed over by BCS bowls. But the more he studies financial documents from the four BCS bowls, the more the cause has evolved.

What was clear is that almost everyone with a connection to Junker was on board for a long ride on the gravy train. He handed out gold coins to workers, sent a former board member and his wife on a first-class, all-expenses-paid trip to Ireland and paid for both the wedding and honeymoon of his assistant.

All on the Fiesta Bowl's dime, of course. One year Junker was reimbursed for an astonishing $770,865.858 in charges on his personal American Express card, and investigators said they couldn't figure out whether nearly half the $4.8 million he charged over 10 years was legitimate.

Until it all came crashing down, the personal fiefdom served both Junker and the Fiesta Bowl well. He got the bowl into the BCS, drew alumni of big-spending schools to spend hundreds of millions over the years in the Phoenix area, and made yellow sports jackets all the fashion in January.

Now it may be over for good. The Fiesta Bowl could be booted from its lucrative spot, replaced, perhaps, by the Cotton Bowl in Cowboys Stadium.

It's a shocking tale of greed, excess and entitlement in college sports. Almost enough to give the BCS and big-time college football a bad name.

As if that was possible.

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