Dan Beebe confident Fiesta will fix itself

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.

"I imagine the task force is going to see what I see," Beebe said.

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. Hancock acknowledged to The Arizona Republic that he has attended, saying he paid for his own meals in recent years and considered the gathering a valuable opportunity to do business with so many people in one setting.

The bowl's internal report did not criticize the Fiesta Frolic and noted it seemed to have some benefit.

According to the report, every athletic director and head football coach in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision is invited.

The report noted the event recently was renamed. It's now called the Valley of the Sun Experience & Fiesta Bowl Seminars. Vice president of marketing Jay Fields, who resigned last week, was quoted as saying some attendees had suggested changing the name to make it appear to not be such a "boondoggle," according to the report.

The Fiesta Bowl pays for two days of golfing, lodging and two dinners. The bowl picked up expenses for spouses and offered spa certificates, according to the report.

The event was cited in BCS critic Playoff PAC's complaint to the IRS challenging the Fiesta Bowl's nonprofit status. In its report, the Fiesta Bowl confirmed that the $1.3 million price tag to the Fiesta Bowl for the Frolic from 2005 to 2008 cited by Playoff PAC was accurate.

The gathering had been set this year for May 4-6 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

In letters to the 330 invitees, board chairman Duane Woods said it is important for him and other Fiesta Bowl officials to focus on the serious work of revamping their structure and that hiring new leadership must take priority over staging the event, which he indicated would be back in 2012.

"Bill Hancock has assured us that we will have an opportunity to meet with all conference commissioners at the upcoming BCS meetings in April," Woods wrote, "to share what we have learned from this difficult process and answer any questions."