Tempe Deserves a Refund from Fiesta Bowl

By: Ron Pies

In a recent editorial the Arizona Republic stated:

“Insult is a powerful motivator. So powerful, in fact, it turned metro Phoenix into a Mecca of college football.

It all began in the 1960s, when the football establishment routinely snubbed Arizona State University as a potential opponent in postseason bowl play.

People here got angry and took the matter to hand. They built their own bowl game, invited ASU to the first three and the Sun Devils won all three.

Born of such small ambitions, the Fiesta Bowl has evolved through four decades into one of the mighty classics, a regular bolt of economic lightning. Over the last five years, the game has generated more than $1 billion in commerce for the Valley of the Sun.

By the late 1990s, the Fiesta Bowl had grown so prestigious it was a logical partner for the Bowl Championship Series, then forming to stage college football’s national championship. As a member of that elite rotation for title games, metro Phoenix enjoyed a combined $235 million in economic activity this year from its two BCS bowl games and $355 million total when adding the third ring of the Valley’s college football extravaganza – the Insight Bowl.

We provide this background to remind readers that we well recognize the Fiesta Bowl and BCS have been tremendous boons to this Valley. Every large success, however, must at some point confront the problems of staggering growth, and today the Fiesta Bowl and BCS are looking squarely at theirs.”

Republic reporter Craig Harris has led the coverage on much of these developments, bringing into sharp focus the influence peddling and unrestrained spending of Fiesta Bowl management. His stories forced that organization to launch a sweeping internal investigation that led to significant reforms and new management.

Today the BCS faces similar scrutiny after years of raising college football’s TV exposure and postseason revenues to new heights. Its original structure has not adapted quickly enough to the changing football universe. Five of its conferences that don’t get automatic bowl births feel slighted and shut out.

In a follow-up to his Fiesta Bowl investigation, Harris found that 41 percent of schools participating in BCS bowls end up losing money because their share of the payout isn’t enough to cover expenses. It is up to member conferences to distribute bowl earnings to its schools, but too often they are not adequately reimbursing the team that bore the actual expense of playing in a bowl game.

Harris further found that BCS bowls spend heavily on gifts to influence college football’s decision-makers; that bowl executives are paid well above the national norm for non-profit CEOs; and that bowl games are getting government subsidies despite maintaining strong reserves.

If the BCS is going to address these issues, the time is ripe.

An NCAA task force is examining how the bowls are managed and will report its findings later this month. In April, BCS officials will meet in Miami to begin negotiating future contracts.

Here are changes the BCS should consider:

– Find ways to be more inclusive of colleges and conferences beyond the BCS orbit. The shake-up of major college conferences may solve some of that. But the BCS was created to match the best teams in the biggest bowls. That being its lodestar, the BCS should explore better ways to open its bowls to the emerging football powers knocking at the door.

–  Use its influence to compel member conferences to spread the wealth more fairly among their colleges and universities so that bowl participants are made whole for travel and other related costs. A tiered system of payout would fix this.

– Work to make sure salaries of bowl officials fall within a reasonable range of not-for-profit organizations. Granted, the role of bowl games is unique in the not-for-profit world, and the talent pool for top executives is narrow with salaries that are typically higher than most non-profits. Nonetheless, those salaries should not be exorbitant.

– Re-examine public subsidies. Does it make sense for bowls to go to government for funding when public dollars are increasingly scarce? If the answer is yes, then the need must be clearly demonstrated.

The BCS can legitimately boast it has done much to raise the prominence of college football, but its detractors are multiplying and its future less certain.

With so many eyes trained on the bowl system at this moment, it’s a good time to take seriously the criticisms and address them.

Done right, the BCS will continue to serve college football for many years to come.

A recent investigative report by Craig Harris and the Arizona Republic uncovered a list of abuses that eventually led to the termination of the head of the Fiesta Bowl.  Amongst those abuses was exorbitant salaries, the use of Bowl funds for personal uses,  elaborate gifts  for officials.   All of this was possible with the waiver of city and state taxes and subsidies from valley cities that amounted ino several million dollars.  All this was done at a time when revenues were so low that budgets were cut and employees laid off.  At the same time, the Fiesta Bowl shows a very healthy multi million dollar balance in their treasury.

I fully support the Fiesta Bowl and watched as the founders built a premier college football bowl and generated millions for the economy.  Why then was is it necessary for our city to sacrifice needed revenues when the bowl is so healthy that it can afford the extravagances listed in the report.

Isn’t it time for a refund?

History of Tempe High Schools Football

:By:  Tempe Historical Museum

Tempe High School  The Buffaloes

Buffalos 1925

Soon after Tempe High School was formed in 1908, its athletic program included baseball, basketball, and other sports. But the students’ unofficial football team was not recognized or supported by the school board. At the time, there were only a few schools in Arizona that could field teams, so Tempe High played a short schedule each fall with games against Phoenix Indian School, Tempe Normal School, the University of Arizona, and Phoenix Union High School. In 1924 the district finally approved football as an authorized school sport, and the first regular varsity team was formed. That year the Buffaloes had a 3-4 season under coach Lewis S. Neeb.

Tempe High had no field of its own. The team played its home games at Arizona State College’s stadium. Even after a new Tempe High School campus was built at Mill and Broadway in 1953, the Buffaloes continued to play at ASU’s Goodwin Stadium. Home games were not actually played at the high school until 1969, when lights were added to the field.

The Buffaloes have won three state championship titles since Tempe varsity football began in 1924. The first came in 1956, when Tempe High went undefeated with a 10-0 record under coach John Zucco. Although there was no playoff system then, the team was declared the state champion in Class B by Phoenix sportswriters. Between 1954 and 1957, Coach Zucco led the Buffaloes to a 32-6-1 record that included an 18-game winning streak. The Buffaloes’ second championship came in 1989, when they shared the 4A title with Agua Fria. In the final playoff game in Sun Devil Stadium, which was attended by more than 11,000 fans, the Buffaloes and the Owls fought to a 10-10 draw. The tie game capped a 13-1-1 season under second-year coach Jim Murphy. The Buffaloes also won the 4A state championship in 1996, beating Glendale Ironwood 20-17 in an overtime thriller, won by a touchdown pass from Todd Mortensen to Justin Taplin. This victory capped a perfect 14-0 season, led by Tim McBurney.

McClintock High School

The Chargers

McClintock High School opened its doors in early 1965 and began playing varsity football that fall. They fielded a winning team in their first season. Their 7-2 record that year earned them an “independent” state championship title, since the school had not yet been assigned to a state division. McClintock also did not have its own stadium at first. Like Tempe High, the team played its home games at Goodwin Stadium until its own lighted stadium was completed.

Coach Karl Kiefer guided the Chargers from their first year in 1965 through the 1989 season. Under his leadership, McClintock became known as a football powerhouse. Year after year, the Chargers proved to be one of the best high school teams in Arizona, with only one losing season and three state championships. For the students and fans, the most important game was always the annual match between McClintock and Tempe High. Later, the Chargers’ main rivals became Mountain View and Westwood high schools in Mesa.

The Chargers’ first state title came in 1977, when the team went undefeated and captured the championship with a 14-9 playoff victory over Phoenix’s Washington High. Three years later, the Chargers posted a 12-2 record and won their second title by defeating Phoenix’s Trevor Browne High School in the 1980 championship game. Their third state title in 1989 capped a 13-2 season that ended with a 42-14 playoff victory over Mesa’s Westwood High.

In recent years, 13 Chargers have gone on to play professional football. Under current Coach Mike Gibbons, a McClintock grad himself, the Chargers qualified for the state playoffs from 2003 to 2008.

Marcos de Niza High School

The Padres

Tempe’s third high school, Marcos de Niza, opened in the fall of 1971 and began playing varsity football in 1972. The Padres played their home games on the Tempe and McClintock fields until their own stadium was finished in the middle of the 1973 season. In just their second year, coach Ron Cosner led the Padres to the Skyline Division championship and a second-place rating in the Arizona Republic’s end-of-season poll. The Padres’ only loss that year was when they were defeated by Camelback in the state playoff semifinals.

The Padres made it to the regional championships in 1997 and 2003 and were the Pima Region champs in the 2007 and 2008 seasons under Head Coach Roy Lopez.

Corona del Sol High School

The Aztecs

Corona del Sol High School opened in 1977, and played its first varsity season in the fall of 1978. In 1980, under coach Larry Hughes, the Aztecs compiled a 12-1 record and won the AA state championship. Since then, the Aztecs have reached the state semifinals twice – in 1989 and 1991 – under coach Gary Venturo.

Mountain Pointe High School

The Pride

In 1992, Mountain Pointe High School opened and began playing varsity football. Coach Karl Kiefer left McClintock, where he had an established athletic program with a history of winning teams, to be the first coach at the new school. After just a few seasons, the Mountain Pointe Pride has already proven to be one of the strongest teams in the state. The Mountain Pointe Pride was a state semi-finalist in 1995 and was regional champion in the 1992, 1994, 1995 and 2000 seasons. The Pride is currently under the leadership of Head Coach Phil Abbadessa.

Desert Vista High School

The Thunder

The sixth high school in the district, Desert Vista, opened in the fall of 1996. For the first year, only freshman and sophomores were enrolled. The school’s first varsity football team formed in 1997, and for the first year was made up of juniors and sophomores. Desert Vista was the Class 5A state championship the very next year under Coach Jim Rattay. Under Head Coach Dan Hinds, the Thunder have won 3 regional championships in 2001, 2003 and 2006. The team was the state runner-up in the 2007 season.

Tempe School Rivalries

Until 1965, there was only one high school in Tempe. Up to that time, the Buffaloes had the undivided loyalty of the town’s residents. Tempe High’s games were big social events for the whole community. This changed when McClintock began playing varsity football. The two schools became bitter rivals as each tried to prove that they had the best team in Tempe. In their first contest, in 1966, the Chargers defeated the Buffaloes by a score of 3-2. From that point on, McClintock held the upper hand, winning 21 of the 28 games they played through 1993. These games were often played in ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium, and drew huge crowds. In 1971, 15,000 fans saw the Buffaloes defeat the Chargers 19-14. In 1972, more than 10,000 people saw Tempe win a 21-3 victory. The 1989 game, which Tempe narrowly won, 25-24, is considered by some local sportswriters to have been the best high school game of the 1980s. That year the two teams went on to win the 4A and 5A state titles. The two teams no longer play each other, since they now play in different divisions.Mayor Dale Shumway wanted to recognize the winner of the annual Tempe-McClintock game as the city “champion.” The City Trophy was first awarded in 1971. In 1974, the championship became a three-way contest between Tempe, McClintock, and Marcos de Niza. The opening of the new Corona del Sol High School added yet another team to the competition. It was no longer a simple match between two schools. The teams played in different divisions against different schools. It soon became more difficult to pick a city-wide winner, so 1983 was the last year that the trophy was awarded.

During the years that the trophy was awarded, Tempe won it once, Marcos de Niza won it twice, and McClintock won it ten times. The trophy used to travel to the winning school each year. Now it is displayed at McClintock High School.

As more people have moved to Tempe and surrounding communities, the Tempe Union High School District has continued to open new schools. And the presence of more local teams in the city has diluted the rivalries that once characterized Tempe football.

The Changing World of High School Football

For many years, the Tempe Buffaloes’ Friday night games were big events for everybody in Tempe. Today, with five high schools in the district, a team’s fans are more likely to be parents, friends, alumni, and people who live in the neighborhood of the school. But football continues to be an important part of student life, as it always has been.There have been some important changes in high school athletics in recent years. Now many of the best athletes tend to specialize in one sport rather than playing a different sport for every season. Football training is now more of a year-round activity, with weight training, summer camps, clinics, and off-season tournaments. Also, coaching at the high school level has become more professionalized, and players receive much better training advice and care. With professional trainers on staff and state-of-the-art facilities, the field of sports medicine has improved the treatment of athletic injuries. The result: high school athletes, especially football players, are now bigger, stronger, and faster than they once were.

Tempe Buffalos 1925