Fiesta Bowl President/CEO John Junker wanted to pick Iowa for the Fiesta Bowl last January but said political reasons forced him to select Texas Christian ahead of the Hawkeyes.
“The challenge we faced, and I know Coach (Kirk Ferentz) understands it and (Athletics Director) Gary (Barta) understands it, is it really came to down to a situation … if you inspect the political aspects of the BCS lately, we thought it incumbent on us to make sure we made the best match-up of available teams possible,” Junker said. “That was feasible for us.
“Cincinnati was (ranked No.) 3, and they didn’t really work for us because their distance to the game would be tough to get fans here. But TCU being fourth in the country, we thought because of prevailing political winds and the fact they were fourth-rated, an unbeaten team, we thought was a selection that we had to make with first selection.”
Critics claim the Bowl Championship Series acts almost like a cartel designed to keep away non-automatic qualifying schools away from BCS bowls like the Fiesta. Among the five BCS bowl games, six conference championship automatically qualify. TCU hails from the Mountain West Conference, which is not an automatic-qualifying conference, but the school earned a BCS berth last year with an unbeaten record and high national ranking.
Last year the Sugar and Fiesta bowls lost conference-affiliated champions Alabama and Texas, respectively, to the BCS title game. The Sugar Bowl, which lost top-ranked Alabama and picked first, selected Florida as its replacement. The Fiesta picked TCU to replace Texas. The final three at-large spots, in order, went to the Orange Bowl (which picked Iowa), the Fiesta Bowl (which picked Boise State) and the Sugar Bowl (which picked Cincinnati). Of the final three only Cincinnati, as the Big East champion, was guaranteed a BCS bowl berth.
Junker said he hoped to pick Iowa with his second selection, but the Orange Bowl snagged Iowa first. Iowa beat ACC champion and automatic BCS qualifier Georgia Tech 24-14.
“We made the selection and had hopes that maybe things would turn out with next pick but somebody intervened in between us,” Junker said. “I give them credit. They have a great bowl game, and Iowa went had a terrific victory.
“It was tough to pass up the Hawkeyes. But we knew that our interest there was really in protecting our friendships with the university and the Big Ten. We at least were comfortable in knowing they’d be guaranteed a BCS game so we knew that before we made our decision, too. That was important to us.”
Junker said making selections is the most difficult part of his job.
“It nearly killed us to not have a shot to have Iowa,” he said. “I’ve been working here since 1980, and that’s still one of the criteria on my bulletin board to make sure we have the Hawkeyes in the game. It would be a real celebration. We have trillions of Iowa people in the metro, volunteers and directors and everybody else.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in this industry but hopefully long enough to get the Hawkeyes here.”