Former UA President Robert Shelton talks about his new role as executive director of the Fiesta Bowl.
Ted Simons: Former U of A president Robert Shelton is now officially on the job as are ever executive director of the Fiesta Bowl. Shelton takes over an organization that's looking to clear its image after scandals involving gifts to lawmakers and alleged abuses by previous bowl executives. Here now to talk about his new role is Robert Shelton. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Robert Shelton: Thanks. Always a pleasure to be with you.
Ted Simons: Last time we were talking education and you weren't wearing quite so loud a jacket.
Robert Shelton: You're right, I had a different color on, but at least people know what I'm standing for with this jacket.
Ted Simons: I think people still want to know, why did you take this job?
Robert Shelton: Oh, so many reasons. If I look back to my days growing up in Phoenix, I've always been keen on college athletics, college sports. The opportunity to get involved with a premier organization like the Fiesta Bowl. The economic impact, the philanthropic impact it has, and then I had a lot of contacts, have a lot of contacts in this arena. I served on the BCS presidential oversight committee, have worked closely with oh, people like Bill Friday who co-chaired the original night commission. So my interest in college athletics, not just for the sport but the impact on universities, for the fiscal questions we're dealing with, and for the opportunities for young people. So it all looked like a terrific opportunity that presented itself, and fortunately I was able to take it.
Ted Simons: I want to ask you, because we alluded to this in the past, we don't have time to get into all the troubles the Fiesta Bowl was fighting off and trying to deal with and was accused of doing here. What needs to change at the Fiesta Bowl?
Robert Shelton: Good question. First point I want to make is, a lot has already changed. There have been a number of personnel changes on the Fiesta Bowl staff. I want to give great credit to the leadership of the current board, in particular, Dwayne Woods. They've gone through and scrubbed everything, they now have extensive governance bylaws that I think will be not tell for other bowl organizations. So first point is a lot has already been done. Secondly, I think moving forward we need to emphasize all the positive impacts that the Fiesta Bowl has had. We're going to watch ourselves carefully, but we're going to demonstrate our value, whether it's through philanthropic work, we'll be announcing some million dollar set of gifts we're giving to charities throughout the state of Arizona. We just saw recent economic impact from one of professor Keim's colleagues at ASU Carey school of management. And the last three bowls that were held here was over $350 million impact on the state, on Maricopa County. And over the last five years, that's been a total of more than $1 billion. So all of those positive things need to come out, as we make sure our house stays in order.
Ted Simons: As far as your staff, what are you telling your staff, what do you think they need to hear and do you think everyone is now on the same page?
Robert Shelton: I'm convinced of that. I've had a meeting before I started with the whole staff, and I'm now scheduling meetings with individuals and with clusters and groups. And I am impressed with the people who are there. Think about the kinds of pressures that they were all under, the staff and the volunteers, remember, almost 3,000 volunteers put this -- these programs on. Think of the pressures they were on and how they performed for three games this last year, so the staff is high quality, they're committed, they're excited, it's an interesting mix of people who have been there many years and people who are relatively new. So I think the staff and the volunteers are a big strength for the Fiesta Bowl.
Ted Simons: Can you rehab, if you will, the Fiesta Bowl, and keep the bowl in the fast lane of college football, keep the good things that you're emphasizing coming? There is some rehab needed here for the Fiesta Bowl, and I want to know if you can do all these things at once.
Robert Shelton: If I didn't think I could do it I wouldn't have taken the job. I'm not doing it alone. I've got great staff, and I know I have a board that supports me. This board has made great strides about their governance, their oversight, with changes in key personnel. We're going to continue to make that kind of progress. They've maintained their reputation with the BCS, they've sort of renewed that appointment. We're going to continue to look at that, because the BCS itself will always be an issue. But my contacts there I think will prove very useful to the Fiesta Bowl.
Ted Simons: How close was the Fiesta Bowl in losing out in the BCS?
Robert Shelton: I can't really say. When I was on the presidential oversight committee, the report by the BCS task force came to that group. I was not part of the task force that wrote the report. And I made sure I recluse myself from any vote. Even before I thought I would be involved with the Fiesta Bowl, I said I'm living in the state of Arizona, I need to recluse myself from this vote. By the time the task force report came to the oversight group, it was clear they had admired what the governing board had done and the changes that had been made to clean up the problems that existed.
Ted Simons: Some see one of the problems and something that could be rehabbed is this business of lawmakers and tickets and this sort of thing. I know there's been an effort to get lawmakers to reimburse the bowl for tickets. Where does the bowl stand on that?
Robert Shelton: I want to be clear. It isn't so much a question of reimbursement, but our following IRS guidelines. And there was a letter that went out last month before I took office that said, you just need to tell us and the IRS what the situation is. We're following tax code. That will continue to clean that up. I think we're out of the business of issuing these kinds of letters now, and we're going to move forward.
Ted Simons: Did you get much of a response from lawmakers?
Robert Shelton: I had one phone call from an individual I admired greatly who said what in the heck are you doing, and I said I don't know, because I was on board and I hadn't seen the letter then. And he graciously sent me a copy of it. And I think clarity is now being achieved.
Ted Simons: OK. You mentioned earlier that you had a history with college football, you enjoyed college football, and you saw the relationship with academia, if you will. A lot of folks see problems with college football right now. Big problems, whether it's USC, whether it's Auburn, Ohio state, North Carolina, everywhere you look you got a coach or some players in trouble. Do you really want to get involved in this? A, and B, what can be done to fix all this?
Robert Shelton: I think one of the attractors, if you will, of this position is I think I will have a chance to have some positive influence on these situations. I don't mean to imply I'm going to fix everything, that's going to come about with president's involvement, commissioners involvement, but it's these headline cases that we all dwell on understandably, and we've got to remember that the 99.9% of the programs out there are working hard, they're clean, they're providing opportunities for young men and young women to excel to get an education to go on in life. So, yes, there are issues, no doubt about it. And I think with my background being connected with a major bowl I'm going to have a chance to weigh in. I'm going to sit at that table, and I think that's a good thing combining the academic side, my career heretofore with the athletic side.
Ted Simons: Are you going to miss academia?
Robert Shelton: Sure. It was part of my life for many years, but I'll still be involved with colleges. What a great opportunity is that?