Fiesta Bowl hire Robert Shelton raises the bar
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The Arizona Republic, June 19, 2011
The fate of the Fiesta Bowl, an invaluable Valley institution, remains far from certain.
Myriad issues are yet to be resolved.
Are the powers of college football - the athletic directors and coaches - genuinely satisfied that the Fiesta Bowl's scandals are in the past?
And what of the directors of the Bowl Championship Series? Will they agree to renew the Fiesta Bowl's contract as a BCS participant two years from now? Or might they use the recent unpleasantness as an excuse to invite Jerry Jones and his Dallas palace to the premier circle of postseason college football?
And what of the thousands of Arizonans whose sense of ownership of this annual event was so violated by the lewd and crude Fiesta Bowl scandals? Where do they go to get their institution back?
The Fiesta Bowl directors have decided they should turn to Dr. Robert Shelton, who for the past five years has been president of the University of Arizona. The board announced last week that Shelton had agreed to become the Fiesta Bowl's executive director.
Simply put, they could not have chosen better.
Shelton brings integrity, above all, to the job. The loud wailing and gnashing of teeth now echoing up from Tucson tells us just how much Shelton was appreciated there. In times of rapidly declining state-shared revenue and fast-rising educational demands, Shelton struck all sides as an honest broker of competing interests. He wasn't on one side or the other. He was on the side of the university.
As the president of a Pac-10 university, Shelton is well-acquainted with both the business aspects of college football and the game's people. He knows the athletic directors and the coaches, and he knows the BCS.
As UA president, Shelton was a member of the organization's presidential oversight committee.
Newly hired executives tasked with taking on tough jobs all bring something unique to their work, of course. Shelton, a physicist by training, brings intelligence as well as that aforementioned integrity. The very presence of an academic of Shelton's caliber will be a reminder that football players truly are, or truly should be, viewed as student athletes. How many bowl directors can present that kind of image?
He also brings a courtly, reserved sort of dignity - dare we say a university president's demeanor? - to a job that historically goes to someone more experienced in the ways of glad-handing, back-patting, golfing and other pursuits.
In that regard, it may be that Shelton is well-suited for his new job because of what he does not bring to the office. In an overmoneyed industry renowned for parties and extravagance, Shelton is the fellow who invariably turns in early. That sort of profile gets noticed. In a good way.
"Robert is a man of integrity and his university experience means he understands what college football is all about," Bill Hancock, BCS executive director, said. "This is a smart hire by the Fiesta Bowl."
Yes. About those Fiesta Bowl folk:
Prior to the meteoric fall from grace of the previous Fiesta Bowl chief executive, John Junker, the Fiesta Bowl board did pretty much everything wrong leading up to Junker's exit. The directors were defensive and ham-fisted. They resisted and denied. They since have seen the light.
It is a cliche to observe that someone finally "gets it," of course. But the cliche applies. Under the guidance of Chairman Duane Woods, the Fiesta Bowl leadership seems to recognize now that transparency has great value and that people really do forgive those who recognize their own misdeeds and do something to rectify them.
Hiring Robert Shelton away from UA rectifies a lot. It suggests many more of the Fiesta Bowl's difficulties are behind it than in front.