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Robert Shelton, new Fiesta Bowl boss: BCS has been a ‘great success’

Robert Shelton speaks during a news conference at the Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum in Scottsdale. Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic

Robert Shelton, who is leaving his post as the University of Arizona president to become the executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, is now on another side of the Bowl Championship Series.

He has been a member of the presidential oversight committee for the BCS, which is the often-controversial system that has determined college football’s national champion since the 1998 season by matching the top two teams — as established through polls and computer rankings.

The Fiesta, along with the Rose, Sugar and Orange, is one of the four BCS bowls, with each of those organizations also staging the national championship game on a rotating four-year basis.

Whether it’s in his old or his new position, it probably wouldn’t behoove him to speak ill of the BCS, but he was asked about his thoughts on the BCS on Tuesday at his Fiesta Bowl introductory news conference. Shelton said:

“First of all, it’s demonstrable that the BCS has been extremely successful, if you define success as pitting the top two teams. If you look pre-BCS, that rarely happened. Now, it really is happening.

“It also has been a system that has preserved the integrity of the bowls, the viability of the bowls, and also the regular season of college football, which you have to argue is the most dynamic, highly watched regular season in all of sports, college or professional.

“That said, I know there is this visceral hunger that people have for a playoff. And I think if they are going to put that forward in any successful way, they need to come up with a viable option. And a viable option means playoffs that grow and grow and grow and grow, and not interfere — and I’m putting my university president’s hat on — with the academics of these young men.

“I think there are a lot of unknowns, but I think the bottom line is you have to acknowledge the great success of the BCS to date.”

Shelton is taking control of an organization that was rocked by scandal earlier this year. John Junker, the former executive director of the non-profit organization, was fired amid scandal that included employees making illegal political contributions and extravagant spending from Junker.

The NCAA, which could have stripped the Fiesta Bowl of its BCS standing, instead fined the bowl $1 million and placed it on probation.

Shelton said he looked “very carefully” at the Fiesta Bowl’s new plans and procedures before accepting the position. Fiesta Bowl officials said there were more than 150 candidates for the job.

“There have been a number of revelations about the Fiesta Bowl. I have watched them very carefully,” Shelton said. “But it’s clear to me that those troubles — and they are definite and serious — reflect (only) a few individuals. …

“At its fundamental level, what you found was a very small number of people — from my impression — who felt like they were bigger than the bowl itself … the whole organization. And that is a recipe for problems wherever you are.”

As far as UA is concerned, athletic director Greg Byrne said he will miss having Shelton as his boss.

“Dr. Shelton was great to work for. We communicated regularly, easily several times a week,” Byrne said.

“He is so level-headed and very smart and a very good listener. He was great to work with. He had a great passion for intercollegiate athletics and he saw the value of what it meant to the university, the community, the state and certainly not to forget the student-athletes.”

Byrne said he wouldn’t expect delays or changes with any of the athletic department’s on-going plans for renovations at Arizona Stadium or with presenting coaches’ contracts before the Arizona Board of Regents.

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