At the beginning of March, Ohio State was the eye of college football's corruption storm.

Tattoos for bowl swag. Hushed emails. Press conferences with so many dance steps they should have been choreographed by Paula Abdul. Talk shows erupted and many opined coach Jim Tressel's job was hanging by a Buckeye hull.

But by the end of March, HBO had introduced us to former Auburn football players telling tales of thousands of dollars in payments and cash rewards by boosters. The spotlight shifted from Ohio to Auburn and Tressel - who hilariously had to call for an upgrade of his own suspension to improve Q ratings - will live to beat Michigan again another day.

But this is Auburn's year. Everything continues to fall into place for the national champs. Just as the Tigers are exposed, the Fiesta Bowl story - complete with all the juicy elements from back-room politics to kickbacks to write-offs at strip clubs - hits the fan and suddenly two guys talking about cash and cars are pushed below the fold.

USC. Ohio State. Auburn. Oregon. The Fiesta Bowl. If you're committed to building programs and destinations capable of earning a permanent seat at the Bowl Championship Series table, you'd better be prepared to tip the maitre d'.

No one understood how the current college football system works better than John Junker. The man most responsible for transforming the Fiesta Bowl from a Christmas Day consolation prize for Arizona State into the home for national championship games also understood all too well that great weather, great facilities and great volunteers only get you so far in the BCS boys network.

The rest comes out of your checkbook.

I'm not surprised to hear Junker and others at the Fiesta Bowl were allegedly greasing palms, paying high-priced golf memberships and pampering the high and mighty. I am surprised at the level of arrogance and sloppiness of his personal nest feathering, although anyone who didn't think it was happening - including local media members - simply wasn't looking.

Who has the best goodie bags for players? I-Pad or I-Pod? Who takes the best care of the boosters, commissioners and presidents and athletic directors who ensure the Fiesta's BCS survival. It takes more than a suite at the game and a steak fry.

As long as you play a sport where both the champion and the combatants are decided not by players in a playoff but by power and influence off it, the thought of a level playing field will remain laughable. And the Fiesta Bowl will weather the storm until a reporter in Miami, New Orleans or Los Angeles is tipped off and shows that what happened here, while reprehensible, is par for the BCS course.

That course is a private club, with memberships paid under the table. And for 100 grand, Jack Nicklaus can play in your foursome.

Quick Hitters

• Congratulations to the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL's version of the Phoenix Suns, for posting the best record in the league this season. May the postseason meltdown begin.

To whichever team that winds up with the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference when the music stops next weekend: Just win one of those first two games in Vancouver and watch them unravel before your eyes.

• Outside of Barry Bonds dropping his drawers and having Greg Anderson inject him in left field at Pac Bell Park, I think the prosecution is on pretty firm ground in proving Bonds knew he was taking steroids.

How sad, but incredibly ironic, that while the Giants players are receiving their championship rings and raising a flag in center field, Bonds' frantic attempt to stay out of prison is reaching the late innings.

• Here are the airtight, take-it-to-the bank baseball picks for this season: I like the Rockies, Brewers and Phillies winning divisions with the Giants winning the wild card in the National League. And I'll take the Red Sox, White Sox and Angels to win divisions with Tampa getting the wild card in the American League. And I'll take the Red Sox over the Rockies to win it all.

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