Commentary

The 'what-ifs' make the Franchione newsletter frightening

Updated: October 16, 2007, 5:04 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

"Hold on," says Kenny White, the chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, "I'm looking them up right now."

"Them" is Texas A&M. White keeps a detailed power ratings sheet of each of the 119 teams in Division I-A. His company determines the opening point spreads -- or as they say in the business, "makes the numbers" -- for most of the Las Vegas sports books. And though it isn't advertised, LVSC also works with the NCAA to chart suspicious betting action and trends on college teams.

Dennis Franchione
AP Photo/David J. PhillipDennis Franchione was all too willing to give inside information about his players to boosters...and, potentially, plenty of others.
"A team like A&M has so many talented players," White says. "I'm just looking at their roster. Their offensive line is very good."

White's ratings sheet assigns a point value for each player, as well as the head coach. Five Aggies players earned 1½ points each (2 points is usually the max), including senior guard Kirk Elder, a first-team All-Big 12 Conference selection, and 6-6, 309-pound senior tackle Corey Clark. Updated constantly, the point values are then added up by White to help determine a team's power rating. The difference between the Aggies' power rating and the rating of that week's opponent then helps to determine the spread.

This is why Aggies coach Dennis Franchione's once-secret "VIP Connection" e-mail newsletter should send shivers down the backs of every A&M trustee, alum and administrator. It's why the NCAA should treat this case much differently than anything else in its 453-page rules manual.

"Any type of inside information is not a good thing," White says. "We don't like it out here and I'm sure the NCAA doesn't like it either. We like to be on an even playing field."

Franchione's newsletter tilted the playing field toward the 23 mostly big-money donors who received information about the upcoming game plan, recruiting, player evaluations and the absolute Holy Grail of sports betting: injury updates and playing status of A&M players.

There are few more priceless pieces of information to a bettor or a sports book than the injury status of a key player. So let's say one of the 23 A&M subscribers, armed with Franchione's inside info, decides to lay down a bet. Or maybe one of those donors forwards the VIP Connection to another heavy-hitter Aggies alum. And the heavy hitter mentions it to a few frat brothers, who mention it to a buddy who knows a guy in a place. After all, the Aggies pride themselves in being one huge family.

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Then let's say the newsletter notes that Elder and Clark are struggling with injuries, that they probably won't play Saturday and if they do, they'll be physically limited. The spread is 17 points, but it would be lower if the absence of Elder and Clark -- known only to VIP Connection readers, friends and the A&M coaching staff -- was made public.

"There could be three points to the line [1½ each for Elder and Clark]," White says. "That's enough to give you an advantage. To some people, that's about all it takes for some people to have value to make a play. A&M could be a 17-point favorite, but it would really be 14."

The careless Franchione has said that subscribers had to sign "something" pledging they wouldn't use the information for betting. Does anybody really think a wobbly confidentiality agreement would prevent a big-money donor from laying down a big-money bet? If there's insider trading, there's insider betting.

"[Franchione] might not think these people wager because they're not in Nevada, but there's $400 billion bet on sports alone outside of the U.S.," White says.

According to White's figures, about $3 billion per year is wagered legally in Nevada sports books. So about 133 times that is bet elsewhere. And we haven't even mentioned your local bookie. White didn't have exact numbers, but he said Texas, along with New York and California, had some of the highest wagering totals.

It goes without saying that Franchione was dumber than a blocking sled to sign off on the newsletter. He deserves whatever he gets, including dismissal.

Meanwhile, after learning of Franchione's newsletter, A&M self-reported two secondary violations to the NCAA (failure to report athletically related income and discussing prospective recruits). That's nothing. The chilling, worst-case scenario is what happened if gamblers received key parts of the newsletter during the last three-plus seasons.

Franchione earns $2 million a year. Why he and since-fired personal assistant Mike McKenzie (who wrote the newsletter) compromised their reputations and jobs for an ill-conceived, $1,200-per-subscriber, chump-change newsletter is beyond comprehension. Greed? Arrogance? Ignorance? All three?

But the real danger isn't that Franchione discussed a recruit who attended A&M's practice one day. Or that he referred to a referee who might have a jones against the Aggies. The danger is that he didn't understand -- or simply ignored -- the potential for disaster.

Franchione made a grand total of $37,806.32 on the VIP Collection and his Web site. Hey, Dennis, was it worth it?

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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