Franchione discontinues inside info newsletter for A&M boosters
DALLAS -- Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said he has stopped selling inside information on the Aggies in a newsletter to boosters who paid $1,200 per year in subscription fees that helped finance the coach's personal Web site.
About a dozen elite boosters subscribed for the past three years to the e-mail newsletter, called "VIP Connection." It offered Franchione's candid assessments of players and specific injury information, details Franchione routinely declined to discuss publicly because, he would say, it is not "our policy" to disclose injuries.
Franchione made subscribers sign a confidentiality agreement and said he doesn't believe any of the inside information was used for gambling, the San Antonio Express-News reported Friday after obtaining a copy of the newsletter through a "third-party source."
"We asked them to sign something," Franchione told the newspaper. "And for them not to do that. Most of these people are tremendously loyal Aggies."
Athletics Director Bill Byrne released a statement Friday saying he was first made aware of the newsletter by a reporter two weeks ago.
"When I saw a copy of an email, I called Coach Fran and recommended this program be discontinued," Byrne said. "I understand he stopped at that time."
In the same statement, Franchione said the e-mail list began when a group of 12 to 15 boosters participated in a Kickoff Camp that raised money for the school band, the library and the booster club. The newsletter, he said, "came about as an extension of trying to keep some dedicated and loyal fans updated throughout the year on the football program."
"There was no intent to deceive anyone," Franchione said. "I thought this was another avenue of trying to keep some of our top donors informed about our football program."
The newsletter was written by Mike McKenzie, Franchione's personal assistant. The two denied benefiting financially from the newsletter.
In one newsletter, McKenzie wrote about six players being unavailable to play against Montana State and listed their specific injuries. A seventh player was "iffy" because he had not fully recovered from a mild concussion, according to the newsletter.
The Texas A&M players mentioned by name in the newsletter had authorized the school to release information on their injury status, said Alan Cannon, an athletics department spokesman.
McKenzie also wrote about Franchione's assessment of the Aggies' wide receivers.
"Privately, Coach told me last night that Earvin [Taylor] and Pierre [Brown] are very steady but with average speed," McKenzie wrote. "Kerry [Franks] has great speed, but [is] inconsistent in receiving."
McKenzie, who worked for Franchione at his previous coaching stops at Alabama and TCU, is listed on the A&M staff directory as a "special assistant to the athletic director." His newsletter duties were done on his own time, Cannon said.
Franchione, who makes about $2 million per year in a contract that runs through 2011, is 28-24 since taking over at Texas A&M in 2003. He has received harsh criticism from the program's ardent fans since the team's 34-17 loss last week at Miami.
A spokesman for the university did not respond to attempts by The Associated Press to reach top university administrators for comment.
The boosters' money went to the company that operates Franchione's personal Web site, coachfran.com, Franchione said. The boosters will receive refunds, he said.
NCAA rules require coaches to report to the school any "athletically related income and benefits from sources outside the institution." It was unclear Friday if Franchione had done so, or would be required to if all the boosters' subscription fees went to the Web site company.
Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said there's nothing in his organization's code of ethics about writing newsletters to boosters. NCAA rules are explicit about reporting outside income and proper dealings with boosters, he said.
"I think every athletic director and head coach is very aware and clear of those concerns and issues," Teaff said.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, the head of the coaches association's ethics committee, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment unless it were clear a coach had broken rules.
"An investigation would need to take place first before the ethics committee would be involved," Grobe said through a spokesman.
Many college coaches have personal Web sites and some offer inside information to those who pay for it. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer offers a "Coach's Club" membership for $39.95 per year that promises "the best, up-to-date, daily practice and injury reports straight from Coach Beamer, right off the practice fields."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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