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A&M investigating Franchione for possible contract violation

10/11/2007 - Texas A&M Aggies

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M officials admonished
coach Dennis Franchione for his secretive, for-pay newsletter
Thursday and said the embarrassing episode would be a factor in
deciding whether he returns next season.


Franchione didn't lose his job, but athletic director Bill Byrne
said the newsletter -- which delivered inside information to
boosters for $1,200 a year -- would be considered when he evaluates
the coach after the season.


The school said it would report the results of an internal
investigation to the NCAA because of possible rules violations, and
Franchione was ordered to shut down his Web site, CoachFran.com. He
also will receive a "letter of admonishment."


"The Aggies are embarrassed right now," Byrne said. "This has
been a very unfortunate incident we do not want to experience
again."


Byrne said the school was consulting with attorneys to see if
Franchione violated his $2 million-per-year contract by failing to
report income generated from the newsletter e-mails and his Web
site.


"I'm assuring you, it will be part of his personnel review,"
Byrne said. "At the end of the year, we always go over what
happened in the previous year. We evaluate any actions that
occurred to the football team, we look at items like recruiting,
wins and losses, NCAA violations, Big 12 violations."


A&M reported that the Web site and e-mails generated about
$80,000 between 2005 and 2007. The school said Franchione's net
profit was $37,806.32.


A copy of Franchione's contract, obtained by The Associated
Press, specifies the coach must report to the school president
"annually in writing" any outside income. The contract, which
runs through 2012, specifically mentions income from Web sites. The
AP also obtained copies of Franchione's annual outside income
reports, and none include income from Web sites.

Franchione was under fire even before the newsletter scandal
broke. He has an ordinary 30-24 record since taking over the
program in 2003, including a 1-9 record against Big 12 powers
Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.


Although the Aggies are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12, an
uninspired 34-17 loss at Miami last month intensified the outcry
from the impatient fan base. The secret newsletters became public a
week later.

Byrne said he wasn't aware of the newsletters until a reporter
asked about them. A&M hired a consulting firm to investigate about
two weeks ago, after Franchione admitted he provided the
information in the newsletter, called the "VIP Connection."


"My guess is there was an attempt to keep it from us," Byrne
said. "I think the whole thing started as something well-intended,
to keep a number of people who were good donors to the university
forever informed about things that were going on. It just got out
of control."


Franchione apologized to his team, the school and fans in a
statement released after Byrne met with reporters.


"I was trying to keep some loyal Aggies informed on our program
in greater detail throughout the year," he said. "Please do not
blame them. They were only trying to support our program."


Franchione said he was turning his attention to Saturday's game
at Texas Tech and wouldn't comment further on the newsletter.


David Batson, A&M's compliance officer, said he didn't expect
the NCAA to penalize the program with sanctions, though he wouldn't
rule it out. The NCAA didn't return a phone message Thursday.


"I think the actions taken by the institution will suffice,"
Batson said. "But ultimately, that's a decision by the NCAA."


Among A&M's actions, Franchione was ordered to no longer employ
"any staff members that could be construed as representing Texas
A&M or providing information or reports relative to his position as
head coach at Texas A&M."


Byrne said Franchione's longtime personal assistant, Mike
McKenzie, actually wrote the e-mails, and Byrne suggested
Franchione may not have always known about the content.


"My supposition is someone came to Fran and said, 'You mind if
we do something like this for some people?'" Byrne said. "His
thought was, 'No. Go ahead.' My guess was he never saw it after
that. He concentrates on football."


Byrne said McKenzie is no longer an A&M employee. Neither Byrne
nor athletic department spokesman Alan Cannon knew if Franchione
was still employing him in some capacity. A&M said McKenzie was
paid by Franchione, but Cannon confirmed Franchione had taken away
McKenzie's previous duties.


The school pointed out three areas where possible violations
occurred:


•  Franchione did not report income generated through his Web site
or from the VIP Connection. The school said Franchione thought he
did not have to report the income until he actually received the
proceeds that exceeded expenses incurred maintaining the Web site.


•  The VIP Connection occasionally contained information about
prospective student-athletes. The NCAA prohibits a school from
commenting publicly on recruits until they sign letters of intent.


•  The school suggested that Franchione violated Big 12 Conference
standards of sportsmanship by criticizing officiating in some of
the newsletters.


Batson said neither Franchione nor McKenzie were aware of
newsletter recipients using the information for gambling.


The school released a list of 23 recipients of the VIP
Connection, including Franchione's wife, Kim, and their oldest
daughter, Ashley.


Batson said the school has gathered newsletters from as far back
as November 2006. He estimated that the newsletters started in the
fall of 2004, the year after Franchione arrived at A&M.