A&M investigating Franchione for possible contract violation
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.
This will be part of his performance review. The Aggies are embarrassed right now. ... My guess is there was an attempt to keep it from us.
-- Aggies AD Bill Byrne, on Dennis Franchione's hush-hush newsletter sent to select boosters
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.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Texas A&M has found that Dennis Franchione's for-pay newsletter crossed several lines and might have broken NCAA rules.
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.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press