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Franchione sold Aggies' secrets to donors

Weekly newsletter sold classified information to select A&M boosters

02:19 AM CDT on Saturday, September 29, 2007

By BRIAN DAVIS / The Dallas Morning News
brdavis@dallasnews.com

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Dealing with the Miami fallout was bad enough. Now, Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione is facing a new wave of criticism after it was revealed he was selling the Aggies' secrets.

Franchione said he recently stopped sending a weekly e-mail newsletter about the A&M football team to a small group of boosters willing to pay $1,200 per year in subscriber fees over the last three seasons.

The newsletter, titled "VIP Connection," was supposed to be confidential because it contained detailed injury information and other tidbits that Franchione does not tell the media or public. However, the San Antonio Express-News obtained a copy of the newsletter and confronted A&M officials.

The newsletter does not appear to violate any NCAA rules. A public affairs specialist for the Office of Civil Rights in Washington D.C., said Franchione probably did not violate any laws related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

In a statement issued Friday, Franchione said, "There was no intent to deceive anyone." He said "12 to 15" people subscribed to the newsletter, and all money went directly to the Bryan, Texas, company that oversees Franchione's personal Web site, CoachFran.com.

Franchione, who makes $2 million annually according to his A&M contract, said he has offered to refund all money obtained for this season.

"I thought this was another avenue of trying to keep some of our top donors informed about our football program," Franchione said. But he also told the Express-News that he "knew this was going to be controversial."

A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said he did not know about the weekly e-mail until it was presented to him by the newspaper.

"When I saw a copy of an e-mail, I called Coach Fran and recommended this program be discontinued," Byrne said. "I understand he stopped at that time."

Mike McKenzie, Franchione's personal assistant and a part-time A&M employee, told The Dallas Morning News on Friday he actually wrote the newsletter.

McKenzie sent out a final e-mail at 10:14 a.m. on Sept. 13 letting subscribers know the media had discovered the newsletter.

According to those who saw it, "VIP Connection" was simply a typed e-mail message with no graphics. It was usually no longer than two pages.

The intent was to make boosters feel like "they're inside a coaches' meeting," according to one A&M source.

Franchione said the selected boosters originally attended a fan fantasy camp, where each paid $1,000 to attend meetings and football practice.

"All these people who received the newsletter signed a legal non-disclosure agreement," McKenzie said. "Everyone had the understanding that if this is ever compromised, it's over."

According to the Express-News, one newsletter had candid criticism of the A&M 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."

The injury information alone would benefit gamblers, although Franchione told the San Antonio paper he asked subscribers "not to do that." Franchione normally doesn't tell the media about a player's injury unless it's season-ending.

For example, Franchione has acknowledged receiver Howard Morrow's wrist injury only once, and that was on his weekly radio show. But Franchione said Friday that Morrow, a junior from Keller Fossil Ridge, is out for the year after wrist surgery.

Two members of the A&M board of regents were stunned when told about the newsletter.

"I'll say this. I've never heard of somebody paying for information," said Gene Stallings, an A&M regent and former head coach. "I've had friends of mine call me and ask what's happening, and I would share it with them. But as for me providing information to a certain group of people while I was coaching, I never did that."

Regent Erle Nye of Dallas said: "I'd just be surprised as I could be. I don't suppose there's anything wrong with it, but first of all, I'm surprised he's got time."

Franchione has spent most of the week bunkered down in his office after A&M was thumped, 34-17, by Miami on Sept. 20.

The Aggies (3-1) host Baylor (3-1) today in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

VIP CONNECTION: THE FINAL INSTALLMENT

A source provided The News with the final installment of Dennis Franchione's weekly newsletter distributed to "12 to 15" boosters on Sept. 13. The contents:

Gentlemen, I have sad news.

Coach Fran asked me to let you know he learned that some members of the media have obtained a copy of one or more of our VIP Connection reports, and some are upset that it exists. Therefore, Coach Fran has decided it is best to shut it down.

He said to let you know how grateful he is for your extreme loyalty and support, and that you represent in every way the reasons that he and Kim feel so at home among Aggies.

Coach said that Jeff Keys, whose company operates CoachFran.com, will be in touch with you to return any pre-paid accounts. Thank you again, and please stay in touch any time.

One of my great pleasures is having you as friends, so please stay in touch regularly. This email address remains an open door at all times, and Coach Fran welcomes you to stop by whenever you can.

You have been, and shall remain special to us in so many ways.

Be of good cheer,

Mike [McKenzie]

Baylor (3-1) at Texas A&M (3-1), 11:30 a.m. today (Versus, WBAP-AM 820)
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