Paper trail

Just when you thought the Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson had wrapped up the title of toughest columnist in the Big Twelve, along comes Dennis Franchione, of all people, to trump her.

Coach Fran provided the latest installment of "Bizarre Media Relations of the Big 12," when it was revealed that he's been running a secretive, $1,200-per year newsletter where he provided Texas A&M "boosters" with insider team info including injury reports and critical opinions on certain players.

Franchione's journalistic efforts were uncovered Friday by the San Antonio Express-News.

"I knew it was probably going to be controversial," Franchione told the paper. "I certainly didn't mean for it to be that. When I knew you guys were starting to ask around a bit, I thought, 'Maybe we shouldn't do this.'"

Gee, you think? Selling injury reports on college athletes? Offering up negative words about your own players?

If that wasn't enough, how about the frightening advantage that such information would offer gamblers and/or their bookies? Or maybe it is just the fact that the guy was operating some kind of side publishing enterprise (do the folks at the Internal Revenue Service know about this?).

How about the potential violations of federal law (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that protect student athletes' medical records and make detailed discussions of injuries a risky proposition?

Then there is the unsettling revelation of the secretive exchange of money between coach and boosters.

We're not suggesting anything untoward, of course, certainly not at a school that's currently tied for third all-time on the NCAA list of most major rule violations with seven. Let alone a place led by a coach so honest that, well, he'd green light this idea.

The good part for Coach Fran is it's just a matter of time now before he gets fired -- either for this or the fact his team isn't very good. So at least he's got a start on his future media career.

We imagine the newsletter was actually well done. Franchione obviously has a lot of free time to work on it since he doesn't waste time teaching players how to tackle.

The beauty of the cesspool that is college athletics is that Franchione's defenders are arguing that this isn't even a big deal considering what goes on everywhere else. The sad part is they're correct. In many ways this is nothing.

Still, the Express-News article is a treasure trove for all of us who love looking deep into the heart of supposed pristine college athletics and laughing at the absurdities. There is the paper's assertion that athletic director Bill Byrne "did not ask Franchione to stop the newsletter . . . but strongly suggested that it would be the prudent thing to do."

Hey, it's good to hear they have some clear-thinking leadership down there in College Station .

Here's some "prudent thing" advice for the athletic director, it's COA time, you might want to demand a cease and desist order. And to the coach's paycheck, not the publication of the newsletter (which Franchione said he has now stopped).

Then there is Franchione admitting that he was worried about the potential illegal gambling impact of letting private, privileged injury information out to a select group. Not worried enough to call off the idea, of course.

"We asked them to sign something and for them not to do that," Franchione said.

This is extremely sound thinking by Coach Fran. One thing we know about illegal gambling enterprises is that their interest in fixing games, buying off refs, breaking thumbs and avoiding taxes can be completely negated by having some supposed "booster" sign "something."

All this brain power and Aggie fans wonder why he can't manage a clock?

Then there was the assertion by Franchione that he didn't benefit financially from the pact. Then where exactly did all the $1,200 subscriptions go? Franchione, who makes about $2 million per year to go below .500 in Big Twelve play, said it helped underwrite his Web site.

We figure it didn't go to recruits because, ah, did you see the Miami game?

"It was a 'goodwill' gesture," Franchione's personal assistant Mike McKenzie told the paper.

Goodwill at $1,200 a pop, of course.

This ought to do wonders for A&M recruiting. Franchione already had a great school, a phenomenal campus and passionate fans to sell. Now he can top it off with his propensity to take shots at current players in a covert and potentially illegal publication.

I'm sure no rival coaches will bring this up on the recruiting trail, of course.

So now, college football breathlessly anticipates the Aggies’ Oct. 6 game against Oklahoma State and noted media critic Mike Gundy, who may take offense at Franchione questioning his players' speed, consistency and so on.

Gundy may not even wait until the postgame press conference to unleash a rant about how he hopes Franchione has fat children.

It should be great. Can't wait to read Carlson's report on the game.