By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The question was formally posed on August 27, when Texas A&M graduate Michael Kelley sent University of Texas President Robert Berdahl a letter requesting copies of the Longhorn football playbook under the state's open records laws.
Kelley's query was unprecedented. No one before had ever seriously pursued the notion that the open records laws--designed to ensure access to the workings of public institutions and bodies--might apply to the written plays of a public university's football team.
On September 3, Berdahl and UT attorney J. Robert Giddings handed the issue off to Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, requesting a formal ruling on the matter. The Attorney General's Office assigned the case a number and began the process of deciding whether the coveted playbooks are indeed open for all to see.
But Kelley has reportedly decided to withdraw his request in an attempt to quell a lighthearted controversy that has somehow managed to ruffle feathers at the state capitol.
College playbooks are, of course, no trivial matter. In fact, the very suggestion that an Aggie might have a legal right to get his paws on the Longhorn playbook was an unspeakable blasphemy. As news of Kelley's offense spread in Austin, the response was sure and swift.
In September, UT's campus newspaper, The Daily Texan, one-upped Kelley by requesting copies of the Aggie playbook, as well as game notes, a guide to the team's hand signals, and "a comprehensive Aggie-to-English dictionary to decipher the gibberish Aggies yell whenever two or more of them get together."
The campus newspaper made its request in a windy September 5 editorial, which read in part:
"We...in the Name, and by the Authority of the good Football fans of this Country, solemnly publish and declare, That these playbooks will, and of Right ought to be, Free and Public Information so that no other generations shall have to suffer through another period of Aggie Cockiness."
Was the historic football rivalry, best known for its mascot kidnappings and random acts of vandalism, evolving into the sort of legal debate Texans have come to expect from Jerry Jones? Even Sports Illustrated chimed in, citing Kelley's request as an example that "The Apocalypse Is Upon Us" in its September 23 issue.
Then things got really weird.
A&M Vice President for Finance Richard Floyd, who doubles as the Aggies' public information officer, huddled with his co-workers and drafted a response to The Daily Texan--in prose.
Some may boast of prowess bold
Of the school they think so grand
But there's a playbook should ne'er be disclosed
It's the playbook of Aggieland
We are the Aggies
The Aggies so blue
We need our playbook more than t.u.
We're down zip-two
And we've got to fight
We've got to fight for our privacy rights
Floyd then vowed to provide a "graphic illustration" of the Aggies' playbook during this year's UT-A&M game, which will be played in Austin on November 29.
"On behalf of the true and noble sons of Kyle, our able legal counsel will seek appropriate adjudication for all who hold Texas football sacred," Floyd wrote in his letter to the editor.
The graphic illustration will, of course, be the Aggie performance on the field, says Floyd, who adds that his letter was drafted in the spirit of good-natured rivalry.
"I think this is a good way to create some good competitive spirit prior to the big game. I don't think anybody has taken it as a legal issue," Floyd says.
He doesn't even want to think about what would happen if the playbooks were deemed public. Still, Floyd points out that his response is legally correct.
"If you look up the citations you'll find out that the public information act allows a public entity to name a specific time when a material that is in use will be made available. And we have done that," Floyd says.
Texan editor Tara Copp says the poem is "pretty witty," but adds that it is still "evidence that [the Aggies] are in dire need of a liberal arts school."
Copp's glee in assailing Floyd's prose is not, however, matched by a willingness to follow through on the newspaper's public information request--a move that would guarantee a legal ruling in the aftermath of Kelley's sudden retreat.
When he originally submitted his request, Kelley told the Austin American-Statesman that he's just a football fan "interested in the ability to get information."
In a move strikingly similar to the Aggies' offensive strategy of late, Kelley has apparently decided to punt.
Kelley isn't talking these days, but sources speculate the Aggie is withdrawing his request at the prodding of his boss, state Senator John Whitmire.
Whitmire, who got his bachelor of science degree from the University of Houston, is neither Longhorn nor Aggie. As an appointee to the state's Pension Review Board, however, Whitmire plays a role in managing the retirement benefits for public employees--including those working at UT and A&M.
Whitmire is apparently determined not to let one employee challenge the separation of church and state.
But for now, UT's request for a formal opinion is still pending at the Attorney General's Office, and spokesman Ron Dusek says neither Kelley nor UT has notified the office that the request has been withdrawn.
"If they are going to pull down the request, it just hasn't been communicated to us yet," says Dusek. As far as the Attorney General's Office is concerned, he says, a ruling is still called for.
"If we have a request for an opinion on that issue, then we will issue an opinion on it, whether it's from A&M, UT, or anywhere else," Dusek says. "If the request is withdrawn, then we would not answer it."
With Kelley on the sideline, the only request left is the very public one made by The Daily Texan. Copp, however, says she isn't interested in getting an answer to the question.
"With everything that the attorney general's dealing with, I wouldn't feel right in saying you must make a ruling on this as well," Copp says.
Even if the playbooks were made public, Copp doubts they would make a difference in the outcome of this year's UT-A&M game.
"With both of our records, I don't think either playbook is very sacred right now.