By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The University of Texas football team's playbook is exempt from the state's open records law, according to a recent ruling made by Assistant Attorney General Kay Guajardo. The ruling ended a three-month dispute that threatened to change the face of Texas college football forever ["The eyes of Texas," October 31].
The trouble began in August, when Texas A&M graduate Michael Kelley asked University of Texas President Robert Berdahl for copies of the Longhorn playbook under the state's open record laws. Berdahl passed the issue to Attorney General Dan Morales in September, requesting a formal ruling on the matter.
The debate quickly ruffled feathers from College Station to Austin, adding a legal twist to a historic rivalry better known for mascot kidnappings and random acts of violence. Verbal spars were exchanged. UT's campus newspaper, The Daily Texan, requested copies of the Aggie playbook in an editorial. The Aggie vice president for finance resorted to poetry. And Sports Illustrated cited Kelley's request as an example that "The Apocalypse Is Upon Us."
Kelley, in the meantime, stopped talking to the press and quietly tried to withdraw his request, reportedly at the prodding of his boss, state Senator John Whitmire.
There was much more at stake than the unthinkable possibility that an Aggie had a right to study the Longhorns' game strategy. UT attorney J. Robert Giddings argued that if the playbook was made public, it would ruin the Longhorns' chances of success on the field. And, because the UT athletic program needs the money generated by the football team, disclosure of it would give an unfair advantage to a competitor or bidder.
A portion of state law (Government Code section 552.104) is designed to protect a government body's "marketplace interests in competitive situations," Guajardo wrote in letter dated November 25 and sent to Giddings to inform him of her decision.
"We conclude that the university has demonstrated that the release of the playbook could harm its ability to sustain its athletic program. Accordingly, the university may withhold the playbook from the requester," Guajardo stated.
Lucky for the Longhorns the decision was made just three days before the Aggie-Longhorn annual showdown. The Longhorns stomped the Aggies in a 51-15 Thanksgiving day romp before 81,887 at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Kelley still isn't talking, and Giddings did not return the Dallas Observer's telephone calls. But A&M sports information director, Alan Cannon, says he's relieved by the news.
"I just didn't think that would make sense to turn over information like that," says Cannon, who adds that an alternative ruling would have made for interesting games. "I guess it would come down to who had the best legal team.