The typeset phrases shown in the photograph on the opposite page form the somewhat shaky foundation of the Southeastern Conference football scandal (SI, March 25). They are exact transcriptions of the notes Insurance Man George P. Burnett says he made last September when he was cut into a long-distance call between Wally Butts, ex-coach and athletic director of the University of Georgia, and Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant of the University of Alabama. On the basis of the notes, Butts has been charged with giving Bryant inside information that facilitated Alabama's 35-0 defeat of Georgia on September 22.
The notes, as shown here, were printed in large type for the convenience of a nighttime TV audience, and were displayed and discussed by Announcer Ed Thilenius of Atlanta Station WAGA on two local newscasts on March 20 that apparently went unseen by most of the principals involved. Although station officials will only say that they received the notes from "a source as close as you can get to George P. Burnett," their authenticity is attested to by B. G. Ragsdale, chief of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a state agency, who used them in administering a second lie detector test to Burnett (he had been given a test earlier by a private operator). Ragsdale says Burnett passed both the tests. Curiously, the notes reflect only one-half of the alleged Butts-Bryant conversation—Bryant is neither quoted nor paraphrased.
Until last week, Butts says he had not been told the complete contents of the Burnett notes, nor had he seen the TV program on which they were shown. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED read the notes to Butts and invited him to comment. On Sunday, Butts, acting on the advice of his attorney, William H. Schroder, denied that he had ever told Bryant any of the things ascribed to him by Burnett, but nonetheless agreed to attempt to interpret the notes. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED also submitted them to a number of football authorities, including coaches, for independent evaluation.
Below are Burnett's notes, followed in each case by Butts's comment and the consensus judgment of the other experts:
?Reismueller [Rissmiller]/greatest in history
BUTTS: "He's always been a good [tackle] prospect."
EXPERTS: Meaningless opinion.
?Rakestraw to Rt
BUTTS: "I don't understand that."