For years, lurid stories about the program's culture of booze, strippers, and kinky pre-game sex, financed by wealthy team boosters, have been making the rounds.
ON THE WEBSITE OF THE SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY WOMEN'S TRACK TEAM, THERE IS THIS small entry for a young distance runner from Washington state: "Personal: Emily Yale Wynne was born August 22, 1983, in Yankton, S.D.... Daughter of Mary Wynne.... Has two brothers Ryan and Chaz.... Majoring in exercise and nutritional sciences.... High School: Lettered in cross country as a freshman in Washington and as a junior in South Dakota.... Team MVP in both track and cross country as a junior.... Also earned letters in basketball, soccer and swimming.... Graduated from Okanagan High School in Okanagan, Wash."
Until last spring, the then-20-year-old Emily had another full-time occupation, one not mentioned in her SDSU bio. She was an exotic dancer at Cheetahs strip club on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. Her stage name, according to the adult-entertainment permit she received two years ago from the San Diego Police Department, was Dreamer. Before Cheetahs, the permit says, she worked for a year at Déjà Vu, another strip joint, beginning in October 2002, when she was barely 19. In the box on the form designated "prior criminal convictions," she listed a charge of "minor in posesion [sic]," in Harrisburg, South Dakota, on October 1, 2001.
Emily doesn't run track for SDSU anymore. Last spring, she said in a telephone interview, she was forced to leave the team because of painful bunions she had developed after years of nude dancing in adult nightclubs. She said she was leaving California and moving to Arizona State University, where her mother was teaching. She denied rumors going around campus that she had been forced from the track team in the wake of an ESPN story, aired last March, in which a San Diego stripper, her face concealed, identified only as Nicole, alleged that she had entertained at parties held in the late 1990s where recruits of the SDSU football program were present.
SDSU athletic director Mike Bohn denied those charges in an e-mail circulated to football boosters and leaked to the media the day after the program aired on the cable network. "This report is just one more in a continuing barrage of unfounded allegations about our athletics programs," the e-mail said. "Such statements are, we firmly believe, false." Not mentioned in the e-mail was the fact that Bohn's predecessor, Rick Bay, told a reporter for Union-Tribune in July 2003 that he had been forced to resign after a university auditor uncovered a 2001 photograph of a group of SDSU coaches, players, and boosters surrounding a topless dancer at a strip club called Columbus Gold in Columbus, Ohio. Written across the bottom: "Party Animals!"
After promising to provide more details of her life at SDSU in a face-to-face interview in May, Wynne called back to say she had been advised (by people she declined to identify) not to say anything further. She failed to return subsequent telephone calls, and eventually her telephone was disconnected. Attempts to ascertain her present whereabouts have been unsuccessful.
Whatever the reason, the timing of Wynne's departure was convenient for SDSU and its troubled athletic program. For years, stories about the program's culture of booze, strippers, and pregame sex, financed by wealthy team boosters, have been making the rounds. Lately, even uglier rumors about connections to Las Vegas Mafia members and casino gambling interests have emerged. Allegations have also circulated that money has been paid to certain players for point shaving -- the practice of keeping scores within certain ranges to allow gamblers to profit from preordained point spreads. Such allegations have been repeatedly denied by the university, but the allegations refuse to die.
Rumors of alleged financial irregularities involving the athletic program's nonprofit fundraising organization and booster club, the Aztec Athletic Foundation, have added to the intrigue and backbiting at the school. According to state records, the foundation was suspended by the secretary of state's office this August for failing to file its annual report. The university has said that the group does not file an annual tax return with the Internal Revenue Service, as most nonprofit charities are required to do. Instead, the university says, the estimated $1.5 million taken in each year by the booster club is handled by the San Diego State University Foundation, which provides no separate public accounting of the athletic foundation's finances.
Reached by phone last week, Craig Nelson, a local banker and current president of the Aztec Athletic Foundation, said he was aware that the group had been suspended by the secretary of state's office and didn't expect the foundation's official status to be renewed. "I think that it won't be reinstated and that it will lapse and the group will continue to function in the way that [SDSU administrators] have it formatted. I don't know what the exact details are. It wasn't any kind of sanction.
"There was something to do with how we fall within the university and it had to be restructured, but it was sort of a paperwork issue, sort of an administrative thing." After consulting a university official, Nelson called back to elaborate. "We let that expire because everything will go into the Campanile Foundation. All of the gifts will roll up through the Campanile Foundation." The Campanile Foundation is a nonprofit organization set up by SDSU to collect and funnel money into university operations.
"I don't know if there is going to be an announcement," Nelson added. "All of the money gets pooled and rolled up into this Campanile Foundation, which effectively manages that money and keeps it invested. But are we still a 501(c)3 charitable organization, or are we a subsidiary of the Campanile Foundation? That's a good question." In a letter dated August 8 of this year, California State University attorney Steven Raskovich said that the Aztec Athletic Foundation was not "a recognized auxiliary organization" of the university.
As is common in today's world of college athletics, select members of the SDSU coaching staff (and the university's sports executives who supervise them) are handsomely paid and receive perks such as free cars, clothing, and event tickets. According to documents obtained from SDSU under the California public-records act, the San Diego State University Foundation makes quarterly payments of $1025 for each of the automobiles furnished to at least ten coaches, including four assistant football coaches, the head women's track coach, the head swim coach, and the head softball coach.