The student newspaper at San Jose State University found that less than 5 percent of $6.3 million raised from 2013 to 2016 actually served its intended purpose — funding student-athlete scholarships. Instead, 95 cents of every dollar went toward car allowances and stipends for coaches and staff.
Documents reviewed by the Spartan Daily discovered that under former athletic director Gene Bleymaier's watch, less than $275,000 was distributed into accounts serving student-athletes.
In an email statement, the university said, “SJSU always has and always will honor donor intent. Several years ago, SJSU leadership learned that some of the Spartan Foundation’s marketing and communications did not adequately convey how gifts were being used.”
The Spartan Foundation’s purpose as written on its 990 tax forms is, “To raise funds for athletic scholarships for San Jose State University scholarships.”
Media relations specialist Robin McElhatton told the Spartan Daily that the web page about the Spartan Foundation was outdated and has been deleted this week. According to reporter Lindsey Boyd, the website previously stated, “The Spartan Foundation is the fundraising arm of the San Jose State University Athletics Department. As its primary objective, the Spartan Foundation provides scholarship support for all of San Jose State’s NCAA Division I athletic teams.”
In 2017, the Spartan Foundation website stated, “San Jose State Athletics has been awarding over $4,500,000 a year in athletic scholarships. The Spartan Foundation has nearly 1,500 members, but we need your help to double our membership base needed to raise the scholarship funds.”
The Spartan Daily reviewed documentation on four separate occasions. Each time, account details confirmed that in the 2013-14 and 2015-16 fiscal years, no money was distributed to athletic scholarships from the Spartan Foundation fund.
“The university responded in multiple ways,” the university said in a statement. “The university changed its marketing and communications with donors to clearly state how donor gifts would be used.”
According to the Spartan Daily, the Spartan Foundation was marketed to donors on SJSU athletics’ website as a fund that provides athletic scholarships, and was managed as part of the Tower Foundation since 2014.
Even though the Spartan Foundation account was moved to the Tower Foundation in 2014, as late as the Spartan Foundation’s Bocce Battle fundraising event in April of 2017, the address was listed as: “Spartan Foundation, 1393 S. 7th Street, San Jose, CA 95112,” which is the athletic administration office on South Campus.
This led to a situation where athletics staff were opening donations sent in the mail and deciding where checks should be distributed, according to documents.
“In early 2017, the university began the process of moving athletics fundraising solely to [University Advancement], to improve management and stewardship of gifts to SJSU Athletics,” the university said in a statement.
Former athletic director Bleymaier served in his position for more than four years.
He also received a base salary of $220,092 per year plus an additional $102,000 from the Tower Foundation for a car allowance, public speaking engagements, public relations activities and supplemental salary, according to his athletic director contract.
Other university employees also received Tower Foundation funds, with four individuals each receiving more than $150,000 in 2016 alone, according to 990 tax forms reviewed by the Spartan Daily.
UPDATE: The article on which the above was based has been met with scrutiny and pushback.
Bay Area News Group, publisher of The Mercury News, which ran a front-page story based on Lindsey Boyd's reporting in the Spartan Daily student newspaper, posted the following correction May 22:
"A front-page article on May 18 about a controversy over fundraising at San Jose State University misstated an aspect of the fundraising appeals made by the Spartan Foundation, which raises money to support athletic programs. The article said that until 2018, the foundation told donors that money they contributed would go to student scholarships, though it appeared only a small fraction of the foundation’s funds were spent for that purpose. In fact, the Foundation’s messaging over several years prior to 2018 was inconsistent; in fundraising appeals as early as 2013, it said the money went to scholarships and other athletic department expenses including facilities, travel and salaries. In other documents, however, it described the foundation as 'specifically responsible for student athlete scholarships' or said that raising scholarship money was its 'primary objective,' without mentioning the other programs that received the overwhelming majority of the proceeds."
Two days earlier, Andrew Pang of Inside the Spartans, posted a 1,958-word analysis of the original Boyd article. Pang's conclusions segment follows in full:
"While Boyd and The Spartan Daily show good intentions by questioning the operations of university administration, their end product has serious flaws that undermine the narrative
"The major red flag is the expectation that Spartan Foundation donations should have funded more scholarships, when scholarships cost nearly $5 million per year yet the foundation raised around $6.3 million over four years. As Almond's Mercury News story from May 18 indicated, former athletic director Bleymaier was not contacted for comment by The Spartan Daily even though the story examined issues that took place under his watch. Neither was anyone connected with the former Spartan Foundation, who also could have addressed the questions raised.
"Additionally, the story misleads readers into thinking the Spartan Foundation failed to disclose that donations would fund areas in the athletic department other than scholarships. In fact, an examination of the athletics website indicates such disclosures have existed as early as 2011.
"There is no denying that legitimate criticisms of the San Jose State athletic department exist. This Spartan Daily story, however, does not make one. Instead, it spread fallacious premises that have become widespread among students, alumni, and members of the public. Ultimately, this story is the print equivalent of an interception."