Luginbill, SDSU Sued by Ex-Player


A former San Diego State football player is suing the school and Coach Al Luginbill over what he says was a broken promise to award him a partial athletic scholarship.

A hearing will be held Monday in San Diego Superior Court.

Mike Spinello, a linebacker from Mission Viejo High School, says Luginbill reneged in February, 1989, on an oral agreement to award him a $2,000 scholarship. Spinello, who had five tackles as a freshman reserve in 1988, left the team and withdrew from SDSU shortly thereafter. He later enrolled at Orange Coast College.

According to the suit, Spinello is due unspecified damages for breach of contract, fraud and emotional distress. He also is seeking punitive damages.


Kathleen Lam, the lawyer representing SDSU and Luginbill, said she could not comment. Luginbill was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

According to court documents, Spinello said the promise of a scholarship was made by Mike Nelson, a former assistant coach (mistakenly referred to as head coach in the suit), when he was recruiting Spinello in the spring of 1988. Spinello said he was told that he could become part of the team’s “12th-man scholarship,” a program for players not offered athletic scholarships at the time of enrollment.

Spinello said he was told by Nelson that he would receive a $2,000 scholarship if he enrolled in the fall semester of 1988 at his own expense and completed a three-unit course, not in physical education, in the intersession period between the fall and spring semesters or in summer school.

The scholarship would be renewable based on successful participation in football, plus specific academic considerations. There also was the possibility the award could be increased to a full scholarship, which is worth about $4,000 per year.

The suit, filed in January, says the school and Luginbill went back on the agreement after Denny Stolz was fired as coach in November, 1988, and replaced by Luginbill, a former associate athletic director at the school. Luginbill did not retain Nelson, who is now a football assistant at Stanford and could not be reached for comment.

The suit says Luginbill at first “fraudulently represented” to Spinello that no scholarship money was owed him and no money was available, but that he later told Spinello’s parents that he would award their son the $2,000 if he completed the intersession course.

Spinello completed the course in January, 1989, and presented Luginbill with proof of its completion in February, 1989, according to court records. The suit says Luginbill then refused to award Spinello the $2,000, telling him there was no money available.

The suit says that despite his statements there was no money available, Luginbill acknowledged the existence of the “12th-man” program by awarding scholarship money to another player in January, 1989.

The suit charges that Luginbill’s actions were “despicable and done intentionally with the intent to harass and annoy” Spinello.

Spinello could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Margaret M. Cahill, said she could not comment.