Opinion: NCAA's Passe Rules Put UCF Player in Bad Spot

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In less than 24 hours, Donald De La Haye's YouTube video titled "I lost my full D1 scholarship because of my YouTube channel" had been viewed more than 153,000 times. It was 5 minutes, 39 seconds of raw emotion from a backup kicker at Central Florida none of us would have known about had NCAA rules not intervened this summer, threatening his eligibility for making money off his videos.

"Every time I step in that compliance building," he said, voice quivering, "I hear nothing but bad news."

Indeed, De La Haye will no longer play football at UCF after he declined to accept a compromise with the NCAA on the monetization of his YouTube channel, thus rendering him ineligible.

Though NCAA staffers tried to do some emergency spin in the wake of another public relations disaster, tweeting at reporters that it was the school and not Indianapolis that ruled him ineligible, it's a distinction without a difference.

The issue isn't who ruled De La Haye ineligible, nor is it the way they sliced and diced the rule so that he could continue making videos -- but only if the ones he made money off of didn't reference anything about being a football player at UCF.

The problem here is that the NCAA has built an entire brand on the theme that "most of us will go pro in something other than sports."

Yet when someone has the audacity to get a head start on that while in college, we have to strain it through so many bylaws and compliance interpretations that a kid at the end of a roster in the American Athletic Conference has to make a choice between his football scholarship and his slightly lucrative hobby.

"In the end, I don't feel like there was any compromising really happening," De La Haye said in the video. "They wanted me to give up the money I made, wanted me to take down my videos, which I worked so hard for and wasn't comfortable doing. It was just very unfair in my opinion, and now I've got to deal with the consequences. And the consequences are no more college football. And since I can't play college football, no more scholarship. Damn. Life hit me fast, very fast."

From the NCAA's perspective, this decision isn't about De La Haye. Nobody could reasonably connect the popularity of YouTube videos for a backup kicker at UCF to any sort of recruiting advantage or breach of the NCAA's sacred notion of amateurism.

It is, however, about setting a precedent in case some enterprising assistant coaches at an Alabama or Ohio State figured out a way to guarantee recruits they could make money on the side by posting videos on a social media site.

While that argument might make sense within the construct of the NCAA's current model, it's not one that can hold up forever.

The collateral damage to people such as De La Haye and the embarrassment that has piled up over every one of these decisions in the last decade has turned the public against the purity of amateurism and unnecessarily made the NCAA into a punch line. Every instance of outrage draws the folks in Indianapolis closer and closer to a critical mass of legal and public opinion that endangers their very existence.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted, "The @NCAA is out of control" Tuesday morning, and, regardless of what you think about Rubio's politics, it's probably not good news for the NCAA when U.S. senators are calling your organization "out of control."

Moreover, the De La Haye kerfuffle is a prime example of why more and more powerful people inside college sports are coming around to the idea that they're simply on the wrong side of the name, image and likeness debate.

Though few will discuss it publicly — after all, it would undercut years of litigation the NCAA has been fighting — more and more young, rising administrators in college sports seem to understand that prohibiting athletes from cashing in on their notoriety is a fight they will lose over the long haul and probably need to lose if college sports is going to continue with anything close to the model it now enjoys.

Reasonable people can debate whether college athletes should be paid and all the consequences of that, from employment/tax issues to whether you pay the left tackle the same as the quarterback, but there is no good argument for restricting the earning potential of athletes based on their popularity, charisma or, in De La Haye's case, their talent in something besides football.

If Subway thinks Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold is worth a $200,000 marketing deal, on what grounds would a university legitimately be able to restrict that opportunity? If McDonald's wants to make reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson a $500,000 offer to be in commercials, what business is that of Louisville's or the NCAA's?

Lifting those restrictions would immediately relieve many of the NCAA's legal and public relations problems — no more need to have a staff of people scrutinizing a backup kicker's YouTube videos — while having little to no impact on the competitive landscape of college sports.

Of course, the big-time programs with more rich boosters would have more "arrangements" with recruits in that world. But what's the point of worrying about a landscaping business in Alabama offering a backup safety $20,000 to appear on a billboard when they get the best players every year anyway? And if a business doesn't get value from paying players to appear in commercials or for autograph signings, they probably won't do it.

The reality is, not much would change. Superstars would probably be paid like superstars. The rest would be lucky to get free sandwiches. And the same teams that win most of the championships would continue to do so.

The problem is, the current power structure is more concerned about that than the reality that someone such as De La Haye — whose fame on the Internet has nothing to do with his college football ability — is facing today.

"It's about time I head down another road, I guess," he said.

Maybe the NCAA should consider doing the same.

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August 3, 2017


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