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NCAA

Student-Athlete Prevented From Being Student Because He's An Athlete

Donald De La Haye did everything a college marketing major should do. His own school wants him to stop because of the NCAA.

Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

YouTube Screengrab

This is Donald De La Haye. For the last year, he's made YouTube videos. The subject matter varies: One features him kicking a television off a roof, while he gives his brother rocks and pinecones for Christmas in another.

But they mostly have to do with football, which makes sense given that De La Haye is a kicker at Central Florida. And they mostly do very well. De La Haye has 54,000 subscribers on his channel, and his most popular video—a spoof on how cornerbacks act in everyday life—has garnered more than 245,000 hits. That's the type of traffic that can, and does, draw advertising revenue for De La Haye. So: In a year's time, a college marketing manager has developed a brand from scratch in his dorm room and built it into enough of a traffic driver that established companies see value in associating themselves with him and his burgeoning six-figure audience.

This is an academic success story, an American success story, and also great advertising for UCF. Beyond De La Haye and the school, it also speaks wonders for the NCAA, which has spent lots of money on television ads assuring you that most of its athletes will go pro in something other than sports.

Or it would speak wonders, were the NCAA something other than a cartel whose greatest and most insidious reason for existence is to both fuck over and generally siphon capital from its endlessly renewable labor force, and were universities anything other than willing and well-paid accomplices.

De La Haye recently uploaded a video in which he claims he was ordered to stop making videos if he wanted to continue as a football player. According to ESPN, the school claims it never gave him an ultimatum, but he was contacted by its NCAA compliance office to educate him "about the bylaws that govern intercollegiate athletics, in an effort to help them maintain their eligibility." Basically, they're worried he's going to run afoul of the NCAA and want to nip this in the bud.

The first and most obvious reason this is a problem for the school is that he can't continue to generate revenue off of his videos without potentially running afoul of NCAA amateurism rules, even though it is an operation conducted on his own time and is the sort of business venture that any other college junior could profit from without repercussion. As De La Haye points out in the above video, "I'm a marketing major, so this literally, literally, literally pertains directly to my career."

Even worse, De La Haye mentions the severe financial hardships his family has encountered and how his video revenue offered him a chance to pitch in while he's away at school. "Barely any food," he says. "Tons of bills piling up...my mom struggling, calling me crying."

But let's take a step back, because it should not require a rather harrowing family situation to register that the fundamental unfairness of what is happening here. Even the greatest cynic would agree the business of college sports has a vested interest in at least some of its student-athletes succeeding, if for no other reason beyond the system depending on people believing that bartering immediate-term revenue for post-playing benefits is a fair and just trade.

The everyday reality, though, is that an athlete's sport takes full precedence over their academic career. That often means forgoing a major of choice, because essential classes conflict with some permutation of games, practices, meetings, film study, and workouts. For those savvy enough to make it work, it requires missing out on a bevy of career events, networking opportunities, and summer internships due to year-round commitments.

So how do you compete against your classmates, who have none of those drawbacks and, in the case of marketing majors like De La Haye, are free to monetize themselves in any way imaginable? Theoretically, it's by doing exactly what De La Haye has done, and leveraging your disadvantages—the interminable grind of a Division I athlete—to create original content. There's a certain sect of (blatantly wrong) people that will argue that, sure, De La Haye can no longer afford to send badly needed financial assistance to his family and, yes, this is not consistent with the values of American free markets, but he can still produce videos and get exposure, that great manna of possible—and often unlikely—future earnings.

Here's where the second aspect of ceasing operations comes in:

I guess I can't make any videos that make it obvious that I'm a student-athlete, because that makes it seem like I'm using my likeness and my image to make money and all this, which I'm really not.

The idea of a university owning an athlete's likeness is both ironclad and distressingly malleable. Student-athletes do not own their names or likenesses as long as they compete in NCAA events, and, as the O'Bannon lawsuit demonstrated, there's no established threshold for when the NCAA can no longer license it once they stop. That ambiguity also feeds into De La Haye's predicament. Even if he agrees to stop running ads on his YouTube channel, there's still ground for the NCAA to preemptively argue that, even by doing this for free, the exposure and platform he's already garnered through being a UCF football player is a guarantor of income no matter when it happens. In other words, even that post-football income is bad if it isn't funneled through the NCAA's extremely narrow parameters, ones that—in this case—are dreadfully light on context, common sense and basic human decency.

So how does Donald De La Haye win? He can't, not without sacrificing his college eligibility and, quite possibly by extension, his scholarship. He can't, because through pushing its fictitious concept of "student athlete" to its logical end, the NCAA has created the absurd situation where a university will go out of its way to discourage students from applying the skills they've learned on campus and turning them into real world results.