College Football

NCAA Set To Screw Over YouTube Star, Because Amateurism

Donald De La Haye is a self-made social media wiz who may have to forfeit his football scholarship to keep making videos

College Football
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Jun 13, 2017 at 1:54 PM ET

Donald De La Haye sits in his bedroom, looks at a camera, and unwraps what he calls the “best burger ever invented,” raving about the mix of eggs, bacon, hash brown, and grilled onions. He sounds like any college student might except he’s got dueling personas that the NCAA considers to be mutually exclusive: He’s a kicker for the University of Central Florida football team and a YouTube sensation, with 54,328 subscribers at of this writing.

In the dozens of videos De La Haye has shot, edited, and uploaded to his channel—his straightforward bio reads, “Kicking footballs and editing videos is my thing”—he’s found a balance of offering insights into life as a college student and a Division I athlete, all delivered with levity and charisma. The video shorts are inoffensive and entertaining, yet that hasn’t stopped De La Haye from drawing the scrutiny of the UCF compliance office because YouTube popularity means revenue.

“Some people upstairs aren’t happy with my videos, and they feel like I’m violating NCAA rules and whatnot,” he said in the video, noting that he’s been told he can’t make it obvious that he’s a student-athlete or else it would seem like he’s benefiting from—cue the air-quotes—his “likeness” and “image.”

De La Haye, a junior from Costa Rica who handles UCF’s kickoffs, later reported that the compliance office told him he’s prohibited from profiting off his work, as his hearty subscriber base helps him generate ad revenue through YouTube. He has two stated motivations for the video—one professional and one personal.

“This is my passion,” he said. “This is my career. If you guys didn’t know, I’m a marketing major, so this is literally, literally, literally pertaining directly to my career. Ain’t no man going to try to stop me from doing me.”

Because these videos, which he began making for fun in June 2015, have started creating some income—which is a major NCAA amateurism no-no—which De La Haye said he sends back to Costa Rica.

“My family’s struggling at home,” he said. “Hella people living in my house, barely any food, tons of bills piling up, bills coming in the mail every single day. My mom’s calling me crying, and there’s no way for me to help.”

It’s hard to fathom who is harmed by the creation and distribution of these videos. A source told the Orlando Sentinel that De La Haye was not given an ultimatum to stop and that compliance will continue to meet with him to discern a workable plan. As the newspaper noted, UCF is only recently off probation after getting tabbed with several rules violations in 2012, leading to more stringent adherence to NCAA policy. If forced to choose, De La Haye’s decision may be more weighty than most—he is described as being a scholarship player, so presumably he would suddenly incur bills for tuition, room, and board if he left the football program.

The NCAA, which refuses to pay athletes, is no doubt worried that other, more high-profile players could follow De La Haye’s lead and start hauling in some serious coin. Even if you buy the NCAA’s amateurism argument—we do not, but let’s play hypotheticals here—surely there should be some distinction between an athlete profiting off an autograph signing compared to a student logging considerable time applying degree-related and future-career skills to a side project? In one case, the student would only be profiting off his or her personal brand as a college athlete while, in the other, a student like De La Haye is endeavoring to be prepared for his post-college career.

“He should have equal rights under the law and no one else on that campus is prevented from having success on YouTube and being compensated,” National College Players Association President Ramogi Huma told the Sentinel. “No other student on that campus is subjected to that restriction.”

When contacted by Vocativ, an NCAA spokeswoman referred specific inquiries to UCF, saying the association had not received a waiver from the university regarding De La Haye’s situation. UCF athletic communications did not immediately respond to Vocativ’s request for comment but had shared this statement with the Sentinel: “UCF Athletics is committed to rules compliance. Our compliance staff strives to make sure our student-athletes are informed about all pertinent NCAA bylaws. Student-athletes attend regular educational meetings regarding NCAA eligibility. One of our goals is to help our student-athletes learn about the bylaws that govern intercollegiate athletics, in an effort to help them maintain their eligibility.”

De La Haye said he wasn’t sure what he would do if he had to choose football or YouTube, but twin sisters Dylan and Dakota Gonzalez, who played basketball at UNLV, recently decided to quit the team in order to pursue a singing career—two activities apparently incompatible with each other in the current landscape of NCAA governance. In a joint interview with Slam magazine’s website, Dylan Gonzalez said the NCAA had “ticky-tack regulations” that limited them only to making home recordings and singing the national anthem. She estimated that NCAA rules were “a good 90-95 percent” of their decision to forego their final year of eligibility. (Their first EP, Take 1, is available on SoundCloud.)

Every March Madness, NCAA commercials inundate us with reminders that “There are over 400,000 student-athletes, but almost all of them will go pro in something other than sports.” Shouldn’t they, like every other college student, have the opportunity to prepare themselves?