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Compliance and the Kicker: UCF Asks Player to Stop Profiting From YouTube Channel

YouTube ads put Donald De La Haye at center of NCAA compliance controversy.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Central Florida v Baylor Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Compliance can be a pain.

And right now, it’s UCF placekicker Donald De La Haye who is feeling the sting.

De La Haye reports that UCF asked him to stop profiting from his YouTube channel in order to avoid compromising his amateur status in the eyes of the NCAA. UCF’s concern centers on NCAA bylaw 12.4.4: “A student-athlete may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete’s name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business.”

De La Haye’s Youtube channel consists of self-produced videos. They range from autobiographical (“HOW I BECAME A D-1 FOOTBALL PLAYER”), to instructional (“HOW TO KICK AN ONSIDE”), to skits (“KICKERS BE LIKE”). He’s published 41 videos, and boasts 53,762 subscribers. The number of views for many of these are modest, but he has several videos with a couple hundred thousand views. De La Haye apparently makes a small profit from ad revenue.

De La Haye is as sympathetic an athlete in this position as there could be. He’s from Costa Rica and sends money to his family there who are “struggling” and have “tons of bills piling up and there’s no way for me to help.” “I thought I found a way,” De La Haye states in his most recent video (embedded above). And this isn’t an instance where an athlete is milking some obvious star power for his financial advantage. De La Haye is the kickoff specialist.[1] He’s not even kicking field goals in games (that’s the excellent Matthew Wright, of course). A lot of Knights fans probably couldn’t name him before the current controversy. So to the extent De La Haye is making some modest profit, it’s not coming because of who he is, but because he creates an entertaining product that people want to watch. Because he’s not trading on star power, I’d argue that this just isn’t the kind of problematic conduct the spirit of the rule is geared towards addressing. As De La Haye points out, “I’m not sitting here selling my autograph for money.”

It’s undeniable that De La Haye’s channel uses his “name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation,” but I wouldn’t be ready to roll over and concede these are being used “to promote” De La Haye’s “business.” Promotion ought to mean something separate and apart from “the business” itself – otherwise, the words “to promote” in the bylaws would just be meaningless surplusage. If it’s the channel itself that’s “the business,” the bylaws seems like the prohibition should be triggered by use of “name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation” somewhere other than the channel.

Not that I’d expect that rationale to satisfy the NCAA. It’s not at all a stretch to imagine a skeptical NCAA citing De La Haye’s use of his “name,” “appearance,” and “athletics reputation” in his videos as a violation of 12.4.4 in and of themselves. In De La Haye’s words: “they probably don’t let you take a shit in certain locations. Who knows? They got that many rules.”

UCF’s desire to avoid having the fight is understandable. The Knights have only recently completed a period of probation arising from football and basketball recruiting violations in 2012 (tangent: I love UCF for choosing to step into the ring and successfully appealing the postseason ban the NCAA imposed as part of the penalty, rather than simply laying down for the NCAA juggernaut). Add to this the fact that some of De La Haye’s videos clearly take place in UCF’s indoor practice facility and capture obvious UCF logos on camera, which would probably add to UCF’s concerns. Being conservative, and asking De La Haye to be conservative, makes sense from UCF’s perspective.

Though De La Haye frames the issue as continuing to make videos versus continuing to play football, he’s not actually that limited. De La Haye could also chose to stop making money from ads to avoid running afoul of 12.4.4 (I appreciate why this option is not palatable for him, of course). In his most recent video, De La Haye says he’s undecided.

As of this writing, De La Haye’s YouTube videos still have ads.

[1] De La Haye played in every game last season, kicking off 73 times for 4,441 yards.