The NCAA: Monsters, Inc.

If you play an NCAA sport, the NCAA owns your image

Imagine you are a college student putting yourself through school who is not on scholarship. You are working full time while dealing with school.

It isn’t just normal fare, either. You have a double-major. Now, one of these two majors will not produce a degree and will not be considered schoolwork, but if you slip up at all in that secret second program of study you will likely be kicked out of school. Because of that second major, the one that does produce a sheepskin (probably…maybe) will be taken less seriously by many.

Back at home, you have a family that wants to control everything about you. You are to send all of the money you make from your job straight home, and people at home determine how it is spent on your behalf. They keep whatever profit is left over, but take great care to make sure nobody can legally consider it profit, just down payments on a new wing of the house. If you keep so much as a dime, they will pull you out of school and it’ll all be over.

This is a Dickensian kind of existence. Oh, right: You may be called upon to work on Christmas Day, something even characters in Dickens stories shied away from doing. Remember: No fundraising to get family out to that Christmas Day bowl game nowhere near your home!

This is how the NCAA operates. In no time was it more clear than this week, when the organization came down hard on Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye for profiting off Youtube videos. Sorry, that’s former UCF kicker, his scholarship is gone now and he’s not a college student anymore.

De La Haye called the NCAA monsters in perhaps his most well-known video. That’s a word people generally don’t throw around for no good reason. “Monster” is a level of loathsome beyond simply calling somebody criminal, or a liar, or a hypocrite.

(Leslie Plaza Johnson, AP)

Nick Saban makes 11.125 million dollars per year. Even counting in scholarships as though they were actual salaries of real currency, UCF doesn’t spend that much money on their entire program.

In that interest it is worth noting that Nick Saban does advertisements. Here he is pitching a cable company to the world. Notice what he’s wearing: A polo shirt with the script A on it. The kind of shirt Nick Saban coaches in. In other words, in that ad he is using his image specifically as the head coach of the Crimson Tide. Talent is paid for their work in ads, and one supposes Saban did not take the standard number but something much higher. In reality, of course, the shirt was doing the brunt of the work. Yes, Saban is a legend in the making, but he is such a legend because he is Alabama’s coach. Their resources and reputation on the field allow him to recruit the kids he recruits and field the teams he fields.

Saban also charges between $50,000 and $100,000 per speaking engagement, of which he does quite a few. This is something he learned from his mentor Bill Belichick, and by all accounts Nick Saban will energize a workforce or drum up some fundraising. I’m betting though, that for that hundred grand high end, you can get an authentic pep talk from Nick Saban in full coaching regalia if that’s what you wish for. When Saban shows up, the Crimson Tide brand comes with him.

That’s smart business and hard work on Saban’s part. Many people reading this would find the speaking engagements a nightmare simply because speaking in public is a nightmare. It is not an abuse of his position to do these things. He’s good at what he does, and that is the central element of what we want people to get paid for.

So why is it wrong for a kicker for the University of Central Florida, drawing a scholarship that equates to $21,834 of money that he gets no control over, to make a few stunt kicks for Youtube?

Coaches aren’t alone in profiting from their likeness as it pertains to college football. The NCAA itself does it. Next month, when college football starts, you’ll likely see a Capital One ad or two that involves well-known college mascots. The Purdue Boilermaker shows up in these ads, alongside the Florida Gator. After all of this, it is important to realize that the NCAA and their member schools have absolutely no problem with images directly associated with their football programs being used to sell credit cards.

This is Sportscenter is one of the internet’s favorite ad campaigns and with good reason. Many of these ads involve college mascots. I’m going to go out on a limb here: ESPN and Capital One pay money to somebody to use those mascots in their ads. If there are college students inside of those costumes, it is highly unlikely they will be paid. There might be a serious violation if they are. It’s not like they’re, say, Nick Saban.

Suppose I went into an athletic department and requested to use their mascot as the image for one of my podcasts. I won’t pay them, that would be outside of the interest of amateur athletics after all. I just want to profit from their likeness. In return, I will teach a class about podcasting that I deem to be worth $21,834, and let them live in a small room with a communal bathroom and access to a cafeteria they can see a specific number of times per week. If they use their own name and identity for their own gain before the class is over, the deal is off and they get nothing in return. P.S.: You’re all also on my new softball team and if you don’t pull your weight, deal’s off and I get to keep whatever I made off your identity.

Princes in poor financial standing have a better pitch. Yet this is the deal the NCAA makes with all their athletes.

Adrian J Hernandez / Valencia Voice

More information for you:

-The University of Central Florida does not charge students for tickets, but if those students wish to bring friends from off-campus they can pay the lowest ticket price to bring them along. As far as I can tell, that lowest ticket price is about $16.

-UCF’s football stadium has a capacity of 44,206. Good tickets go for considerably higher than $16. When they’re filling the stadium, UCF takes in hundreds of thousands of dollars per game.

-The conference Central Florida inhabits pays UCF a fair amount of money for their football membership every year as well.

-Being that the go-to argument about the NCAA is that a degree is extremely valuable, the only payment De La Haye received for what is effectively a full-time job is room, board, food, and college credit he can use if he can drum up his own money to go to school somewhere.

-After two years, the approximate value of De La Haye’s scholarship combines for less than $44,000. Less than a dollar for every seat in the stadium. Since a degree was not awarded, the effective end value of those two years is $0.00. Yes, he was given room and board and food. So are prisoners. Speaking of which, OJ Simpson collected his pension while in prison. He got paid more to sit in prison than he got paid for winning the Heisman Trophy. In other words, he had more control over his identity while in prison than NCAA football players have while on campus.

Here’s another hypothetical to underline, once more, that this is stupid:

Suppose you’re a saxophonist. You’re particularly gifted, so much so that you get a scholarship to Berklee School of Music. Jazz musicians and classical musicians alike help to train you in various disciplines and sharpen your talent. In the meanwhile, you get the opportunity to go down the street to Wally’s Café and play some jazz for a discerning audience. You are paid for your time. Do you lose your scholarship?

As monsters go, the NCAA in this case is somewhat Smaug-like in its actions. It’s all about gold, and not sharing said gold with any of the pesky little folks who actually did the hard work of earning it. Indianapolis will attack you, and burn you if it must, should you come near its stash of gold. Figuratively, of course, but tell that to Donald De La Haye and the ashes of his time at UCF.

So the NCAA has deemed that they own a player’s image, and it is their contention that this is in the best interests of the player. Let’s explore that.

My first question: What protection does the NCAA offer to its players?  Someone caught De La Haye’s violation and did so in a hurry. Those investigators, it seems, never miss a beat. So where are the results of the people whose job it is to protect these athletes? We only see the ones who punish them. The programs and coaches don’t get punished until some outside law enforcement group tells the NCAA that something has been going on for years if not decades.

The NCAA did not catch what was going on at Baylor, they simply reacted to it once it was over. The NCAA did not, as far as anyone knows thus far, even have an idea of what was going on behind the scenes of Joe Paterno’s program at Penn State, and in fact celebrated Paterno until the fall as the shining example of how to do things. How is it they can nail De La Haye and revoke his scholarship so quickly, but after decades of actual wrongdoing in Happy Valley the NCAA only caught wind of it when someone went to prison? Where were the watchdogs then? Where were they with Baylor? More importantly, knowing this, how can they be trusted to carry out their mission?

Next question: What is the value of two years of college that result in no degree? Because as it stands, that degree is the NCAA’s saving grace, and when they prevent kids from getting that degree it makes a lot of the work those kids put in look a little meaningless. Who would work a job that only paid off after a minimum of three years of nearly perfect work, when you know everyone above you is getting fat and happy off the fruits of your labor? Good luck explaining that revoked scholarship to future schools and potential employers, mister De La Haye.

Final question: In what weird and awful universe is what Joe Mixon did not worse than what Donald De La Haye did in making a little money off of entertaining videos? Because Mixon, after what he did, was allowed to play in the NCAA. De La Haye was treated more harshly, and more hostile. You can commit a serious crime and play NCAA football. You just can’t profit from it. If the NCAA has an answer to what makes that a display of pure sport, I’m all ears. That’s the biggest thing I can’t get out of my head on this: Mixon likely would have been thrown out of school were he there for any other reason, and were De La Haye at school for anything other than football his internet exploits would be applauded.

The incident with De La Haye just underlines where the NCAA’s interests lay. They couldn’t find a way to get their cut off the kicker’s hard work, and therefore his videos directly conflicted with their business plan of getting money for nothing via legally-sanctioned identity theft.

College football starts in just a few weeks. This is a Florida website, and I’ve written about the Gators myself. Like all of you, I’m excited to watch football again. Despite all this I still love college sports, as my college hockey podcast will attest. (Expansion special coming soon!)

I just think we need to be reminded from time to time that while the pageantry and the on-field product are awesome, there are a lot of things in college football, college sports, and really the entire collegiate experience in general that should make good people uncomfortable, and loving something means fighting to make sure monsters don’t destroy it.

Any other course of action will result in college sports one day becoming a relic of the past that we talk about being on top the way we talk about how horse racing used to be on top. That’s what the monsters will do to the NCAA. All the while, worse monsters, real monsters will use their brand, their likeness if you will, to do monstrous things.

Hey, at least they don’t make any Youtube videos.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.