Wouldn't it be utterly amusing if a former back-up kicker from a non-Power 5 school caused the NCAA's entire structure of amateurism to come crumbling down?
Granted, the chances of this happening would be akin to disgruntled ex-UCF kicker Donald De La Haye making a game-winning 70-yard field goal in a winner-take-all national-championship game against Alabama, but De La Haye and his legal team are at least giving it that good ol' college try.
The opening kickoff in this complex game of legal football came earlier this week before a federal judge in Orlando who will decide soon whether to dismiss De La Haye's lawsuit against UCF or allow it to progress into the next phase. De La Haye's legal team is claiming UCF violated the player's constitutional rights to free speech when UCF ruled him ineligible and failed to renew his football scholarship because of his refusal to demonetize a YouTube page that was in violation of NCAA rules.
"The rules of the NCAA don't override the Constitution and they never will under any circumstance," said Jon Riches, De La Haye's attorney and the director of national litigation for the Goldwater Institute. "The second point, UCF did have a choice here. They could have allowed Donald to maintain the scholarship that was promised to him irrespective of NCAA rules, but they chose not to do that.
"... If a court says there's this rule on the books that's being enforced unconstitutionally and is probably being enforced unconstitutionally across the entire country, I would hope that would prompt very significant reckoning among NCAA officials."
This wouldn't just be an NCAA reckoning; it would be an NCAA wrecking. If the federal court rules that UCF must reinstate De La Haye's scholarship despite the fact that his monetized YouTube videos are in violation of NCAA rules, can you imagine the ramifications? If the NCAA's prohibition of players making money on YouTube is a violation of free speech, then what's to stop a well-heeled Alabama booster from paying a star recruit $50,000 for endorsing his car dealership? All the recruit would have to say is, "It's my First Amendment right to free speech to be able sing the praises of the new 2019 Mercedes S-Class sedan."
If – and that's a big if – De La Haye gets a favorable ruling on UCF violating his constitutional rights, it would revolutionize college sports. College football and basketball would become the wild, wild west. Big-money boosters who have been paying players for years under the table would brazenly come out of the closet and openly begin bidding on the sponsorship rights to Bobby Bluechip's YouTube channel. It would absolutely gut the ideal of NCAA amateurism.
Then again, there have been other legal cases – better than this one – that we thought would bring down the NCAA. De La Haye's case, at best, is a legal Hail Mary that will likely fall harmlessly incomplete. As much as we all may disagree with the NCAA rule prohibiting college athletes from cashing in on their names and likenesses, it is the NCAA rule and has been for decades. If Tim Tebow, Jameis Winston or Blake Bortles couldn't cash in on their star status as college athletes, do you really believe De La Haye will be able to bring down the system?
While De La Haye's case is certainly intriguing, it has plenty of legal holes in it. First and foremost, the NCAA is a private organization with corresponding legal rights. If you want to participate as an NCAA athlete and receive an athletic grant-in aid (scholarship), you must sign a document saying you agree to "abide by team, university and NCAA codes, bylaws, rules and regulations."
Obviously, there is also a major question as whether the NCAA/UCF partnership is violating De La Haye's right to free speech. Certainly, the NCAA is obstructing De La Haye's ability for "paid" speech, but the free-speech argument is a stretch. The NCAA isn't stopping De La Haye from making YouTube videos; they're just saying he can't monetize them if he wants to maintain his status as an eligible college athlete.
Then there's the other major dispute about UCF "rescinding" De La Haye's scholarship. De La Haye and his attorneys claim that his scholarship was immediately revoked after he was ruled ineligible, but UCF claims in court documents that De La Haye made a "business decision" to pursue his YouTube dream and quit going to class even before the school ruled him ineligible. UCF's argument: If De La Haye wasn't athletically or academically participating in the college experience, did he really deserve to have a college scholarship?
When asked Wednesday if De La Haye essentially rescinded his own scholarship when he stopped going to class, Riches replied, "That's not what happened. They (UCF) pulled his scholarship within two days of them making the determination that he was not in compliance with NCAA rules and then kicked him off of campus and out of student housing within a few days."
Welcome to the he-said/she-said world of legal football.
It's going to be fascinating to see how the judge rules in this case.
It could be a ground-breaking decision, but more likely Donald De La Haye's kick will sail wide right and the college football machine will roll on.