Former UCF kicker Donald De La Haye is a YouTube star. The channel he created in 2015, Deestroying, has about 700,000 subscribers. More than a dozen of the videos De La Haye has posted to that channel have passed the million-view mark.
De La Haye enrolled at UCF on an athletic scholarship in 2015. He played in all 13 games in 2016 as a kickoff specialist. All the while, he uploaded YouTube videos and built his following. In the summer of 2017, that became a problem.
It’s led to an ongoing legal fight, with NCAA rules the focus as much as anything.
UCF took away De La Haye’s scholarship because of how he made money on YouTube. The school cited NCAA rules that would make him ineligible.
Many of the videos on De La Haye’s channel had ads. In YouTube terminology, they were “monetized.” The NCAA has rules against players making money off their status as college athletes:
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.
Not all of the videos De La Haye ran ads against had anything to do with his UCF football career or status as a player. The NCAA says it told De La Haye in a waiver that he could keep running ads on videos that didn’t draw on football stuff. Then, he could still play for UCF.
But the NCAA (and UCF, acting on NCAA rules) also required that, for De La Haye to keep his scholarship and eligibility, he’d have to pull ads off the videos that weren’t sports-related, too, as long as they remained on his Deestroying channel. He declined and lost his scholarship and eligibility to play.
This was how the NCAA described his case at the time:
Although Donald De La Haye has chosen not to compete any longer as a UCF student-athlete, he could have continued playing football for the university and earn money from non-athletic YouTube videos, based on a waiver the NCAA granted July 14.
De La Haye decided he did not want to separate his athletically-related videos from non-athletic ones he could monetize, which was outlined in the waiver for him to maintain eligibility.
Contrary to misperceptions, making a YouTube video — and even making money off of it — is not a violation of an NCAA rule. Further, years ago the membership gave NCAA staff the ability to review situations like these on a case-by-case basis, consistent with previous actions.
After the national office received the waiver request from UCF July 12, that process was used to confirm that De La Haye could continue to profit from any of his video activity as long as it was not based on his athletics reputation, prestige, or ability.
UCF told the same story.
At heart, this is a case about NCAA rules. But the NCAA isn’t the defendant. De La Haye is suing a bunch of UCF’s top brass.
De La Haye filed the suit in January. He named as defendants UCF president John Hitt, athletic director Danny White, two university VPs, and 13 board of trustees members. The case is playing out in federal court in Orlando. A UCF attempt to get it dismissed failed in early July.
De La Haye says UCF violated his constitutional rights in two ways.
UCF is a state school, which is important, because he alleges violations of:
- Free speech, under the 1st and 14th Amendments. His lawyer argues that the “policies, practices, or customs at UCF, as implementing the NCAA Rule ... are overly broad, not content neutral, not narrowly tailored to serve compelling government interests, and do not leave open ample alternative channels of communication.”
- His right to due process, under the 14th amendment. De La Haye’s camp says his scholarship was “constitutionally protected property” and taking it away was “arbitrary state action” that didn’t serve a government interest.
The court already dismissed the second claim, over due process. De La Haye’s still fighting on the free-speech issue.
But everything ties back to the NCAA. By going after UCF, De La Haye could create a problem for the organization that made the rules.
De La Haye thinks UCF should be treated as an arm of the government. It’s not clear if a player at a private school like Miami could mount the same argument.
But most major football-playing NCAA-member schools are public. If De La Haye can get a court to agree that UCF’s enforcement of NCAA rules violated his constitutional rights, that might call into question the validity of other NCAA rules.
De La Haye seems to have his eye on something like that. He’s asking the court to declare that UCF’s “policies, practices, or customs of relying on the NCAA Rule,” as they were applied to him, are unconstitutional. He also wants his scholarship eligibility back.
The kicker thinks UCF owes him. But the NCAA has even more to lose.