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We live in an era of social media celebrities, and nowhere is this more obvious than with YouTube, which has launched thousands of new video stars. In some cases, these YouTube celebrities can pull down more than $1 million a year with all the views that are racked up online.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that college athletes – many of whom may have set up YouTube accounts when they were still high school stars – find it natural to continue their YouTube video activities when they make it to campus.
YouTube and the college football star
The big example that people are talking about now is a college football kicker from the University of Central Florida (UCF), who also happens to run a highly successful YouTube channel. And it’s more than just a hobby or a way to show off to fans and fellow students – it’s actually a way to help finance his education. That’s right, Donald De La Haye is making so much money from his YouTube videos that it has become a viable way to help finance his college education.
However, the NCAA was having none of this. From their perspective, the monetization of a YouTube channel represented a clear violation of NCAA guidelines. According to those guidelines, it’s possible to monetize your online presence – but you can’t use anything involving the NCAA, athletics, or any form of reputation and prestige accruing from participation in sports to monetize that online presence. In other words, if you post a few YouTube videos of a practice session, or a YouTube video showing you training for a game, that’s off limits.
So the NCAA gave an ultimatum – either wind down the YouTube channel, or lose your NCAA eligibility to compete in college sports. For De La Haye, the choice was especially stark because he was receiving a college scholarship based on his participation on the UCF football team. If he lost his eligibility, he’d lose his scholarship, and that means that he’d be unable to afford college. Even his YouTube revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover the spiraling cost of a college education.
What needs to change?
There are a lot of deep issues involved here. Only the most naïve of sports fans would consider NCAA football an amateur sport. Look at the salaries paid to the coaches, the huge sums made in TV broadcasting rights, and the outrageous amounts of money made from Bowl Game appearances. This is legitimately a professional, for-profit business that’s masquerading as an amateur sport.
For many kids these days, college is just a way station before the much more profitable endeavor of professional sports. They know that they may be unpaid in college (unless college boosters manage to throw some money their way), but they’ll cash in as a professional sports star.
Teenage social media stars are now at the forefront of social change
This is obviously going to be an ongoing problem. Think of kids still in junior high school or high school. They’re obviously becoming very savvy about how to create a social media presence. They realize that it’s now possible to monetize their influence, and why shouldn’t they?
The problem is that the NCAA doesn’t want to back down, because that might open a whole Pandora’s box of problems at universities across the nation. The college student involved here doesn’t want to back down, viewing the NCAA request as being an infringement on his free speech rights. And YouTube certainly doesn’t want to get involved here.
Ultimately, this is a great example of how the law has failed to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change. We need to recognize that social media is changing society, as well as how we think about socio-economic interactions. And the law needs to grow, adjust and change accordingly.