The latest challenger to the NCAA's increasingly creaky yoke on the shoulders of its student-athletes has arrived. He's not a certain future multi-millionaire; he's not a hard-case story. He's a kid with some flow and a video, and his wide-eyed positivity might do more to alter NCAA procedure than armadas of lawyers and reams of bad publicity have ever managed.
First, the video. Meet Joel Bauman, a redshirt sophomore wrestler at the University of Minnesota and an aspiring rapper. Here's one of his latest, "Ones in the Sky."
The problem, for the NCAA, isn't the video's message of following one's own dreams. It's that Bauman uses his own name and is profiting off the song by selling it on iTunes. Per NCAA rule 126.96.36.199, a player is not eligible for participation if he "accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind." As a result, Bauman lost his eligibility for the remainder of this season.
The disparity here is obvious. A student can't profit off of his or her own name, but the NCAA, the universities, the media – basically everyone but the student – can. You can see the real-world applications of this rule – a Jadaveon Clowney or an AJ McCarron could be a millionaire tomorrow without it – but in its slippery-slope, zero-tolerance usage, it's flatly absurd.
Even more ridiculous: the workarounds proposed by the NCAA and the university. According to a New York Times report, Minnesota said that Bauman could regain his eligibility if he worked under an alias. But that would mean starting over and losing all the brand awareness he's built up at a grassroots level.
From an on-field (or, in this case, on-mat) perspective, this isn't a huge story. While Bauman did win two high school state championships wrestling at 189 pounds, he isn't a starter on the Minnesota team, and hasn't wrestled since sustaining a concussion last year. He has dreams of an MMA career, but he's receiving far more acclaim for his songwriting than his wrestling acumen.
Moreover, this entire venture isn't sitting well with the very first university authority figure to whom Bauman should listen: his coach. "I don't think Joel is dealing with this the right way," Minnesota coach J Robinson told the New York Times. "He came here to be a wrestler, not a singer. He's got to decide what he wants to do. You can't do three or four things well."
"Coach J is really pissed off," Bauman told Yahoo! Sports. "I'm sorry. I respect that. For him, this is a business. I am one of his financial assets. I totally get that."
Bauman's apparent understanding of all perspectives makes this story a twist from the usual David-vs.-Goliath tale. "I totally get why the NCAA did what it did," he said. "I should be punished. I'm breaking the rules. … I would have done the same thing. I'm not some anarchist saying, 'Screw the NCAA.' … If this was just for publicity, I would have hired a lawyer."
He's trying to spin it forward, turning crisis into opportunity: "It's made me adapt to change, to re-revolutionize myself," he said. "I'll grow as a person."
This is one of those illogical-extreme cases that could force the NCAA and its universities to rethink the draconian policies on eligibility, particularly those for non-revenue-generating sports. Probably not, but you never know; we did finally get a college football playoff.
For his part, Bauman still has an entire academic year to figure out how to regain his eligibility, which he still seeks. He believes he's come upon a solution to both promote his message and get back on the mat. But he coyly hides it in promotion for his next project, "Wonder That."
"My team is trying to rush it out as soon as possible," he said. "It's a work in progress. But we're trying to take advantage of the current momentum."
How exactly a song will restore his eligibility while promoting positivity remains to be seen, but Bauman believes it will. For the moment, that's enough. Down the line, he'll look to broader horizons.
"It's not just about music," he insists. "It's about inspiring as large a crowd as I can. I want to reach people on a subconscious level. It's just vital that I spread the message."
And that message, in Bauman's words:
It's not how much you Achieve – It's bout' how much you Believe;
It's bout' how much that you changed the room – by the time you take your Leave;
It's not how much you Succeed – It's bout' how much you Defeat;
It's bout' how much you can get out by the time they kick your Teeth;
It's not how much you can Make – It's bout' how much you can Stake;
It's bout' when you're given "Nothing" and you go and make it Great;
It's not how long you stay the course – It's how long that you stand strong;
Bout' them walking on you, and you know – You're strong enough to stand on …
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