Judge denies UCF's attempt to dismiss lawsuit filed by kicker who lost scholarship over YouTube channel

Donald De La Haye’s lawsuit against UCF will carry on. (Getty Images)
Donald De La Haye’s lawsuit against UCF will carry on. (Getty Images)

The lawsuit filed by former University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye against the school will carry on.

UCF moved to have the lawsuit thrown out, but a judge ruled against the school on Tuesday. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Middle District of Florida judge Anne Conway deemed that De La Haye’s first amendment violation claim is plausible.

De La Haye wants UCF to admit it violated his rights, reinstate his football scholarship and also pay for court costs, other legal fees and damages.

Why is Donald De La Haye suing UCF?

Before UCF embarked on its remarkable undefeated season, the De La Haye situation sparked some controversy.

De La Haye, who was UCF’s kickoff specialist in 2015 and 2016, has a popular YouTube channel that, in part, documented his life as a college athlete. While playing for the Knights, he was making money off of some of his videos via the advertisements he allowed YouTube to place on his videos.

The monetization caught the attention of UCF’s compliance department, who felt he was potentially violating NCAA rules. After meeting with De La Haye, UCF submitted a waiver to the NCAA on De La Haye’s behalf.

That waiver was granted, but with a caveat.

De La Haye could continue making money from the videos as long as they “did not reference his status as a student-athlete or depict his football skill or ability,” UCF said in a statement, citing the NCAA. De La Haye was not comfortable with those compromises and was “ruled ineligible to compete in NCAA-sanctioned competition.”

From there, De La Haye was removed from the team and lost his athletic scholarship. All of that led to the lawsuit.

Lawsuit: UCF violated De La Haye’s free speech rights

In the lawsuit, filed Jan. 25, De La Haye the school violated his free speech and due process rights when it stripped him of his scholarship.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

The lawsuit claims UCF president John Hitt, athletics director Danny White and the school’s board of trustees violated his first amendment right to free speech and 14th amendment right to due process by removing his football scholarship after learning the NCAA deemed his YouTube videos a violation of its eligibility rules.

De La Haye’s attorney argues the NCAA’s decision not to grant the kicker a waiver allowing him to keep posting videos should have had no impact on UCF honoring his scholarship. The lawsuit filed Jan. 25 asks UCF to admit it violated De La Haye’s rights, reinstate his football scholarship, award De La Haye court costs and legal fees and grant any other relief the court deems proper.

Unless UCF appeals Tuesday’s decision, the case “will likely be decided by a summary judgment this fall,” per the Sentinel.

De La Haye was violating NCAA bylaw 12.4.4

NCAA bylaws allow student-athletes to “establish their own business.” However, bylaw 12.4.4 says the student-athlete cannot use their “name, photo, appearance or athletics reputation to promote the business.”

UCF said the waiver granted by the NCAA allowed De La Haye to continue creating videos that “referenced his status as a student-athlete or depict his football skill or ability,” but only if they were “posted to a non-monetized account.” De La Haye “chose not to accept the conditions of the waiver,” UCF said.

After UCF put out its statement, the NCAA detailed its position on the matter, making sure to point out (in a very NCAA way) that UCF, not the NCAA, ultimately ruled De La Haye ineligible.

Below is the NCAA’s statement, dated July 31, 2017, in its entirety:

“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 monetize his video activity as long as it was not based on his athletics reputation, prestige or ability.”

”I’m torn apart inside.”

After losing his scholarship, De La Haye posted a video detailing his feelings.

“I’m definitely torn apart inside,” he said. “I never really thought it would come down to this. They proposed me some rules and some conditions that they wanted me to follow and I refused to and I didn’t feel like they were fair. I’m not going to get into details of all of that, I don’t think I’m allowed to. But I just didn’t think it was fair what they wanted me to do so I didn’t do it.”

De La Haye, who was born in Costa Rica and later moved to Florida, said some of the money he makes from the videos was being sent home to help his family.

“My family’s struggling at home,” he said in one video. “(A lot of) people living in my house. Tons of bills piling up and there’s no way for me to help. I thought I found a way.”

He explained the whole saga in the video below:

The popularity of De La Haye’s YouTube channel has increased

When we first wrote about what De La Haye was facing last June, his channel, “Deestroying,” had around 50,000 followers and more than 2 million views.

Since then, the channel has grown immensely.

At the time of this writing his subscriber count has surpassed 691,000. His views — approaching 77 million, with 15 videos passing the 1 million views mark — are just as impressive.

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