I may be beating a dead horse here, but this is a point I feel goes unilluminated by many sports personalities and talking heads. One argument has long been that the NCAA structure propels its athletes onto a national stage and without that infrastructure, the athlete would be unable to reach mass populations. Therefore, the popularity received is strictly a by-product of the game and the NCAA, and all money should be funneled through them accordingly.

I argue that with the global reach that social media networks allow, it is becoming easier for individuals (NCAA scholarship athletes or not) to be in the forefront of conversation and the beneficiary of the money that now follows influencers on those networks, NCAA scholarship athlete or not. Just as an investor would diversify a portfolio, an individual who reaches a certain amount of people because of sports-fame can diversify his or her following through their interest in a certain genre of books, or affinity for making funny YouTube videos. Whatever.

So.

The NCAA has always had this stranglehold on its student-athletes, but social media is taking baby steps toward a loosening of its grip. One tweet, blog, and YouTube video at a time.

College sports have long been responsible for developing celebrities and introducing legends of sport to the world with icons such as Michael Jordan, to Johnny Manziel, and the likes. Different icons, sure, but you get the point.

The NCAA has ballooned into a multi-billion-dollar organization that encompasses over 1,200 schools and almost 500,000 college athletes per year. As TV-deals magnified, sponsorship exploded, and sub-economies centered around sports developed, the dollar signs became too big for people not to investigate how the NCAA actually operates.

Hot take here, but as Arian Foster says, and I paraphrase: It’s slavery.

See, Arian Foster is a former University of Tennessee running back and NFL veteran who has often voiced his disdain against the NCAA and explained the necessity of (in his case) accepting benefits on the side to combat restrictions that the NCAA places on its “employees”.

Not quite the same, but you can follow. As the business grows and players likenesses are increasingly exploited, under NCAA rules and restrictions, the players don’t have control or ownership over what they can do.

Except now, that’s changing. With social media platforms exploding and allowing personalities to shine off the field or court or in post-game interviews, players now have an outlet to build their brand and leverage themselves outside of the NCAA.

Previous to the existence of the Twittersphere and the YouTube blogging-craze, college athletes were seen on Saturdays, or whenever their games were televised nationally in basketball’s case. You would hear sound-bites from post-game interviews and obscure facts from commentators which ultimately made up your understanding of whether you like a player or not.

Athletes couldn’t align themselves publicly with what they believed in, used, or followed. Spectators and fans couldn’t get a look at what else players were interested in or even capable of doing. Maybe it’s that whole “Athletes should stick to sports.” thing that is still being thrown around.

Now, players have the capability, but it’s coming at a cost. The NCAA has doubled down on its rules about not allowing college athletes to accept money. Unfortunate for the NCAA, but today’s world increasingly sees it for the money-machine that it is. With that, a profitable organization exploiting and restricting its employees is a no-go. Not today, Junior.

Perfect example of unjust restriction:

Donald De La Haye is a former UCF kicker who was removed from the roster one year before the Knights became the unofficially official “National Champions” because he operated a YouTube blog in which he received money for the number of subscribers and viewers he had on his videos. Basically, he found a way to monetize his personality and talents, without affecting his performance (within their product) on Saturdays.

The NCAA handed him the ultimatum of remaining an NCAA athlete or pursuing a career of YouTube stardom. The thing is, if you look at the two options, it doesn’t make sense.

Option 1: Stay on scholarship, stay on the roster, stop making YouTube documenting his day to day life as an athlete. Confine yourself to one thing and don’t broadcast or market yourself to the world.

Option 2: Lose your scholarship, be removed from the roster, continue making YouTube videos titled “WE TOOK A FOOTBALL TO THE BEACH!”, and make money off of your creative personality. While you do that you can develop a brand outside of football and better position yourself to enter a workforce with skills outside of hitting people.

Question: Why can’t these two worlds co-exist? A player who creates their own lane of interests and principles can showcase themselves to the public in ways that can separate them from just a football player or basketball player or athlete in general. They can share their true passions with the world. Sidenote: They can still be football players, basketball players, or athletes in general and not jeopardize the integrity of the game.

The NCAA wants to cultivate their own personalities and propel them into stardom and control where they are, when they are, and who they are – but they don’t want athletes to create their own stardom that began with popularity as a college athlete. The problem is in today’s world, that is an unrealistic restriction because fans can be reached by so many different variables, mediums, and topics that it is impossible to say X fans are only following X person because of their appearances on Saturday.

Loosely in the words of The Other Guys, they’re peacocks, you gotta let ‘em fly!

The NCAA has to let ‘em fly. Social media has broken the dam, and finger-plugging the holes will only work for so long.