Kevin Ferrell's dad told Zach Osterman of the Indianapolis Star yesterday that his son will announce his stay-or-go decision at the Ruth's Chris off 86th and Keystone in Indianapolis on April 25th. How can Hoosier fans convince him to stay to lead what could arguably be Indiana's best team in the Crean era?
Oh, just crowdfund his whole senior season.
Right here, there's what amounts to a Kickstarter to keep Yogi Ferrell in college for another season, and donations are already slowly rolling in. How is all this possible? How is it even legal? How has the NCAA not shut this whole thing down?
Enter start-up site FanAngel.com, a company launched in March where fans can effectively make pledges into a "trust fund" for an athlete that pays out when the athlete's eligibility expires. The athletes are then offered the money post-college if they have satisfied the given condition for which the campaign was started. They're obviously under no requirement to accept the prize, and if they don't, fans are refunded the cash. It's a simple enough concept designed to further connect fans with athletes, incentivize a full education, and, you know, properly compensate athletes for their work-product on the field or court.
"This is a platform that allows fans to do something they've never been able to do: actually keep, attract or award a player- instead of sitting back or yelling at the TV or getting upset about someone leaving," says FanAngel founder Shawn Fojtik. "If the athlete achieves the goal or comes back to school, it's a win-win for the fan and player. If not, the fan gets the money back."
But, wait, hold on. Is this whole thing even legal?
Is it legal? Yes. But is it permissible under NCAA rules? Depends who you ask.
Fojtik admits that there's a too-good-to-be-true factor for some. The company has already received cease-and-desist letters from some university compliance departments, too. But he says those notices are citing NCAA regulations that aren't applicable to the company.
"The first question from 9/10 people is is it legal. People can take some association rules and take them as law, even though those are only applicable to the membership. On top of that, rules must be consistent with state and federal laws. We don't violate any state, federal, or local laws. This is a fan pledging money to a third-party website, and then we make the offer to the athlete at a later time."
He also explains that this is something that big-time companies, such as Nike and Gatorade, have been doing for decades. Now his website is just putting that power in the hands of fans.
"This has been an accepted practice for years. Marcus Mariota's going to be a multi-millionaire. Sponsors have been putting money away for him for a long time. I've been in the corporate world and know that you're preparing that funding a couple of years out. All we're doing is making those funds put away in escrow for athletes via our first amendment right, by treating it as a news story."
While FanAngel's business model doesn't seem to infringe on any laws as Fojtik says, not all believe that the NCAA would let FanAngel go quietly into the night. Sports lawyer & Forbes columnist Darren Heitner, who profiled the company back in March, thinks they'd find a way to put the nix on FanAngel's early foray into college sports.
"The bylaws deem it impermissible for a college athlete to use his or her athletic skill (directly or indirectly) for pay in any form in that sport. Thus, the NCAA may hold that FanAngel.com, while not directly providing compensation to players until after completion of their eligibility, still causes athletes to violate the NCAA's regulations if they accept future payment, as that still falls under "pay in any form." The NCAA goes a step further and holds that even accepting a promise of pay, even if it is to received following completion of intercollegiate athletics participation, is against the rules. But what if the athlete does not do anything? How would that be a violation? If the athlete is not in any way induced to stay at school, then the NCAA seemingly has no claim. However, isn't that the whole purpose of the website... to induce athletes to stay based on pledges of funds?"
But Fojtik reiterates that there's no acceptance occurring on behalf of the athlete until after their time under the organization's rule has concluded. His company won't allow an athlete to accept their pledge until after the athlete exhausts their eligibility -- or the time they would've exhausted their eligibility had they stayed in school. He places a premium on education, and claims the company wants to find a way to incentivize that further.
"I don't know any rules anyone can make that would prevent this. We live outside (the NCAA's) purview. We won't allow athletes to accept early. We want to make sure there is no incentive to break an NCAA rule or take advantage of the ability to leave early because an athlete has FanAngel money waiting."
Fotjik has big plans for the site too, well beyond college sports. He says the company will be launching a foray into European Soccer soon, and he intends for the site to stretch from "NASCAR to the Masters" in allowing fans to further incentivize athletes. But don't mistake the vision -- it's born out of a desire to provide college athletes with the compensation he believes they deserve.
"We believe it's against American values to deny someone the right to fair pay for fair work. College athletes are the only class that are prevented from being compensated on the value of their work. The courts are telling the world -- it's not a matter of if we're going to pay college athletes. It's how and when."