By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
As the debate about collegiate student-athlete affairs rages on, the creators of a website that is just in its infancy believe they have established an innovative option in improving the well-being of all college students, with a particular focus on student-athletes.
“I don’t claim that our website is a perfect solution to the problems of college sports,” FanPay.org Co-Founder Tony Klausing said in an exclusive interview with Flyer News. “I do say it’s an extremely productive step in the right direction.”
FanPay, which launched its crowd-funding website on Christmas Day, provides people with the opportunity to donate money to a specific student at any university. Those funds will not be paid to that student until he or she graduates from the same school specified in the original donation.
“Our website is special because we require graduation,” Klausing said. “You don’t have to be an athlete to be on our website, but you do have to be a college student and you do have to graduate to get the money.”
Klausing says the website has already received more than $1,300 worth of contributions. A live tally of total donations can be found on the site’s home page.
FanPay’s focus on student-athletes has drawn attention from NCAA member schools. Schools are concerned about how the site’s procedures could put student-athletes’ eligibility into question.
That concern has led to schools, including the University of Dayton, to send cease and desist letters to FanPay, requesting that any names, images or likenesses of student-athletes be taken off the website. UD’s letter was sent from Vice President and Director of Athletics Tim Wabler.
Currently, the rosters of Dayton men’s basketball and football, albeit not exactly updated ones (Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson are still listed on the basketball roster, as is Alex Gavrilovic) are posted on FanPay. No student-athlete on either team has received any contributions.
“We’ve received a lot of cease and desist letters from a lot of schools,” Klausing said. “The question is, is that right? Are these rules correct?”
The rules Klausing is referring to are NCAA bylaws regarding permissible or impermissible activities that can affect a student-athlete’s amateur status. The rules, NCAA Bylaw 12.1.2-(b) and NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199, are referenced in the cease and desist letter.
The first bylaw, according to the NCAA Division I Manual, which can be downloaded for free online, states, “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a particular sport if that individual accepts a promise of pay even if such pay is to be received following completion of intercollegiate athletics participation.”
Klausing and his fellow co-founders believe they designed their website in compliance with NCAA rules. They cite three reasons why they are not in conflict with NCAA rules: That money is withheld until graduation, students can reject those funds once they graduate and students don’t have to contact the website at all until after they graduate.
“There’s no money changing hands while the student is at school,” Klausing said. “Our idea was to try to create the rules of our website so that they could help student-athletes the most.”
UD Deputy Director of Athletics Neil Sullivan spoke to Flyer News about the athletic department’s reaction to FanPay’s operations.
“The cease and desist letter was primarily based on dealing with the facts as we know them today,” Sullivan said. “Even if funds are dispersed upon graduation, that deferred compensation is not permissible under current NCAA rules, so that’s the method by which we enforce them.”
The second bylaw regards the use of a student-athlete’s name, image or likeness being used commercially.
“If a student-athlete’s name or picture appears on commercial items (e.g., T-shirts, sweatshirts, serving trays, playing cards, posters) or is used to promote a commercial product sold by an individual or agency without the student-athlete’s knowledge or permission, the student-athlete (or the institution acting on behalf of the student-athlete) is required to take steps to stop such an activity in order to retain his or her eligibility for intercollegiate athletics,” the bylaw states.
FanPay is a for-profit business, as a fee of two to six percent is added to donations based on the method of payment. The cease and desist letters are the steps schools are taking to abide by the commercialism rule. Klausing and his team are not necessarily surprised by the letters, as they know how cut-and-dry NCAA rules can be. The volume of letters has caught them a little off guard, though.
“I don’t think we foresaw the extent of pushback that has occurred, that’s for sure,” Klausing said. “We were naive in thinking that the NCAA and schools would say, ‘Oh, this is a really good idea, it’s a way to get athletes more money, it’s a way to get them a degree and oh, by the way, schools don’t have to pay anything out of pocket.’”
According to Sullivan, the department is merely just doing its job.
“We view as primary [that] our responsibility is to uphold and enforce the NCAA rules as they are today,” he said. “It’s our position that we’re required to take reasonable steps to take measures to ensure our student-athletes’ eligibility is not jeopardized. We think the cease and desist letter speaks for itself and helps protect what the current rules on the books are.”