Mo'ne Davis, Spike Lee and Sticking It to the NCAA Once and for All

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterOctober 22, 2014

AP Images

Teenage pitching phenom Mo'ne Davis was back on the national stage during the World Series—sorry, Major League Baseball's iteration of the World Series, not the Little League version that made her famous in the first place—in an ad for Chevrolet titled "Throw Like A Girl."

Directed by Spike Lee, the 60-second television spot, which is part of a 16-minute film Chevrolet produced about the young star, features Davis reading the words of what sounds like a letter to the American public.

"Dear United States of America," the commercial begins, "I am 13 years old. This summer was the best summer of my young life."

Thirteen. That's an important thing to remember when we talk about the composure Davis has shown since being thrust into the national—frankly, international—spotlight this summer, all for having the ability to throw a baseball better than almost anyone else her age, boy or girl.

It's also an important thing to remember when you see that the NCAA—the National Collegiate Athletic Association—felt the need to put out a statement regarding Davis's future eligibility after starring in the film.

Via ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, NCAA spokesperson Emily James released a statement about the Chevy project, allowing—yes, allowing—Davis to receive compensation for the spot while maintaining her future eligibility. Per Rovell, James wrote, "Mo'ne Davis may be paid for appearing in the Chevy commercial without impacting her NCAA eligibility."

Seems innocuous enough. If brand gurus and other sports business types are asking if there's a conflict with Davis making money from Chevy, then one might suppose it falls within the purview of the NCAA to comment on such matters. About a 13-year-old.

But there's more to the statement. Per ESPN:

The NCAA staff's decision was made within this process and based on a combination of considerations. This waiver narrowly extends the rules -- which allow Davis to accept the payment and still be eligible in any other sport -- to include baseball. The NCAA staff also considered the historically limited opportunities for women to participate in professional baseball. In addition, Davis is much younger than when the vast majority of the prospect rules apply. While this situation is unusual, the flexible approach utilized in this decision is not.

The NCAA, in a statement about a 13-year-old Little League pitcher, used the term "flexible" without a shred of irony in providing reasons as to why it made the decision to…and I want to get this wording right…"allow Davis to accept the payment and still be eligible" if and when she wants to pursue an amateur athletics career at an NCAA member institution.

In five years.

Sep 2, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Entertainer and actress Queen Latifah (left), Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp (center) and Taney Dragons little league world series pitcher Mo'Ne Davis pose before the game against the Washington Nationals a
USA TODAY Sports

Davis, who famously created an NCAA firestorm when she mentioned on ESPN she has aspirations to play basketball at the University of Connecticut, will not be eligible for an NCAA scholarship for half a decade. Despite this, the NCAA finds it well within its capacity as a collegiate governing body to decide whether taking money now for being in an advertisement will ruin her future eligibility.

Meanwhile, count how many autographs Davis signed that ended up being sold online for hundreds of dollars a pop by every creepazoid hanger-on who flocks to the Little League World Series in part because ESPN spends nearly $8 million a year to cash in on making little kids famous for three weeks each summer—seriously, $60 million over eight years ESPN pays out in television rights—without the Little League World Series corporation offering some families so much as a free trip to the stadium in return.

It seemed like everyone was making money off Mo'ne Davis this summer, except Davis herself.

That's because of the NCAA's draconian rules. That has to stop.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 31:  Little League Pitcher Mo'ne Davis poses with Maya Moore #23 of the Minnesota Lynx  prior to the WNBA Western Conference Finals Game 2 on August 31, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  NOTE TO USER: User expressl
David Sherman/Getty Images

Davis will never become a Major League Baseball star. The only time she may ever be part of the World Series is featured in an ad like the one Lee and Chevrolet created this year.

Getting paid because baseball made her a big enough celebrity for a legendary director, and a huge corporation, to want to make a short film about her is the American dream.

It's the American dream to become famous enough to make money because of who you are, and the NCAA has systematically taken that away from every young athlete in this country, all part of the organization's warped, misappropriated edict to promote amateurism.

It's a joke. Frankly, it's criminal. And it's going to be up to someone like Davis—someone with the cachet and national platform like what baseball gave to a 13-year-old girl this summer—to change the system.

Phil Sears/Associated Press

We admonish the likes of Johnny Manziel, Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston for failing to abide by the NCAA rules of amateurism when those football stars cash in (allegedly) off their own name and likeness, while simultaneously wringing our hands about the horrible NCAA rules that preclude student-athletes from earning money or gifts in the first place.

This is a simple, basic, human right. No one, and certainly no organization like the NCAA, should own a man, woman or child's name.

You own your name. And yet year after year, thousands of student-athletes trade the rights to their names away for the ability to play college sports for free. Now, many receive a scholarship, room and board in return, but many seem perfectly willing to trade their own name in for the mere chance at participating in college athletics. Even walk-on players who pay their way through school have to surrender their rights to the NCAA.

And as unfair as that is, and as ridiculous as it may be that Gurley and Winston are caught in a web of impropriety that could derail their schools' championship aspirations, those are the rules that apply. By signing a National Letter of Intent and inking a scholarship with an NCAA member institution, those players quite literally signed their rights away.

Breaking the rules they agreed to is a punishable offense in the NCAA's world.

"That'll be eight bucks."
"That'll be eight bucks."USA TODAY Sports

Mo'ne Davis isn't in the NCAA's world.

By the NCAA's own rules Davis isn't eligible to be recruited until she reaches the ninth grade. (Note: Despite that rule, let's not forget that UConn coach Geno Auriemma was hit with a secondary violation for calling to congratulate Davis after the Little League World Series.)

Davis isn't even inside the horribly broken NCAA umbrella yet, and still her ability to earn money off her newfound celebrity is being held hostage, pending "approval" from the organization.

That we allow the NCAA to do this to our children is embarrassing.

That the NCAA has the authority to withhold future athletic eligibility from a 13-year-old with aspirations to not only play sports in college but even go to college in the first place is a crime.

So what, am I suggesting Davis should just take the money, be as famous as possible and worry about the NCAA's hammer in half a decade when she enrolls at UConn and they won't let her play basketball like she wants?

Yes! Yes, yes a million times (and dollars) yes!

Davis should do what every high school, middle school or kindergarten wunderkind should do when faced with this decision moving forward.

Cash in. Buck the system. Stick it to the NCAA.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 31: Little League Pitcher Mo'ne Davis is introduced to the crowd during the WNBA Western Conference Finals Game 2 on August 31, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

The NCAA hopefully won't even exist in its current form when Davis is finally eligible to play at UConn, or wherever she opts to play when she's old enough to make that decision. The rules for amateurism have to change, and with college unions popping up and athletes demanding more rights, the NCAA world as we know it will not be the same in five years' time.

Already the rules for scholarships have begun to change at many schools. The next logical step is allowing players to get paid for their likeness.

If Gurley and Winston can't change the system, then Davis can.

Davis, her teammates with the Taney Dragons and every little kid in America can change the system by simply refusing to sign a scholarship document that precludes them from earning off their own name.

If we really wanted to change the system, we would convince the parents of every prospective student-athlete getting ready to sign an NLI this year—for football, basketball, baseball, soccer or any other NCAA sport that makes money for its member institutions—to have their kids hold out for more.

You want your son to play football at Alabama? Great. Tell Nick Saban you won't sign unless the terms are renegotiated.

One player doesn't have the power to make that change—not even a player who has Spike Lee making films about her—but every player, collectively, does.

If the top 100 prospects all refused to sign next football season until the NCAA agreed to let them earn money off their own name, the system would instantly change. Instantly. It's that easy, if someone is willing to organize.

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 20:  Mo'ne Davis #3 of Pennsylvania pitches to a Nevada batter during the first inning of the United States division game at the Little League World Series tournament at Lamade Stadium on August 20, 2014 in South Williamspo
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Davis can be that person. And while that's too much pressure for a 13-year-old, her maturity and calmness under pressure in a way make her the perfect person to take it on.

But failing that, maybe Lee and whomever is behind this at Chevy could do it. Hell, I'll do it, if it means never having to see the NCAA write a statement like it did this week about a 13-year-old kid ever again.

It's criminal. It has to change. These kids, especially those like Davis, have the power to do it. I just hope someone does in the next five years, so the next Mo'ne Davis won't have to worry about cashing in...and losing out in the long run.

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