ALBANY -- There are strings attached.
Tehoka Nanticoke -- and by extension his UAlbany men's lacrosse team -- found that out the hard way last weekend.
He was not in the lineup for a 17-16 loss at Cornell on Saturday, and considering the fact that the sophomore is one of the best players in the country, I'll go out on a limb to say that his absence had something to do with the one-goal loss.
At issue -- in a murky, convoluted sequence of events that played out starting last Thursday and ended with his reinstatement on Monday -- was an Instagram post by Nanticoke in which he tagged "some third-rate stringing company," as described by head coach Scott Marr.
Not Nike or Under Armour or some mega-corporation in a position to lavish riches on an athlete whose face and reputation they can profit from, but an operation that does work on sticks that no one outside the self-enclosed world of college lacrosse has ever heard of.
Still, in the eyes of the NCAA, that's a violation, regardless of scope. Just by tagging the company, Nanticoke introduced the possibility that he was promoting them.
Student-athletes aren't allowed to profit from use of their name, image or likeness, beyond what a new rule in recent years permitted to meet the "cost of attendance" at a school through stipends and such.
There is a movement afoot, however, just in time for the billion-dollar money machine that is the Division I men's basketball tournament, to change that. Next week, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina will introduce the Student-Athlete Equity Act, which is designed to allow college athletes to be compensated for use of their name and image.
As Walker said in an article published in the Raleigh News & Observer Thursday, "Here's the thing: We're not asking the university, we're not asking the NCAA to pay a single dollar into this. You've done your part offering a full scholarship. Just don't restrict the rest of it."
The NCAA often (always?) comes across as petty and self-serving in cases like Nanticoke's, and the way the Instagram story unfolded does nothing to dispel that.
Over the course of Friday through Tuesday, shortly before the Great Danes were scheduled to play their home opener against UMass, the organization and UAlbany lobbed statements and tweets back and forth in an effort to not look like the bad guy.
It made my head swim a little piecing together a chronological timeline, from Gazette Sports Editor Michael Kelly's reports, of who did what when, but here's a summary:
-- Nanticoke makes his seemingly innocuous, but ultimately offending Instagram post on Thursday. It is quickly deleted, and my guess is because somebody who doesn't have UAlbany lacrosse's interests in mind saw it and blew the whistle in some way.
-- Marr finds out Friday that Nanticoke isn't allowed to play against Cornell on Saturday, and UAlbany begins the process toward reinstatement.
-- UAlbany confirms Monday that Nanticoke missed the game because of "a minor NCAA violation related to social media." The player's eligibility is reinstated that evening.
-- Nanticoke plays fairly well against UMass, but the Great Danes lose 14-8, after which Marr apologizes to his team during the postgame interview for creating a distraction when he blasted the NCAA in various media forums on Monday.
Marr didn't do himself or his team any favors by spouting off, but I can understand why he was so angry. He has strong opinions on a variety of topics outside of his sport, which perhaps doubled back into his response to the Nanticoke matter with the NCAA.
"They have to do their due diligence on all the millions of dollars he's making off his stringing-stick company," Marr spit out on Monday, when Nanticoke's eligibility was still up in the air, calling the NCAA "a big-money monopoly."
On Wednesday, he issued a written apology through the athletic department, in conjunction with athletic director Mark Benson's statement disassociating the department from any of Marr's earlier comments.
This is UAlbany moving on. Benson and the NCAA each portrayed some of what Marr said as inaccurate, but I'm still waiting for evidence that he agrees with that, as contrite as he was after Tuesday's loss and in Wednesday's apology.
For his part, Nanticoke has to realize that he can't be reckless or sloppy when it comes to what he posts on social media, where he has over 38,000 Instagram followers and over 4,400 on Twitter.
I know athletic departments and compliance offices make social media best practices part of orientation and training, and it seems to make sense for UAlbany to sit down with their lacrosse star and cover some of that ground again. Too many people are relying on him to make a silly mistake like that again.
If Rep. Walker's bill ever becomes a law, that won't be an issue.
But until then, all it takes is one little dangling string to compromise the integrity of the whole pocket.