While most of the media have been focusing on the ongoing investigations of college football players taking gratuities from agents, there’s another NCAA investigation that has been flying under the radar: The no-agent rule as it applies to baseball players.
The deadline for MLB teams to sign their picks from the Rule 4 draft in June expired on August 16. Shortly thereafter, representatives of several teams who failed to sign their first round picks complained publicly that they were forced to deal directly with agents representing players rather than the players themselves. Such action is a violation of NCAA Bylaw 12, an archaic, irresponsible, and in the opinion of one court, illegal restriction on a young man’s ability to receive competent advice when he needs it the most – while he’s negotiating a professional contract.
The Bylaw states that a student-athlete can consult with an agent/adviser/attorney as long as he pays him (or her), but that advisor cannot be present during the negotiations and cannot negotiate directly with the professional team. Of course, that puts the player, some of whom are 17 years old, at a distinct disadvantage. The NCAA’s position is akin to the ancient Romans telling the Christians they can practice with a spear but they can’t take it into the lion’s den with them.
This isn’t about taking money or other gratuities from agents, ala Reggie Bush and the other college football players the NCAA is currently investigating. This is about advice on questions - Should I sign? For how much? What are the terms of the contract? What’s fair and reasonable? - only someone experienced in such matters can provide. But the NCAA takes a dim view of student-athletes’ legal rights, while at the same time employing dozens of lawyers in-house and spending millions more per year on outside counsel, a shameless example of the adage, “do as I say, not as I do.”
Shortly after the signing deadline expired, the NCAA Eligibility Center, a gestapo arm of the governing body, sent out questionnaires to those players who declined to sign professional contracts. Players were asked questions that the rest of us, who have constitutional rights, wouldn’t have to answer. If a player’s agent violated Bylaw 12, and the player responds truthfully, he will lose his eligibility. If he refuses to answer the questions, he will lose his eligibility.
If you don’t believe me, check out the tragic case of James Paxton. The former University of Kentucky pitcher was drafted by Toronto in 2009, but decided to return to UK for his senior year. After a newspaper blog quoted a representative of the Blue Jays as saying the team never talked directly with Paxton, only with his agent, the NCAA insisted on talking with Paxton, even though they had no legal authority to do so. Paxton declined to respond to the Eligibility Center’s questionnaire and also refused to talk with the NCAA hatchet men.
Despite the fact that Paxton’s agent, the experienced Scott Boras, denied Toronto’s allegation, UK wouldn’t allow the pitcher to play last spring for fear of having to forfeit games if Paxton’s eligibility was retroactively revoked. That result is possible thanks to NCAA Bylaw 19, which, along with the no-agent rule, was declared illegal in the Andy Oliver case. But that judgment was vacated when the NCAA settled with Oliver.
In a reprisal of last year’s Paxton case, the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres were among several MLB clubs complaining of having to speak directly with agents rather than negotiate with the player. While the NCAA has not confirmed an investigation into the allegations, you can bet the nearly 500 employees at NCAA headquarters are itching to drop the hammer on unsuspecting teenagers just to prove how tough they are.
The NCAA formed a committee earlier this year to examine whether relaxing the no-agent rules makes sense. Of course, it does, so don’t count on it happening. The composition of the committee suggests a whitewash, another example of the fox guarding the henhouse door. Why would anyone associated with the multi-billion dollar juggernaut the NCAA has become want to do anything that might jeopardize the loss of free labor to the professional ranks? Better to treat student-athletes like mushrooms: Uninformed and in the dark.
Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. He looks forward to your comments and can be contracted, here.
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