On Friday afternoon, the University of Kentucky filed its response to lefthander James Paxton’s lawsuit. Two days earlier, Paxton had filed a motion for a temporary injunction seeking to prevent UK from requiring him to interview with an NCAA investigator until Kentucky provides him with written notice of the allegations or charges against him.
Kentucky says no charges have been made by the university or the NCAA. UK also says "the NCAA received information concerning the Plaintiff [Paxton] via a media report and wants to ask Plaintiff about that media report to see if an investigation is necessary." The school says it showed Paxton the media report and explained the investigation process to Paxton and his counsel.
Here’s the heart of the issue. Kentucky’s response contains a copy of the media account that spurred this investigation, an Aug. 18 report in the (Toronto) Globe and Mail that discusses the Blue Jays’ failure to sign Paxton, their supplemental first-round pick. Toronto’s interim president, Paul Beeston, told the paper that he personally handled the Paxton negotiations—through Paxton’s agent, Scott Boras.
"Because it was Scott, the way that you deal, you deal through him," Beeston said in the story. "You don’t deal through the family. Now I would prefer to deal with the family and I wonder whether I could have done a better job on it. I kind of criticize myself.
"But I don’t think it would have changed things because you’re dealing with one of the shrewdest and best prepared negotiators in sports. I have no regrets."
Clearly, if Beeston’s statement is true, then Paxton violated the NCAA’s "no agent" rule, which prohibits advisers from negotiating with professional teams on players’ behalf. No wonder Paxton’s camp determined there was a strong possibility he would be suspended if he submitted to the interview.
"UK provided Plaintiff with the information it was provided by the NCAA," the school claims in its legal brief. "UK did not hide anything from Plaintiff. Plaintiff and his counsel cannot seriously claim that they are unaware of the nature of the NCAA’s (not UK’s) request for an interview."
Indeed, it seems pretty clear that the NCAA wants to interview Paxton to see if he violated the no agent rule. There is a good chance that Paxton’s temporary injunction will be denied, in which case these proceedings could evolve into another challenge of the no agent rule—in other words, a replay of the Andy Oliver case.
Kentucky’s filing also included Paxton’s signed response to an eligibility questionnaire sent out by the NCAA in August. The 11th question asks, "Have you ever given anyone your consent to negotiate in your behalf with any professional team or league?"
Paxton’s hand-written reply is, "No".
But as two major league scouting directors told Baseball America on Friday (and a third told BA last summer), just about every player they draft has an agent who handles the negotiations. That’s just how the business works—it’s the industry norm.
"There’s a very small percentage that don’t have any kind of representation, and in those cases we have dealt directly with the family," one scouting director said. "But if there is an adviser or agent present, it really puts a strain on things if they find you went directly to the family without consulting with them on any matter. If there’s an agent or adviser involved, that’s who you’re dealing with. Maybe if it’s a very small-time agent, he’ll be in the background and the kid will say, ‘Let me talk to my adviser.’ But that happens once or twice every five years."
Added a second scouting director: "They’re agents, bottom line. You want to throw ‘adviser’ on it, whatever, but they’re acting on the players’ behalf. That’s not just with the first pick, that’s with everyone—even seniors now. That’s exactly how it works, and they (NCAA officials) know that. If they don’t then they’re burying their heads in the sand."
Once this case moves past the temporary injunction phase—and it seems inevitable that it will—Paxton will have three choices: He can submit to the interview and dispute Beeston’s account; he can submit to the interview and admit to breaking the no agent rule, then accept whatever penalty is meted out; or he can fight the no agent rule in court. Paxton’s hiring of Rick Johnson, the lawyer who represented Oliver in his suit against the NCAA, certainly suggests that Paxton is prepared to fight.
You can bet that Kentucky is hoping Paxton chooses simply not to rock the boat.
"Contrary to several media reports, James Paxton’s scholarship money and status on the team has never been in jeopardy," the school said in a statement Friday. "At no time has a change been made in James’ status on the team or his receipt of services available to student-athletes. He was, is and will continue to be a member of the University of Kentucky baseball team."
Late Friday night, Johnson e-mailed media to say Paxton’s camp will be filing a reply to Kentucky’s motion early next week. He also responded to Kentucky’s official statement.
"As of yesterday," Johnson wrote, "in a meeting between myself and my co-counsel and James with UK’s outside counsel, general counsel, athletic director, and assistant athletic director, we were told on-the-record that James, while still eligible to participate in intercollegiate athletics, would be withheld from such participation, unless and until he submitted to an NCAA interrogation, but that they were not ‘suspending or disciplining’ him, since no allegations had been made against him and no findings had been made against him.
"If the number one student-athlete on the team can’t play, when he’s physically and mentally able to play, exactly what does membership on the team actually mean?"
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