Nebraska freshman lefthander Logan Ehlers has been suspended for 60 percent of the regular season because his adviser had contact with a professional team on his behalf last summer. Nebraska is appealing the NCAA's ruling, but as it stands Ehlers will not be eligible until April 12.
"The things Logan has done and they've decided to go through the process on are such minute and fine things," Cornhuskers coach Mike Anderson told Baseball America. "We believe Logan did things right. We're talking about contact that did not involve any negotiations—zero. And we're talking about Logan setting a number and not wavering from the number through the summer to be here. We think Logan did things right the entire time."
Ehlers was an eighth-round pick by the Blue Jays out of Nebraska City (Neb.) High last June. He reportedly turned down an $800,000 offer from the club, but his adviser broke the NCAA's "no agent" rule when he had contact with Toronto in the Cape Cod League.
"We're talking about a 30-second contact in the Cape Cod League," Anderson said. "The question was asked, 'Is the number still the same?' The answer was yes. I think Logan's honesty really hurt him with the NCAA."
Anderson agreed "100 percent" that the NCAA's current system forces players to lie if they want to be ruled eligible. As major league scouting directors and college coaches have reaffirmed to Baseball America time and time again, nearly every drafted player has an adviser who has contact with professional clubs on his behalf, violating the "no agent" rule. When players show up at school, the NCAA requires them to fill out a questionnaire in order to be certified eligible. The questionnaire specifically asks them if their advisers had any contact with pro teams on their behalf.
"You just have to say, 'We didn't have contact,' " Anderson said.
Most players do lie, out of necessity, and most professional clubs cover for them when NCAA investigators call, in order to preserve good relations with agents and players. But a spurned pro team does have the power to make a college player's life miserable.
"I'm not saying there's sour grapes necessarily, but you have young men that end up making decisions to go to school instead of signing," Anderson said. "When the NCAA calls, I'm not sure you're getting a fair shake on their impression of how things went, when you're talking about eligibility and you're not signing with that club."
The problem is, unless a player is foolish enough to be honest, or unless a pro team burns him, there is no way for the NCAA to enforce its absurdly out-of-touch "no agent" rule. So the rule is applied very infrequently and unfairly. Recent victims were former Oklahoma State lefthander Andy Oliver (who won a lawsuit striking down the rule, before a settlement threw out that ruling) and ex-Kentucky lefty James Paxton, who signed with the Mariners just last week after spending last spring in independent ball. Currently, Wichita State lefthander Albert Minnis is also being held out of competition because of NCAA/adviser issues.
At January's American Baseball Coaches Association convention, NCAA officials like Dennis Poppe said the organization was finally going to take a comprehensive look at agents' roles across sports and review the NCAA's current regulations. Poppe, the NCAA's vice president for baseball and football, said it might be time for a "more federated approach," where different sports are treated differently. Any changes to the agent rules will come too late for Ehlers, but they will be welcomed by college coaches when and if they are handed down.
"The system is broke," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner told BA last year, after Paxton left Kentucky. "It should not be like it is. College baseball, we've got to get everybody to the table to get it rectified. There's no way players should be suspended, there shouldn't be any questioning. There's too much gray area . . . I don't have the answers, but something needs to be done. You call in a kid and make him go through a questionnaire session, and the questions are structured in such a way to get the kids in trouble."
The talented Ehlers could help Nebraska immediately. He set what is believed to be a Nebraska high school record with 186 strikeouts in 78 innings last spring, thanks in large part to his wipeout curveball. His command and polish are major assets.
Ehlers was set on attending Nebraska, even after the NCAA began to call his eligibility into question last October.
"Here's a young man that, in December could have looked up and said, 'I'm going to junior college, forget this whole mess,' " Anderson said. "But he wanted to play at Nebraska at an NCAA institution. We'll see how it goes. We'll have Logan—he's going to pitch for us this year. He's been nothing but extremely loyal throughout this process. He wants to be here. We're appealing; maybe we'll hear something in the next couple of weeks."
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