The New York Times is reporting that the NCAA has agreed to pay former Oklahoma State lefthander Andy Oliver $750,000 to settle the lawsuit between the two sides. Oliver had sued the NCAA after he was ruled ineligible for being represented by a lawyer in negotiations with the Twins after he was drafted in high school.
The more significant development with the settlement is that it marks a return to the status quo. In February, Erie County (Ohio) judge Tygh M. Tone ruled in Oliver’s favor and prohibited the NCAA from enforcing its “no agent” rule. But today, Tone dismissed the case at the parties’ request and vacated the order that barred the NCAA from enforcing the “no agent” rule.
Clearly, the rule is vulnerable to legal challenges, but for now, at least, the NCAA can go back to prohibiting players from having representation in their dealings with pro clubs.
However, if the NCAA plans to actually try to enforce the rule, which has been almost universally ignored and very seldom enforced in baseball for years, the return to the status quo won’t last long. The NCAA sent a questionnaire out to players earlier this fall in an attempt to gain information about their relationships with advisers, but many observers in the baseball industry have expressed alarm over this tactic. And multiple sports law professors have e-mailed Baseball America expressing “shock” over the “invasive” nature of the questions. One of them, Rick Karcher, is a professor of sports law at Florida Coastal School of Law who was slated to serve as an expert witness for Oliver’s side in the case against the NCAA.
“The MLBPA, not the NCAA, is the proper entity to be regulating the player-agent relationship,” Karcher wrote in an e-mail. “The new questionnaire clearly interferes with that relationship, and the NCAA has no right to any of that information nor to make eligibility determinations based on that information. Moreover, the questionnaire could possibly constitute an illegal restraint on trade.”
For all the months of legal wrangling over the Oliver case, nothing has changed in the end, but this issue is not going to disappear quietly. If the NCAA is insistent upon finding a way to enforce its antiquated “no agent” rule, it better be prepared to confront a host of other legal issues.
“We’re pleased that this ordeal is over for Andy, but we’re not pleased with how the NCAA treats student-athletes,” Oliver’s lawyer, Rick Johnson, told the Times. “We hope that this causes the NCAA to reform itself and for state and national government—basically Congress—to come in and take a look at this.”