CHICAGO—The Blue Jays drafted Nebraska high school lefthander Logan Ehlers in the eighth round last June. Despite offering him $800,000, they couldn't steer him away from the University of Nebraska.
The NCAA requires all drafted players to fill out a questionnaire detailing any relationship with an adviser—who doesn't officially become an agent until the player signs. Ehlers mentioned that his adviser had bumped into a Blue Jays official at a Cape Cod League game. The official asked whether the player's asking price remained the same, and the adviser replied affirmatively.
That brief encounter led the NCAA suspend Ehlers for 60 percent of the 2011 season, somehow requiring five months before making his fate official in early March.
If that punishment and process seem nonsensical, consider Albert Minnis.
A Kansas high school lefty strongly committed to Wichita State, Minnis never negotiated with the Braves after they selected him in the 33rd round last June. Atlanta wanted to further evaluate Minnis and asked his adviser about his summer pitching schedule, resulting in two texts and four short phone calls.
Minnis knew nothing of the contact, but the NCAA obtained phone records from the Braves. It will require Minnis to sit out for half of his freshman year, again not issuing a final ruling until after the season started.
It's just the latest example of the No Clue Athletic Association failing to understand how baseball works—and failing to look the other way because baseball doesn't generate billions of dollars in revenue like, say, football..
Football Players Get Cut More Slack
When quarterback Cam Newton was transferring from Blinn (Texas) JC, his father Cecil solicited money from colleges. Cam wanted to play at Mississippi State, but when the Bulldogs wouldn't meet Cecil's $180,000 asking price, he wound up at Auburn. As more details about his recruiting process leaked last fall, Auburn responded by declaring Newton ineligible in December. The NCAA restored his eligibility a mere day later, paving the way for Newton to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Tigers to victories in the Southeastern Conference and BCS championship games.
The NCAA's rationale was that Newton had no knowledge of his father's actions. Ignorance is acceptable if your father tries to sell you to a school for six figures, but not if your adviser tells a team when you're going to pitch. Cam Newton was cleared, Cecil Newton was ordered to have "limited contact" with Auburn, and Albert Minnis got a 28-game suspension.
Later in December, a federal drug investigation revealed that five Ohio State players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, had sold football memorabilia to the owner of a tattoo parlor for amounts between $1,000 and $2,500. The NCAA responded to a blatant violation of its rules by suspending the players for five games each. But to preserve the integrity of the Sugar Bowl—if not the integrity of college football or the NCAA—those suspensions were delayed until the start of the 2011 season.
It's against NCAA rules to trade your athletic talents for cash, but Terrelle Pryor and Co. get a convenient resolution and suspended for 40 percent of their season. It's not against NCAA rules to negotiate with a MLB team, but because Logan Ehlers' adviser confirmed his asking price, he had to wait five months to learn that he'll lose 60 percent of his season.
The No Consistency Athletic Association is more irrational than Charlie Sheen.
Time To End Illogical Rule
Baseball players don't declare for the draft. They're eligible based on their standing in school or their age. As long as they're not receiving tangible benefits, players should be allowed the benefit of counsel when dealing with a professional baseball team.
Erie County (Ohio) judge Tyge M. Tone agreed in a February 2009 ruling that invalidated the NCAA's no-agent rule and called it "unreliable" and "illogical."
The NCAA had suspended Oklahoma State lefthander Andy Oliver the previous May—right before NCAA regionals, the integrity of which apparently doesn't matter as much as a bowl game. Oliver had adviser Tim Barratta present during negotiations with the Twins when he was drafted out of high school, and when he later cut ties with Barratta, Barratta turned him in. Oliver sued the NCAA and won. Unfortunately, as part of a $750,000 settlement to forestall an appeal, the case was dismissed and the no-agent rule restored.
Before Oliver won his lawsuit, the NCAA only investigated the rare no-agent cases brought to its attention. Since then, the NCAA has pursued violations more aggressively. When the Blue Jays failed to sign Kentucky lefthander James Paxton as a supplemental first-round pick in 2009, team president Paul Beeston told a Toronto newspaper that he had negotiated with Scott Boras, setting off a chain of events that ended Paxton's college career.
Major league teams, college coaches and agents acknowledge that almost every decent draft prospect relies on an adviser. That's not going to change, but the misguided and random persecution of players should. If the No Conscience Athletic Association needs something better to do, I'd suggest taking a harder look at college football.