I started this post as a rant about the NCAA … but now I’m not sure who i’m more disgusted by, them or the Phillies organization for what was divulged today.
An interesting story popped up today; Oregon State Friday starter Ben Wetzler has been suspended by his school while the NCAA investigates his utilization of an “agent” while negotiating with the Philadelphia Phillies last summer. The Phillies drafted him in the 5th round (when his name was apparently “Ben Holmes”) after he went 10-1 with a 2.25 ERA for Oregon State last year but did not sign.
The interesting part? The NCAA received this “tip” from none other than the Phillies organization.
CollegeBaseballDaily had the tip off, leading to this story from Oregonlive.com. BaseballAmerica’s Aaron Fitt has tweeted about it extensively and has some head-shaking points as cut-n-pasted here from Fitt’s twitter feed. However it was the reaction from MLBDraftInsider’s Chris Crawford (and the post on NBCHardballTalk by Craig Calcaterra) that I agree with here: Crawford basically thinks the Phillies did this kid a huge disservice for no other apparent reason than revenge or spite. And I completely agree with Crawford’s point that whoever the Phillies draft this year should tread incredibly carefully when it comes to negotiations, because the organization really doesn’t look good here.
The story is now getting legs, and I personally hope the vitriol towards the Phillies management group continues. Ruben Amaro should be ashamed. Read the Philly.com link; apparently they Phillies also did this with their 6th round pick from last year, who also refused to sign. What the hell?? Why would a team worth hundreds of millions of dollars go out of its way to try to wreck the seasons of a couple of kids??
I post this story for another reason besides the Philadelphia organization looking really immature and petty, and its to complain about the NCAA. I really can’t stand the continuing hypocrisyof the NCAA and all its examples of two-faced enforcement of rules, and this situation just highlights one more example of why I think the organization paints too broad a brush stroke on an issue related to amateurism. Crawford points it out plainly; *every* single kid who gets drafted and who still has eligibilty left uses some sort of “agent” or “advisor” in order to negotiate. They have to; you’re talking about a situation worth potentially millions of dollars with one side (the MLB teams) who enjoys anti-trust and anti-competitive advantages over any non-union player who wants to play professional baseball and who clearly has gone out of their way over the years to drive down amateur bonuses in order to save comparative pennies on the dollar.
But the big bad NCAA says that “hiring an agent” is instant grounds for nullification of eligibility for NCAA sanctioned athletics.
See the problem these kids face here?
Does the NCAA really expect a 20-yr old kid (hell, how about a 17-yr old HS grad?) to go stare down a career baseball executive/general manager 3 times his age in order to negotiate for his best interests?? Does anyone think that would lead to fair market values being granted to these kids?
I think some sort of “negotiating window” needs to be put into play here, so that situations like this don’t happen again. If you’re a kid with college eligibility left and you’re drafted by a team (no matter what the sport), there should be an official time period where you can receive professional advice while negotiating a potential contract. These 30-day or 60-day contracts end with either a pro contract or a kid going back to school. I really don’t see the down side of a situation like this, nor why the NCAA would have any issue with it. It would allow fair representation of a player’s interests without running into the situation that is occuring here with Wetzler.
I think it points to a larger issue that keeps popping up with regard to NCAA rules; the continuing criticism of just how non-sensical the rules are for athletes on “scholarship.” When I was in college, I had a job. I could earn some spending money. But if you’re an athlete on scholarship …whoops can’t do that. If I was presented with a multi million dollar job opportunity after my junior year in college and I was just a regular kid, absolutely I could hire a lawyer on contingency to help negotiate; if the contract fell through was I banned from returning to school? Nope. So why is this Wetzler kid being banned from playing baseball?
What is the NCAA *really* trying to protect here? Do they really think that the college baseball game (which is, what, the 4th or 5th most important college sport in this country?) is going to undergo some drastic, life altering change for the worse because some kid decided to get some professional advice while negotiating a future contract?? I just don’t get it.
(Note: there is some precident here; Andy Oliver was suspended by the NCAA based on an allegation by a former agent in 2008, sued and won $750k. That didn’t stop the NCAA’s tactics in this matter … clearly a larger punitive award was needed. A year later James Paxton was banished from school over this exact same issue and had to play independent ball instead of completing his senior season. This clearly cost Paxton; he went from being a 1st round pick to a 4th rounder; I’m not sure if he sued or not. This situation needs to be resolved).
Editor Update: months later on 5/30/14, Phillies scouting director Marti Wolver came out with an amazingly lame “defense” of his actions. Law has noted that (per his discussions with people in the industry) little has come of the expected backlash against the Phillies organization. But, we haven’t had the draft yet.