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The Phillies are purposely sabotaging college player eligibilty

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The NCAA always pegs this needle.

The NCAA always pegs this needle.

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.

Written by Todd Boss

February 20th, 2014 at 10:01 am

19 Responses to 'The Phillies are purposely sabotaging college player eligibilty'

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  1. Update: Buster Olney has now chimed in and he basically says the Phillies have a LOT to answer for. Insider ESPN only.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/buster-olney/post?id=4990

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 14 at 12:59 pm

  2. I have a lot of opinions on the NCAA, so sorry if I get a little preachy. I think that the NCAA is a horrible institution. It perpetuates the myth of preserving the integrity of amateur athletics, but I think it is nothing more than an intentional money-grab by the major colleges to control vast amounts of money without sharing it with the players. I’d be more sympathetic if they were more straightforward about it, but instead they prop up this thing called the “NCAA”, which I think is no different than any industry association that exists solely to advance the interests of its constituents, albeit one that is given some enforcement authority over a group of non-represented minors. And then the NCAA refuses to put forward any transparency in its decision making processes that affects the lives of all these kids. But maybe worst of all is that they mostly receive the support of mainstream media to garner public support for their ‘ideals’. It is remarkable to me how many people think that the NCAA is fighting the good fight, like they are protecting all of those kids running on the beach in Chariots of Fire. I just don’t get it. I am not sure that ever existed, but if it did, it sure as heck doesn’t reflect today’s reality. The NCAA is acting at the behest of the colleges, and protecting their money streams, but they have been successful in hiding those objectives from some part of the general public.

    As for the Phillies, it looks like they got upset over a reneged pre-draft deal, and acted very spitefully. Completely no class move that screwed a couple of young kids. I hope that there are repercussions for them.

    Wally

    20 Feb 14 at 1:19 pm

  3. Preach away; there’s probably a dozen recent examples of hyper hypocrisy on the behalf of the NCAA and its lack of accountability. This story wasn’t entirely about the NCAA but highlighted a loophole that baseball teams have used for years (where the team talks to the kid, who talks to the “advisor” who talks back to the kid and who replies to the team…. its a ridiculous charade).

    I’d say that the NCAA itself is a self-perpetuating organization that enriches itself on the backs of both students and its member institutions. It started basically by browbeating colleges into voluntarily obeying its rules and grew in self-importance from there. And if the NCAA basketball tournament didn’t exist, the NCAA would cease to exist as the football programs have already broken away sufficiently with the BCS, shutting out the NCAA from their lucrative playoffs. They continue to make scholarships year over year instruments, they can claim not to have to pay the health insurance claims of students injured while playing for the school, they make students sit out a year when changing schools despite having no such limitation for coaches making such changes … even when coaches basically are like little dictators and have a huge role in the recruitment of players to begin with.

    Jay Bilas, a vocal critic of the NCAA and supporter of the class action lawsuit against it, was interviewd recently and pointed out a funny little tidbit; he said that if you play an ncaa basketball game … that the player likenesses are clearly the same as the players themselves but that the coaches are faceless blurs. The Duke coach is just a guy, not Mike K. Why? Because the NCAA knows that the second these coaches’ likenesses are used without their getting a piece, theyd’ be getting sued. But that doesn’t and hasn’t stopped them for years from tacitly allowing similar exploitation on the behalf of NCAA “partners.”

    I havn’t seen updated details yet … a reneged pre-draft deal sounds like a bit of blame lies on the kids here. But still, to go after their eligibility makes them look very immature as an organization.

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 14 at 3:53 pm

  4. Todd Boss

    20 Feb 14 at 3:56 pm

  5. TWo more links: from Aaron fitt who broke the story http://www.baseballamerica.com/college/phillies-accused-ben-wetzler-of-ncaa-rules-violations/ and the best reaction i’ve read to it on Fangraphs: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-phillies-and-the-unambiguous-bad/

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 14 at 4:43 pm

  6. More from Fitt. “Fitt quotes on agent who told him, “As of today, Phillies are out. Phillies are not getting into any more of our households. We’re shutting down all communications.” He also tweets that multiple agents have said there will be repercussions for the Phillies.”

    Good, I hope this really comes back to bite them.

    Wally

    20 Feb 14 at 8:52 pm

  7. I think it was rather telling that Ruben Amaro didn’t even reply to questioning (at least not yesterday), instead pawning reporters off on a junior member of his staff. What a chicken sh*t move; you’re the GM; not only does the buck stop with you but you’re the voice of the organization’s management. Which makes me wonder just what the hell is going on there.

    Good for these agents. I also know that colleges can basically tell MLB orgs to pack sand. I hope that happens too.

    Todd Boss

    21 Feb 14 at 7:44 am

  8. Another quick point to this morass: the colleges provide a tremendous developmental system free of charge to MLB. One can debate whether this should be the case, but that’s the way it currently functions. There’s no excuse for the NCAA abusing its players in situations where they aren’t at fault, but it is equally bad, if not worse, for MLB to allow one of its teams to threaten a system that saves it millions in developmental costs. The Phillies should lose a high draft pick over this, at the least.

    KW

    21 Feb 14 at 9:52 am

  9. Couple more links on this story:

    http://gradingonthecurve.com/2014/02/20/ben-wetzel-awaits-ncaa-decision-philadelphia-phillies-report-potential-rules-violation/ ; nothing new really.

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2014/02/phillies-accuse-two-2013-draftees-of-ncaa-violations.html mlbtraderumors complies info from other sources, but does it well. Lots of links to follow-up tweets, including the ones that Wally mentioned.

    Todd Boss

    21 Feb 14 at 9:55 am

  10. O’Bannen case finally going to trial: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20140220/ed-obannon-lawsuit-proceeds-to-trial/

    fingers crossed; the death of the ncaa as we know it?

    Todd Boss

    21 Feb 14 at 12:41 pm

  11. We can only hope.

    Wally

    21 Feb 14 at 12:52 pm

  12. Ruling finally has come down: Wetzler has to miss 11 games (20% of the season).

    http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/press-releases/oregon-states-ben-wetzler-eligible-play-march-2

    Horsesh*t. Based on what “proof?” That the Phillies said so? Keith Law said it best in his chat yesterday: the NCAA only goes after students it knows won’t sue.

    Todd Boss

    22 Feb 14 at 9:25 am

  13. One more follow-up from a respected voice: tim Brown on Yahoo:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/news/petty-whistle-blowing-phillies-ncaa-no-agent-rule-211752570-mlb.html

    Todd Boss

    23 Feb 14 at 8:10 am

  14. And another thoughtful piece from Olney.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/buster-olney/post?id=5003

    Todd Boss

    23 Feb 14 at 8:57 am

  15. I know I keep harping on this situation, but the more I read about it the more furious I become at the Phillies organization. Olney had a great point: the amount of money that Wetzler turned down was roughly the equivalent of what the Phillies pay Ryan Howard for THREE DAYS of work. Unbelievable.

    Todd Boss

    23 Feb 14 at 9:46 am

  16. Hey, switching gears, Camden depot is doing a 4-parter on the MASN deal. First one was kind of historical, but still interesting, but I am really looking forward to the rest.

    http://camdendepot.blogspot.com/2014/02/what-we-know-about-masn.html

    Wally

    23 Feb 14 at 5:22 pm

  17. Wow, that article certainly is well researched. Can’t wait to see the rest of it.

    Don’t read the comments if you don’t want to be p*ssed off by a bunch of ignorant pro-baltimore fans.

    Todd Boss

    24 Feb 14 at 1:56 pm

  18. A former area scout’s take on the Phillies/Wetzler affair from Fangraphs:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/area-scouting-the-home-visit-and-the-phillieswetzler-affair/

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 14 at 1:49 pm

  19. Phillies President responds, cites probable internal disagreement over the handling of this situation:

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/03/03/quote-of-the-day-phillies-president-comments-on-the-ben-wetzler/

    Todd Boss

    3 Mar 14 at 10:55 am

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