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"The NCAA makes its own rules and can do what it wants to do"

Dec 4, 2009, 1:20 PM EDT

James Paxton is a left-handed pitcher for the University of Kentucky. He was taken with the 37th overall pick by the Blue Jays in the draft last summer. He decided that he’d rather return for his senior year, however, and did so.

Beginning in October, the NCAA started contacting UK about Paxton. It’s still unclear what about, but they wanted to talk with him, and right now most signs point to something to do with the draft. Maybe he talked to an agent. Who knows? UK wouldn’t tell Paxton what it was about. All they’d do was to hint that (a) it was something involving Paxton’s eligibility; (b) that he couldn’t tell his parents or his lawyer about the interview, nor could they participate; and (c) if he didn’t participate, he was going to be suspended. Heck, maybe he’d be suspended even if he did participate.

Yeah, that’s a lawsuit. Right now it just involves UK, but it will likely involve the NCAA itself eventually, because it appears as though that august institution is once again acting as a law unto itself.

How so: Paxton’s lawyer — the one he was consulting with back in October, not the one who filed the lawsuit — says in an affidavit that the UK athletic director told him that “the NCAA made its own rules and could do whatever it wanted,” and that the NCAA investigator “had [Paxton's] life in his hands.” The picture that is painted by the suit (which you can view here) is that the NCAA was putting the screws to UK, who in turn put the screws to Paxton. In a lot of ways UK was probably caught in the middle, being threatened by the NCAA with forfeited games and sanctions and stuff if they didn’t treat a student athlete like he was a character in a Kafka novel.

Looming over all of this is the now-settled Andrew Oliver lawsuit from earlier this year. You’ll recall that case as the one in which the Oklahoma State pitcher sued the
NCAA — and got a lot of favorable rulings before the NCAA paid him off — claiming that its rules against players consulting with agents and lawyers were, you know, super illegal.

But the most notable thing about that case was not the rule itself — which is technically back on the books, just waiting to be shot down again — but the NCAA’s utter arrogance throughout the case. They had contempt motions filed against them and, even when the rule was enjoined by the trial judge, they kept sending out letters to students threatening them with that very rule.  You know, acting like it made its own rules and could do whatever it wanted.

Know this much: for this lawsuit, Paxton has the same lawyer that Andy Oliver had. His email address has the word “Piranha” in it.  In other words: get ready to get creamed again, NCAA.

  1. themarksmith - Dec 4, 2009 at 1:42 PM

    As a Wildcat, I just don’t know what to say. But I’d like to take the time to blame the Toronto Blue Jays for being the morons who passed on signing Paxton in the first place. If they had just done the intelligent thing, none of this needed to happen.

  2. The Common Man - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:09 PM

    You know, for as little as I like the star culture surrounding athletes and athletics at almost all levels of competition, I think we always have to remind ourselves that most of these young athletes are basically still kids, particularly in comparison to the pro sports executives, agents, lawyers, and “amateur” governing bodies who attempt to bargain with, manipulate, and bully them.
    May a plague of locusts befall the NCAA headquarters for their strong-arming tactics against very young men who they won’t allow to have the legal counsel our laws say they are entitled to. Shame on the NCAA.

  3. The Common Man - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:15 PM

    Also, Craig, do you have any insight into why the NCAA is willing to go to bat for this policy? Maybe this is obvious and I’m missing it, but what is the harm to the NCAA in allowing players to talk to agents? Assuming the NCAA doesn’t want agents crawling around campuses and competing for clients, could a provision preventing players from talking to agents during the season or on a college campus fly? I’m just trying to understand the intransigence here.

  4. Matt @ Fack Youk - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:28 PM

    And I thought you were done with your lawyering Craig.
    “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in!”

  5. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:32 PM

    TCM: I have no idea. I’m convinced that the NCAA is simply pathological when it comes to these things. They’ve always said This is So, so it shall always be. More cynical answer: they worry that student athletes talking to lawyers is the first step towards student athletes organizing and maybe challenging the NCAA in other matters one day, and they simply can’t have that.
    Matt: You can take the boy out of the law, but you can’t take the law out of the boy.

  6. Ross - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:32 PM

    Idealistic view: Many of those “sports agents” are really just con artists, and the NCAA is protecting the students from the seedier elements of the sports agent business.
    Cynical view: As you mentioned, they don’t want the agents crawling around campus taking their players and generally inconveniencing the schools sources of revenue.
    Realistic view: Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. The schools’ major source of revenue is sports, and they have to protect that (and the BCS should still die in a fire, but I digress). At the same time, some of these kids get taken to the cleaners by liars and cheats, but there shouldn’t be any issue with consulting 2-3 respected (and unbiased, if that’s possible) lawyers/agents to try and get a realistic view of what the future holds. They’re still kids when it comes to these kinds of matters. They can understand money in the every day sense, but this is potential millions with all the good and bad that comes with that. *Someone* with experience should be counselling these guys about their futures and help them explain their options. The NCAA’s rules are not generally written in the best interests of the students.

  7. Richie - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:41 PM

    Keep up the lawyerin’ talk, Craig! You really have a niche there and can provide insight that other baseball insiders can’t!

  8. JK - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:43 PM

    I think the sad part is that this and the Oliver case are not more public. It’s sad the only place you hear about these stories (outside of probably local markets) is through blogs. How many student athletes will continue to be pushed around, because they haven’t heard of either of these cases?

  9. JERRY TARKANIAN THE SHARK - Dec 4, 2009 at 2:57 PM

    I BET IF THE AGENTS AND LAWYERS GAVE THE NCAA SOME
    MONEY THEY WOULD LET THEM TALK TO THE PLAYERS……….

  10. Bob R. - Dec 5, 2009 at 7:00 AM

    I cannot imagine how any agency can legally prohibit someone from seeking professional advice. No matter the reason, it is unconscionable to tell someone he will be questioned but cannot know why or with what possible consequences and cannot be assisted by anyone as to his rights or responsibilities.
    I also have some tangential and probably nitpicky questions:
    1. What if the student’s parents are lawyers or agents? Must he avoid meeting with them or be suspended from the team?
    2. What if a student’s parents hire a lawyer or agent to advise them, and the student never meets with the lawyer or agent?
    3. What if the student’s parents have a lawyer on retainer for general issues unrelated to sports eligibility or signings but in their private consultations discuss such issues?
    One can go on and on. And perhaps the rules are specific as to what constitutes a violation in such a way that these questions are irrelevant. But regardless, the NCAA is truly evil, and what makes it worse is that they claim the high ground of protecting the integrity of the programs while being willing to limit or even ruin individual’s careers in the interest of maintaining the money flow.

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