In an article on ESPN.com yesterday, Jerry Crasnick talked about the current situation between NCAA athletes, their representation, and, to a lesser extent, Major League Baseball. For the uninitiated, here’s a brief summary of the system:
NCAA athletes in any sport are not allowed to have any representation, i.e. an agent. What almost every player does have is someone called an adviser. These advisers, who are usually agents for professional players, are forbidden by the NCAA from negotiating directly with teams. When a player signs his first professional contract, his adviser usually becomes his agent. The reason you only hear about this adviser/agent issue in baseball is three-fold: First, players in the NFL must declare for the draft. Once they do so, they are no longer eligible to play in the NCAA. Second, basketball players can declare for the draft and then go back to the NCAA if they have not hired an agent. This may seem like a reason one would hear about this, but the NBA has pre-determined salary slots for draftees, so the situation baseball players are in never comes up–there’s no issue negotiating because there are no negotiations. And third, you never hear about this in other NCAA sports because, frankly, nobody really cares about other college sports too much. Well, at least that’s true for the media who is doing the reporting.
So what the baseball system seems to be trying to do is to force young kids and their parents to negotiate with MLB organizations. Hardly seems fair to the kid, right? The ridiculousness of the situation came to light for many with the predicament that faced Andy Oliver, and the circumstances that forced him to challenge the NCAA in court. Oliver was accused by his former adviser of using an agent illegally once Oliver left to sign with Scott Boras. He was ruled ineligible to play. Oliver challenged the NCAA in court, claiming that college athletes had a right to legal representation in contract negotiations. It seems pretty weird that the NCAA would ever say “no, you don’t” to a claim like that, but they did and they still do. His agent (adviser?) Scott Boras said the following:
“The court ruling said a player is allowed to have representation like anyone else in America….Why should an 18-year-old kid not have the benefit of counsel when dealing with a professional franchise? It makes no sense.”
Oliver won the case, by the way.
I got a little off track there…back to the subject of the opening line.
The NCAA recently distributed a questionnaire to recent recruits (baseball only) and players who were drafted this past June but didn’t end up signing. Among the 16 questions were the following:
1. Provide the name and contact information (e-mail address and phone number) of your adviser.
2. Is your adviser an attorney?
3. Did your adviser have any direct communications with any MLB clubs on your behalf?
4. Did your adviser discuss your signability with any clubs?
5. Is your adviser named Scott Boras?
Ok, so maybe I made up the last question, but the first four are all real, according to the ESPN.com article. The survey was intended to determine “eligibility status” of student athletes, but is also a clear violation of rights. Just as MLB has been taking advantage of the fact that these players and their families don’t have experience negotiating with teams, the NCAA is hoping that the students are ignorant to their rights. Let’s look at this in two parts. Question one asks players to provide information about their advisers. The NCAA is blatantly ignoring the courts here, in which judge Tygh M. Tone of Eric County, Ohio said that the NCAA’s rules allow for the exploitation of players. When Oliver returned to school, he was allowed to hire an agent. The NCAA, in my mind at least, is implying that you should have just an adviser, based on the language of the questions.
But that’s a minor point. The main issue is with questions two through four. The NCAA has no right to know such information about a player and his agent–just as a court wouldn’t have a right to know about the relationship between a lawyer and his client–and it is depending on the ignorance of its own student-athletes to provide the information. MLB has attempted to take advantage of amateurs by exploiting their negotiating inexperience (legally, I might add). The NCAA has been forbidding its baseball players from helping themselves when it comes to their professional lives, for some reason unknown to the public. Now it’s just the kids and their lawyers fighting back. The NCAA might be able to bully around 19-year old kids, but it is not above the law.