Oregon State Pitcher And Agent Share Responsibility Too

 

This past week there has been a great deal of commentary regarding the Oregon State pitcher who was “turned in” by the Philadelphia Phillies for using an agent during contract negotiations last summer. This resulted in an NCAA investigation and suspension of the pitcher, Ben Wetzler, when he spurned the Phillies contract offer and returned to school.

 

Articles have (rightly in my view) criticized both the Phillies and the NCAA for their roles in this, however I think it’s important to point out that both the player and the agent bear responsibility as well.

NCAA rules forbid student-athletes (who may wish to return to school) from utilizing agents to negotiate professional contracts.  There is, however, a narrow exception allowing the use of an advisor.  The key difference between advisor and agent in this context is the person cannot speak directly / negotiate with the professional team.

Often we see coaches and student-athletes running afoul of NCAA rules accidentally.  There are a ton of rules.  Many don’t make much sense.  And many have a lot of grey area. So when there are minor missteps it’s understandable and not that big of a deal.

Rules regarding agents are not like that for the most part.  Certainly there’s a worthy debate about whether the rules make sense and should be changed.  But there really isn’t much in the way of ambiguity nor is there grey area.  The rule is simple and straightforward: no agents unless you follow the advisor exception to the letter.  That means no involvement or communication between the advisor/agent with the professional team.  The rule was violated.

We’re all bashing the NCAA for another misguided rule, and not allowing a qualified adult to represent these young athletes in negotiations.  We’re also appalled an organization like the Phillies would enact this sort of petty revenge.

But why are we not just as upset with the agent as with the other parties involved?  He knew that one contact with the Phillies could close the door or create significant barriers for Mr. Wetzler should he choose to return to school.  Apparently in this case, the agent ignored this basic rule.

Of the parties involved, the advisor/agent was responsible only for the best interest of the athlete.  Yet he seemed to shirk that duty either out of negligence, or at worst, in favor of trying to secure a contract he could ultimately get paid on.  Whether or not this kind of thing goes on all the time in baseball contract negotiations, it was the advisor’s responsibility to ensure Mr. Wetzler had the opportunity to neatly return to school.  He failed.

At the same time, Mr. Wetzler apparently knew what he and his advisor/agent were doing all along (i.e. this doesn’t appear to be a case of the agent going behind the player’s back).  I also have to assume the NCAA rule regarding agents was communicated to him by the coaches and compliance staff at Oregon State throughout his career, and repeated as the draft approached.  He knew or should have known the consequences of allowing anyone to be involved in the negotiations.

I’m sure neither Mr. Wetzler nor his agent thought this would ever become an issue.  He would either sign with the Phillies and the rule is irrelevant.  Or he would return to school and the Phillies would act like every other team in that situation and just stay quiet. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way, and it’s a shame.

The Phillies and the NCAA deserve the criticism they’re getting, but there’s still plenty of blame left for Mr. Wetzler and his agent.

Image courtesy of  brookscl via Flikr.

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