A Change Needed

Appel and others deserve the right to counsel.

The Major League Baseball draft is unique in that any player in the US or US territory who is eligible to be drafted can be selected. Unlike with the NFL and NBA drafts, players don't have to opt-in to be drafted. With that in mind, college baseball players should be allowed more leeway than their basketball and football brethren when it comes to hiring an advisor, writes Chris Webb.

During the Bay Area media day, Stanford right-handed pitcher Mark Appel spoke candidly about his relationship with Scott Boras. Appel used the super-agent as his advisor during draft proceedings, a draft that saw the Pittsburgh Pirates select him with the eighth overall pick, seven selections later than most pundits projected Appel going off the board. Near universally projected to be the top overall pick of the 2012 draft, Appel is preparing to open his season Friday at Rice, instead of prepping to open spring training with the Houston Astros.

That Appel is an amateur yet again in the eyes of some if the fault of Boras. As Boras has negotiated high-bonus salaries for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the belief is teams passed on Appel as Boras would demand a bonus that left little room in a team's allotted draft pool.

Appel spoke favorably of Boras, that the two have an honest relationship, that Boras does a good job for his players and that he trusts in his ability. As Appel spoke to having no regret in turning down an offer from the Pirates that has been reported at $3.8 million, it wasn't how he spoke of Boras that is shocking, it is that he even spoke of a relationship with Boras.

It wasn't exactly an unknown that Appel used Boras as his advisor. MLB clubs knew it, baseball writers knew it, casual fans knew it. But in the current landscape, rarely does a college player speak openly about his advisor, the relationship tends to be hush-hush.

Appel did nothing wrong in retaining or using Boras as his agent. But the NCAA has a record of going after top pitchers they suspect have engaged in activity that would end their amateurism due to advisor-player relations.

In 2008 the NCAA deemed Oklahoma State left-handed pitcher Andrew Oliver ineligible for as a sophomore after finding out Oliver had a lawyer present while negotiating with the Minnesota Twins who selected him in the 17th round of the 2006 draft. After Oliver turned down the offer from the Twins, the NCAA determined Oliver had violated a rule intended to preserve amateurism in college athletics, by having his advisor negotiate directly with the club. Oliver sued the NCAA and won a $750,000 settlement as an Ohio appellate court (Oliver is a native of Ohio) ruled in his favor.

A year later, James Paxton was not so fortunate.

The NCAA determined Paxton ineligible as he prepared for his junior season after Boras supposed negotiated on his behalf with the Toronto Blue Jays who selected him with 39th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Paxton did not answer questions from NCAA regarding his relationship with Boras and his role in negotiations with the Blue Jays, opting instead for independent baseball, making four starts with the Grand Prairie (Texas) Air Hogs of the independent American Association prior to being the fourth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2010.

That Paxton was even in a position to be forced to answer to the NCAA and that Oliver needed to go to court to resume playing for the Cowboys should have never occurred.

College baseball players, and high school players that have the opportunity to go to college, should have the ability to retain a lawyer and have him or her present at negotiations.

Baseball and hockey are different from football and basketball. The latter two sports require one to opt-in for the professional draft. Unlike the NBA and NFL, where one elects to leave college, MLB can select a graduated high school player and any player that is three years removed from high school or is 21 years of age within 45 days of the draft. There is no opt-in.

When potential millions of dollars, and a life-changing decision is on the line, shouldn't a player have the opportunity to retain professional guidance?

The NCAA seems to slowly be coming around on the idea.

During January's American Baseball Coaches Association, NCAA director of football and baseball Dennis Poppe spoke on the NCAA reviewing its advisor-agent stance.

"Having been involved with this discussion with the leadership council, the fact that a young man can be drafted without knowing when or if he'll be drafted, there's a sensitivity to it," Poppe said, recognizing the difference in baseball to basketball and football.

"There's a need on the part of us baseball folks to change things, but whether they [leadership council] approve it or not, is another story. Those of us in baseball feel it should be considered, though. Frankly, it just makes sense."

But Poppe and NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon stated a possible change to NCAA bylaws would only pertain to prospective student-athletes, junior college or high school athletes.

Wait, what?

According to the NCAA, if the change was made, a high school senior has the OK to retain representation and use one to negotiate a contract that will likely use a college scholarship as leverage to entice a greater bonus, but a college student-athlete will not have the same right to determine if it would be in his best interest to leave his university after two or three seasons. Isn't the purpose of going to college to better ones chance in having a successful living with the education and experience?

Again the NCAA misses the boat.

The association is to be applauded for opening and having the discussion. But while other aces around the country prepare to join Appel in toeing a rubber, some embarking on a journey that will see them skyrocket up draft boards, they shouldn't have to do it while a hushed and closed-door take on their advisor, fearful of giving the NCAA any hint of wiggle room to investigate.

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