Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler was drafted in the fifth round of last June's MLB amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Wetzler was only a junior, but the NCAA permits college juniors to be drafted. Wetzler did not come to an agreement with the Phillies, and as allowed by NCAA rules, he returned to Oregon State for his senior year.
Such things happen all of the time with college baseball. Guys aren't picked as high as they think they should be picked. Or the amount proffered for the contract isn't enough. Or maybe the guy just doesn't want to play for that particular organization and thinks he'll do better come the next draft. It's all allowed. It's all part of the rules. And normally it's not a problem.
But this time out, the Phillies ratted to the NCAA that Wetzler used an agent during negotiations, and the NCAA responded by suspending Wetzler for 20 percent (11 games) of this current Oregon State season. Because using an agent's a no-no, something forbidden by the NCAA rules, though the use of an unpaid adviser, generally an agent, is permitted and encouraged by the NCAA and by MLB.
But these unpaid advisers aren't actually supposed to communicate with the MLB teams, and the kids aren't really allowed to communicate with the advisers while meeting with the teams and apparently, at some point, Wetzler's adviser dared to speak to the Phillies, (Baseball America's Aaron Fitts, the reporter who broke the story, states that Wetzler actually did most of his own negotiating) and the Phillies, acting like a spoiled brat spurned by the homecoming queen, sought revenge. This is all stupid and Catch-22-like, a rule allowing a kid to be drafted yet not turn pro, who can negotiate a contract yet can't ask for the assistance of an adult trained in negotiating contracts. And since the rule is so asinine and illogical, so poorly thought out and designed, MLB teams usually choose to ignore the rules and allow the adviser to sit in on the negotiations since it's always a good idea to have an adult around.
Unless that team is the Philadelphia Phillies. Unless that team's pissed off because the kid turned down its offer. Unless that team sees a way to get revenge while harming the kid's future. Especially if that team doesn't mind being seen as a bully taking advantage of the rules while ignoring the possible impacts of its bullying tactics -- impacts like college teams withholding credentials and access to Phillies scouts and team personnel, or families and advisers refusing to provide information to the team.
But as bullying as the Phillies have been, it can't be denied that the truly evil party is the NCAA. For it might have been the Phillies who were spurned and ratted out Wetzler, but it was the NCAA's own idiotic policies that made this whole thing possible. Because it just makes absolute zero sense to allow for college kids to be drafted as juniors while denying them the use of agents, yet the NCAA does just this while creating the fiction of the adviser who can't actually offer advice when needed.
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"NCAA rules allow a baseball student-athlete to receive advice from a lawyer or agent regarding a proposed professional sports contract," the NCAA offered in a statement while handing down the suspension to Wetzler. "However, if the student-athlete is considering returning to an NCAA school, that adviser may not negotiate on behalf of a student-athlete or be present during discussions of a contract offer, including phone calls, email or in-person conversations."
The NCAA is an evil institution that profits off the so-called student-athletes but refuses to share those profits with the student-athletes. Its rules are arcane, a maze of nonsense and stupidity full of loopholes and traps of which only the NCAA is aware and which, oftentimes, it seems to create from thin air. And in this instance, the Phillies acted like a spurned lover and used the NCAA to elicit their revenge even though the kid acted in the same fashion as just about every college baseball player drafted in one of the top 10 rounds of last year's draft, but acted in undoubtedly the same manner as all of those other college kids the Phillies drafted and signed to contracts last season.
It'll be interesting to see what happens from here on out. I spend lots of time in the Rice and UH baseball press boxes, and I can't help but wonder if those schools will think of cutting off the access of the Phillies to the team and the players because it's doubtful they want to fall victim to a vindictive organization that attempted and failed to sign one of their players.
The solution's easy: The NCAA just has to change the damn rule. But the NCAA's not about doing the easy thing or what's best for the student-athletes. The NCAA's about one thing: It's about profiting off of the athletes and nothing else.