The NCAA’s decision to agree to a deal this time could mean it plans to either eliminate or modify the rule on advisers, said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University.
The biggest problem with the rule, Feldman said, is that it allows players to negotiate with a team and get help from a professional adviser or attorney – it just doesn’t allow the adviser to have any contact with the team.
“They’re trying to have this delicate balance,” Feldman said. “If the goal is to truly protect the players’ best interests, this seems to fall short.”
Oliver, a second-round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers this year, filed the lawsuit against the NCAA after he was ruled ineligible for using legal advisers to negotiate with the Minnesota Twins when he was drafted coming out of high school in 2006.
The NCAA said advisers he had hired listened in on contract negotiations. It didn’t find out until Oliver was a junior at Oklahoma State and suspended him just before a NCAA tournament regional game in 2008.
Baseball players – unlike those in football and basketball – can be drafted before they’ve entered college, prompting many to seek legal advice during negotiations.
Oliver’s attorney, Richard G. Johnson, said the NCAA puts players at a huge disadvantage by allowing them to negotiate with professional teams without having a lawyer on their side.
“I was astonished to see how the NCAA behaves,” he said. “The student-athletes have no lawyers, no rights. It’s a huge detriment.”
NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said they were pleased to resolve the suit with Oliver, but she would not say whether the NCAA will look into changing the rule banning representatives during negotiations.
Rick Karcher, a former sports agent who heads the Center for Law and Sports at Florida Coastal School of Law, said it’s no secret that most top prospects have an agent or adviser helping them negotiate deals.
The NCAA, though, has suspended only a handful of baseball players for doing that.
“It’s an arbitrary rule,” Karcher said. “I suspect most judges would see it that way too.”
Oliver’s attorney filed the lawsuit in Ohio because the alleged violation occurred just after Oliver had graduated from Vermilion High School, which is midway between Cleveland and Toledo.
Erie County Common Pleas Judge Tygh Tone in February said the adviser rule was impossible to enforce. He ordered the NCAA to reinstate Oliver and struck down the NCAA’s rule on advisers.
His ruling was vacated when Oliver and the NCAA finalized their settlement last Thursday. That kept the rule in place, but doesn’t mean it can’t be challenged again.
It’s rare for a court to go against the NCAA, especially when it comes to rules on amateurism, said Matt Mitten, director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
He doubts the NCAA will change its stance on prohibiting advisers from being directly involved in negotiations.
“I don’t see it as overreaching,” he said. “You just can’t be in the room. All the lawyer would have to do is be outside. The kid can still sit down with his lawyer.”