The NCAA may rethink their preposterous rules regarding amateurs and agents

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I’ve written about this several times before, but let’s sum up: the NCAA has a rule on the book that serves no purpose other than to exploit kids. It’s the no-agents rule, which allows college baseball players to have an “advisor,” but prohibits the advisor from talking to professional teams.

And that’s the case even before the kid goes to college. If, as most promising players are, the kid is drafted out of high school, he can’t have an experienced agent or attorney contact anyone associated with Major League Baseball, even if it isn’t about money.  Can’t talk to a scout to get an opinion as to how he’ll do as an 18 year-old minor leaguer. Can’t talk to the team about their plans for him.  When it comes time for a teenage kid to make a major life choice — college or pros — the NCAA says that you have to go it alone or else you’ve lost eligibility.

This rule had been ruled unlawful by a court in Ohio and Tigers’ prospect Andy Oliver got a $750,000 settlement out of it from the NCAA.  Of course, by virtue of the settlement, the NCAA got to keep the rule on the books and continues to enforce it against amateurs who have the audacity to actually look out for their future interests in an informed and intelligent way.

But what has struck me the most about this rule is not its actual effect, but the sheer arrogance with which the NCAA has enforced it.  Players are way more likely to get smacked if they own up to a simple mistake or misunderstanding of the rule than if they just flat out lie about having an agent.  During the Andy Oliver suit the NCAA was openly contemptuous of the Ohio court in which the case was being heard, ignoring orders and acting as if it couldn’t be bothered by the proceedings. When the judge told them otherwise — and hinted strongly that the NCAA was going to get reamed — the settlement was hastily reached. More recently was the case of James Paxton and the University of Kentucky, where Paxton’s advisor was told by the UK athletic director that “the NCAA made its own rules and could do whatever it wanted,” and that the NCAA investigator “had [Paxton’s] life in his hands.” Just obnoxious.

Chilling stuff.  But now, it seems, someone at the NCAA may have woken up. Because in the course of this story talking about the latest enforcement of the no-advisors rule comes this passage:

The NCAA’s man in charge of baseball told college coaches earlier this year that new rules acknowledging baseball’s “unique set of circumstances” could be on the way.

“If I had a kid who was left-handed and threw 95 (mph), I’d like to know what his value would be,” Dennis Poppe, managing director for baseball and football, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. He didn’t discuss any specific changes.

Because the NCAA has been arbitrary and capricious when it comes to its amateurism rules, penalizing kids for nickel and dime offenses while doing everything it can to make millions and even billions off their free-of-charge athletic talents, I am not going to hold my breath.  But maybe — just maybe — there’s some hope here.

Mariners claim Kaleb Cowart off waivers from Angels

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The Mariners announced that the club claimed Kaleb Cowart off waivers from the Angels. Interestingly, the Mariners list Cowart as both an outfielder and a right-handed pitcher. Cowart has never pitched professionally, but the Mariners will try him as a two-way player next season, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. Cowart was a highly regarded pitcher in high school.

Cowart, 26, has played all over the field, spending most of his time at third base and second base, but also logging a handful of innings at first base, shortstop, and left field.  He hasn’t hit much at all, owning a career .177/.241/.293 triple-slash line across 380 plate appearances in the big leagues. It makes sense to try another angle.

Shohei Ohtani, of course, is helping to popularize the rebirth of the two-way player. In his first year in the majors after having played in Japan for five years, Ohtani won the AL Rookie of the Year Award by posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances along with a 3.31 ERA over 10 starts. Don’t expect Cowart to hit those lofty numbers, but additional versatility could prolong his life in the majors.