Oliver case frees college players to use agents

February, 16, 2009
The Andy Oliver ruling hasn't gotten much play in the broader sports-news world, but at least for baseball, it's a heck of a lot more important than startling revelations that a player used performance-enhancing drugs six years ago. The ruling puts an end -- at least for the moment -- to the farcical NCAA rule that prohibited players from using agents to negotiate on their behalf with major league teams, even after they had been drafted.

The case arose after Oliver terminated his relationship with a New Jersey agent, Tim Barratta, who then revealed to the NCAA that he had negotiated with the Minnesota Twins in 2006 after the Twins drafted Oliver. The NCAA suspended Oliver right before the start of the 2008 postseason and had threatened to continue that suspension for most or all of the 2009 season. Oliver sued the NCAA and won, earning back his eligibility and earning for college players the right to do what they're already doing: using agents as advisers to help them negotiate the biggest financial transactions of their lives. It also remedies the inherent imbalance in those negotiations, when a player who's never been through the process goes up against a team that goes through it 30 times every summer. And, of course, the system has already been stacked against the player because he can only negotiate with the team that drafted him, although in theory, more open use of agents would allow players to more easily communicate their interests to clubs before the draft takes place. In addition to freeing up college players to get the advice they need, a high school player can now use an agent as an adviser without putting his college eligibility at risk.

Oklahoma State has yet to reinstate Oliver, but that is expected to be a formality, and there's a good chance he pitches for them Friday night in the season opener.

• The Mariners' agreement with Josh Fields means they will not receive a compensatory pick in the first round in 2009 for their failure to sign their first-rounder in 2008, so the first round is now fixed at 32 picks -- the usual 30 picks plus compensatory picks for the Nationals and Yankees for failing to sign their first-rounders last year. Fields has electric stuff, a fastball up to 97-98 mph and a hard power curveball with late downward movement. He should be a fast mover through the Mariners' system, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him reach the majors this year, although he'll have to show improved control from his time at Georgia if he's going to throw some leveraged innings for Seattle.

• Pop-up alert: Chattahoochee Community College right-hander Johnny Gunter has been sitting at 90-94 through his first few outings this spring, with one report of him touching 97 on Saturday. He started his collegiate career as a catcher at Troy University in 2007 but never played in a game due to eligibility issues. His lack of pitching experience and a delivery described to me by one scout as "shaky" would point to a relief role in pro ball, although he has time this spring to show he can hold his velocity and offer something beyond arm strength.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer


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