College baseball reconsiders murky rule on agents

Albert Minnis didn't expect to be labeled an NCAA rulebreaker when he shared the name of his legal adviser with the Atlanta Braves and other Major League Baseball clubs.

In fact, his family enlisted the adviser to stay above board.

A left-handed pitcher who led Lawrence High School to a Kansas state title as a junior, Minnis was chosen by the Braves in the 33rd round of last year's draft. He instead opted to attend Wichita State, a college baseball powerhouse.

Like many top high school prospects, Minnis enlisted an unpaid adviser to gauge his pro potential. Such advisers are typically sports agents who hope their goodwill translates into paid deals once the ballplayer turns pro, whether right away or after college.

But when that unidentified adviser contacted a Braves scout on Minnis' behalf once he had enrolled, the Wichita State freshman violated an NCAA ban on college athletes getting professional representation. Minnis has served a 30-game suspension since February, missing half of his first college season.

"We thought we took every stride necessary to make sure we acted properly, to not endanger Albert's eligibility," said his father, Brian Minnis.

The idea of bringing in an adviser was simply to explore Albert's options in an organized fashion. "There wasn't any specific talk about money. Everybody knew that Albert had a very strong commitment to Wichita State," his father said. "He was in no rush to play professional baseball."

NCAA rules don't prevent high school or college athletes from consulting with agents. But entering a verbal or written agreement with an agent or accepting meals, gifts, transportation or other financial incentives is considered a breach of amateurism.

Unlike their counterparts in football, baseball players can skip college and be drafted right out of high school. And as Minnis' case shows, that can complicate matters for those who continue on to college but want a sense of which decision — pro or college — makes more sense.

The NCAA's amateurism rules make no distinction among athletes in different sports — despite a 2009 court settlement in which the NCAA agreed to pay $750,000 to Andrew Oliver, a former Oklahoma State pitcher who successfully challenged the rule on advisers.

The settlement meant that an Ohio judge's determination that the NCAA rule was improper would only apply to the Oliver case. But Minnis and other college baseball players continue to get ensnared by the rule on advisers, including another freshman pitcher at Nebraska who is a top Toronto Blue Jays prospect. That's creating a groundswell for change — and the NCAA may be listening.

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.

Agents aren't allowed to negotiate contracts on behalf of a student-athlete even if the contract won't be signed until after the player completes his eligibility. NCAA rules also forbid agents and advisers to market a student's "athletics ability or reputation."

That was apparently the case at Nebraska, where first-year pitcher Logan Ehlers was suspended for 60 percent of the Cornhuskers' regular season because of what his coach has called a "30-second contact" between his adviser and the Blue Jays at the Cape Cod summer league.

The current rules penalize players for telling the truth and encourages those who have enlisted advisers as well as the major league clubs to lie, Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said.

"It's a shame when you're honest and do nothing wrong, and suffer the penalty," he said. "In Albert's case, he was never even offered a contract. How can that be a negotiation or a marketing of a player?"

Richard Johnson, a Cleveland attorney who sued the NCAA on Oliver's behalf, said baseball players are the unwitting victims of the NCAA's one-size-fits-all approach to agents in college sports.

"This has everything to do with preventing basketball and football players from going pro and very little to do with baseball," he said.

Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson said that NCAA officials briefed college coaches about possible unspecified changes at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention in Nashville earlier this year.

"They suggested that there's some pretty significant changes coming, and left it at that," he said.

The NCAA discussions are part of a broader review of the role of agents in college sports, spurred in part by a spate of reports in 2010 of possible improper agent contacts in college football.

The association has formed a panel that includes agents and state regulators, as well as NFL team presidents and the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference commissioners to help modernize its agent rules.

Rick Karcher, a former sports agent who now directs the Center for Law and Sports at Florida Coastal School of Law, calls the NCAA's rigid approach to advisers in college baseball a subversion.

"It defies common sense and logic to suggest that the principles of amateurism are violated when somebody merely speaks to a professional club on behalf of a player," he said. "The NCAA's aggressive stance against supposed 'unscrupulous' agents even extends to the scrupulous ones who are looking after the player's best interest, and even advise the player to turn down a professional contract and attend college."


AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Neb., contributed to this report.