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Last May, Oklahoma State declared its star pitcher, Andrew Oliver, ineligible hours before the team was to take the field in an NCAA regional match-up. The reason? Back in Oliver’s high school days, his “advisor” (read: his lawyer) attended a meeting with the star pitcher and the Minnesota Twins. It makes sense that a high school athlete would want legal counsel present when meeting with a major league team (the term “bargaining power” comes to mind). However, while amateur players are allowed to use advisors during the negotiation process, advisors are not allowed to communicate directly with professional teams under NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199.
Oliver took action, suing the NCAA in an Ohio court. Judge Tygh M. Tone ruled in February that the bylaw in question was void because it is “arbitrary and capricious and against the public policy of Ohio as well as all states within this Union and further limits the player’s ability to effectively negotiate a contract.” Tone granted Oliver’s request for a permanent injunction, thus allowing Oliver to play this season. The NCAA appealed, arguing that the court’s decision would amount to “a ‘national class action’ type of suit affecting thousands of NCAA schools and student-athletes.” However, because Oliver’s jury trial to determine damages isn’t scheduled until October, the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that the appeal could not be heard.
Oliver’s case has created a lot of questions, the major one being whether the ruling will extend beyond Oliver’s case and outside the state of Ohio–will all college players be able to hire attorneys for contract negotiations? The issue is especially pressing since Tone’s ruling cannot be appealed prior to June’s amateur draft. The NCAA stated that “the ruling is a very narrow one, which is still subject to appellate review . . . . [T]he membership’s views on the agent rules have not changed.”
While universities are following the NCAA’s lead, legal scholars disagree on the impact the Ohio ruling will have. Gary Roberts, the dean of the Indiana University School of Law, feels that even if the ruling is upheld, it will likely only apply to athletes from Ohio or who attend school in the state. On the other side of the debate, Richard Karcher, the director of the Center for Law and Sports at the Florida Coastal School of Law, feels that the ruling is “beginning to establish precedent” and other courts who will face similar issues in the future will look to the ruling for guidance.
Oliver is expected to be a first-round draft pick this spring, long before his case is decided and an appeal can be filed. Therefore, we will probably be watching Oliver throw out his first pitch long before the impact of his case is determined by the courts.
– Britt Doolittle
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