Andrew Oliver, a junior pitcher on Oklahoma State’s baseball team, picked up a victory away from the diamond last week when a state court judge denied the NCAA’s motion to have the case heard by a judge, instead of the jury.
Oliver, who was suspended last summer for his involvement with an agent hours before he was scheduled to start against Wichita State in an NCAA Regional, eventually sued the NCAA and several other defendants. The case is scheduled for trial on December 8.
The origins of the case extend back several years ago when the Minnesota Twins drafted Oliver after his senior year of high school. Oliver retained – he claims, for free – Robert and Tim Baratta to advise him on whether to accept the offer from the Twins or go to college. The NCAA allows players to take on advisers, as long as they are unpaid and they don’t communicate directly to any professional teams on the player’s behalf.
During his sophomore year at OSU, he replaced the Barattas’ with Scott Boras, one of the most powerful and well-known agents in baseball. The Barattas’ then mailed the Olivers a bill for more than $100,000 for their services. A dispute ensued, with the Olivers’ saying that they had only agreed to pay the Barattas’ a percentage of a future professional contract.
Robert Baratta then wrote to the NCAA, alleging Oliver had committed violations, paid them, and that the Barattas’ had acted as his agent. He also claimed that Boras had offered Oliver inappropriate benefits—which Oliver denies—including pitching lessons and baseball equipment. By the end of May, Oliver was the subject of a joint investigation by the NCAA and Oklahoma State. When they declared him ineligible, officials did not mention Boras, citing only improper contact between the Barattas’ and the Twins.
Andrew Entwistle, a lawyer for the Barattas’, said his clients were entitled to compensation for representing Oliver in the Twins’ negotiations. Oliver is suing the Barattas’ in federal court for legal malpractice. There is also contention about whether or not the NCAA requires advisers to be paid.
But Oliver’s lawsuit is based on the overarching problem that Oliver was denied due process. During the week before his interview with investigators, Oliver said that an Oklahoma State compliance officer, Scott Williams, discouraged him from flying in his lawyer from New Jersey, saying that it would only delay the process and might prevent him from pitching in a game that Saturday.
Much of the confusion around the case stems from the reluctance of the NCAA or OSU to take responsibility for the initial suspension. The NCAA released a statement that claimed: “The complaint incorrectly states the NCAA was responsible for Oklahoma State University sitting out the plaintiff during recent competition. That decision was Oklahoma State’s alone. There has been no determination by the NCAA in this matter.”
But OSU athletic director Mike Holder strongly disagreed, saying “The statement that the NCAA has not made a determination in this matter is not accurate. On Friday morning, May 30, 2008, John Shukie, Assistant Director of Agents, Gambling, and Amateurism, acting on behalf of the Association in this matter told two members of my staff and a third party that Mr. Oliver did in fact violate NCAA rules. This discussion occurred prior to the University’s decision to declare Mr. Oliver ineligible. It also played a role in the institution’s decision to withhold Mr. Oliver from competition.
“It should also be pointed out that a member of the NCAA Reinstatement staff participated in a conference call that morning with Mr. Shukie, a member of the University’s Compliance staff and a third party acting on behalf of the institution. During this phone call the Student-Athlete Reinstatement staff member indicated that if the University pursued a reinstatement request that day the staff would render a decision of permanent ineligibility. These two facts do not seem to support a statement that the NCAA had not made a determination in this matter.”
Oliver’s lawyer paints a picture of Oliver as someone singled out for violations that many collegiate baseball players knowingly or unknowingly commit. Because of that, the case has implications far broader than OSU’s championship future or Oliver’s career.
Baseball is the only sport where high school players are draft-eligible and college players can be drafted whether they’ve opted out of college or not. But student-athletes can’t sign a contract with an agent before the draft because they jeopardize their eligibility, and they can’t agree that they will pay an advisor when they sign a professional contract. This creates an environment where an “under the table” process takes place in which players verbally commit to advisers, creating confusion around fees, representation, and obligations.
“The kids have no rights with the NCAA.” Johnson said, adding that he’s fighting for Oliver’s rights. “What we were fighting for was to get Andy reinstated because his reputation is damaged more every day he isn’t reinstated.”