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EGGERS: Phillies, NCAA are the bad guys -- not Ben Wetzler

by: COURTESY OF ETHAN ERICKSON - Ben Wetzler's case with the NCAA has dragged on since November to now, the second weekend of the Oregon State baseball season, with the Beavers pitcher suspended indefinitely.Barring an 11th-hour miracle, pitcher Ben Wetzler won't be available for Oregon State's four games at a tournament that begins Thursday at Surprise, Ariz.

That will mean the senior left-hander will have missed more than 14 percent of the Beavers' regular-season games this season. And counting.

It's a travesty that a young man trying to do the right thing -- return to school for his final year while turning down a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $350,000 from the Philadelphia Phillies -- gets an indefinite suspension from the NCAA.

The villains in this sorry saga are neither Wetzler nor the financial advisor targeted in this case, who may have acted on behalf of a player in the same manner as thousands have done before him without penalty.

(I have learned the agent's name but am withholding it to protect my sources.)

The Phillies and officials at the NCAA (Never Cares About Athletes, it would seem) are the bad guys, their images sullied with every growing minute.

When the Phillies selected Wetzler in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, they had indications Wetzler would sign. That's the way it works. Every club does its due diligence before taking a prospect at a high round.

Wetzler had a dollar figure in mind that he couldn't turn down. When the Phillies didn't quite meet it, he decided he would return to Oregon State for another year. Tough luck, Phillies, but it happens.

In what would appear to be a vindictive move, the Phillies eventually turned in Wetzler to the NCAA, charging that during the negotiating process, the agent made a call to them on his behalf -- just as every representative of a drafted player has done in the past.

I have no idea why the Phillies chose Wetzler as a target, but a vengeful motive is the only thing that makes sense. They also turned in their sixth-round pick, Washington State pitcher-outfielder Jason Monda, who was cleared by the NCAA last Thursday on the eve of the Cougars' season opener. No explanations given, of course.

NCAA rules in baseball say a player can speak to an advisor, but cannot have the advisor speak to the team. It's one of those nonsensical rules that everyone -- major-league clubs and the NCAA alike -- overlooks. One, incidentally, that must be wiped from the books in the future.

If the advisor made the call, it may have been without Wetzler's permission. Either way, if it was a violation of the letter of the law, it was not of the spirit.

Baseball is unique in that a player can be drafted twice if they wind up at a D-I school -- after his senior year in high school, again after his third year in college. The player considers the major league club's offer, then decides if he wants to sign or retain his amateur status. He would be a fool not to consult a professional to help with the negotiations.

Yes, the player must pay the financial advisor/agent. But if the player decides to return to school, he should be able to do so with absolutely no penalty, for he has accepted no money from a major-league club.

The NCAA has been challenged on this before and lost. Oklahoma State pitcher Andy Oliver was ruled ineligible before the 2009 NCAA playoffs for using legal advisors to negotiate with the Minnesota Twins -- when he was drafted out of high school three years earlier. Oliver sued the NCAA, which eventually settled out of court for a reported $750,000.

The biggest crime of all this is that Oregon State was first alerted to the NCAA investigation last November. Three months later, there is no resolution. The season is ticking away, with Wetzler sitting on the sidelines, learning that sometimes there is little justice in the world.

The NCAA's inconsistency is maddening. It took four years to finalize their too-rough penalties against Southern Cal in the Reggie Bush case. The exoneration of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in his celebrated autograph signing debacle -- does anyone believe Johnny Football didn't take money? -- took what, a month?

The NCAA has the transparency of a sleep mask. I left messages at several numbers I was able to dig up this week, including that of Emily James, a member of the NCAA's public relations team in regards to enforcement, infractions and eligibility. No return calls were made. Even a "sorry, but no comment" would have been appreciated.

Oregon State representatives are mum on the subject as they await a verdict. OSU's point person is Steve Clark, vice president for university relations and marketing.

"We're just waiting," Clark said Thursday. "We don't know exactly when a decision will be made. We're hoping sooner rather than later."

If a decision isn't announced by the weekend, Wetzler's legal counsel -- Michael Glazier -- ought to file for an injunction to gain immediate eligibility. Then fight it out in the courts.

I feel terrible for Wetzler, a terrific youngster who bleeds orange and black and wanted only to help the Beavers back to the College World Series in June and enjoy another year of being around teammates he loves.

I feel bad, too, for the agent, a well-regarded executive who has represented many athletes in the Northwest over the years.

What can the NCAA be gaining by this? It's just another black eye for an organization that has been tainted by bad decision after bad decision and an inconsistency in penalties that can only be described as astonishing.

If representatives of college athletics' main governing body aren't corrupt, they're surely acting like it.

It's time to free Ben Wetzler and get on to the next bit of nonsense.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers