Oklahoma State pitcher Andrew Oliver, a top pro prospect, recently won a lawsuit (and an appeal) removing restrictions on the degree of consultation that drafted athletes can receive when deciding whether to turn pro. I'm hoping this decision will have a lasting impact. Over the past few decades the NCAA has ratcheted up enforcement of rules regarding amateurism and eligibility. Under the guise of protecting student athletes, the NCAA has taken extreme measures to restrict their freedoms -- and there's been little opposition. This court decision could make the rules more negotiable and the NCAA more reasonable.
Ask any student athlete or coach about NCAA regulations and you'll get dozens of stories about infractions and penalties that range from the overcautious to the absurd. Just don't ask them on the record--coaches, administrators, and athletes fear the power of the NCAA. Take Oliver as an example. Last year the NCAA chose the eve of his team's appearance in the regional finals to pull the plug on his eligibility. There was no time to appeal or seek a temporary restraining order; and even if there had been, Oklahoma State would have been virtually powerless to reinstate its star pitcher. Under the NCAA's "restitution rule," a school that plays an athlete who regained the right to play through a court injunction puts itself at serious financial risk, because the NCAA can exact big penalties if the athlete ultimately loses his case. So Oliver got hosed. And the NCAA didn't stop there. Even after he won his lawsuit reinstating his amateur status, the NCAA found cause to bench him for 70 percent of the 2009 collegiate season.
Part of the problem is that stories like Oliver's get overshadowed. The media tend to focus on more sensational cases in higher profile sports -- like cheating scandals at Florida State and alleged recruiting violations at UConn. But the NCAA has its own house to clean.