Colleges Headline Sports Law

James Paxton’s College Baseball Career Is Over

James Paxton‘s fight with the NCAA brings out everything I hate about organized sports.  When it becomes all about money, power, and respect, people suffer.  Those, like Paxton, who do nothing illegal, unethical, nothing out of hatred or spite, but still get punished, show the problems that may exist in organized sport.  When institutions grow in strength, they feel that they can do whatever they please.  In this case, the institution won.  James Paxton was pushed away from the University of Kentucky, the university he came back to after passing up a seven-figure offer from the Toronto Blue Jays.  This is the NCAA’s way of saying thanks, but no thanks.  We have a boatload of student-athletes; you are just one unnecessary person in a large group of college baseball players.

Here is my most recent post, which explains some more about James Paxton’s situation, in case his name does not ring a bell.  The gist: The University of Kentucky suspended Paxton because he would not cooperate with NCAA investigators who wanted to question him about his advisor (Scott Boras) supposedly having direct communication with someone from the Blue Jays front office after Paxton was drafted last year (an NCAA rule violation).

After James Paxton withdrew from the University of Kentucky, the institution of higher education released the following statement (with my emphases added in certain parts):

The University of Kentucky is very disappointed in James Paxton’s decision to not meet with the NCAA about a potential amateurism issue. No one wanted James on the mound in a Kentucky uniform more than UK head coach Gary Henderson, athletics director Mitch Barnhart and the UK Athletics staff. Due to the possibility of future penalties, including forfeiture of games, UK could not put the other 32 players of the team and the entire UK 22-sport intercollegiate athletics department at risk by having James compete. It’s about the team and giving student-athletes the opportunity to achieve their goals. Throughout the process, UK has remained confident that James would be able to pitch for Kentucky during the 2010 season and UK offered every bit of assistance to aid James in that NCAA process.

UK does not know all the facts of last summer’s post-draft interaction among James, his advisors and the Toronto Blue Jays and has not prejudged his situation. James has an obligation under NCAA Bylaw 10.1 (j) to answer questions that relate to his amateur status. On advice of his counsel, James has elected not to be interviewed by the NCAA. UK has offered to pursue an immediate application for reinstatement for James with the NCAA if that became necessary. However, no request for reinstatement of his eligibility can be made based on mitigating circumstances until the student-athlete and his family cooperate and make all facts known to UK, with the NCAA having the opportunity to verify those facts. UK has never been provided all pertinent information from James and his family, who are following the legal advice of his attorneys not to be interviewed by the NCAA. Without knowing all the facts, UK cannot present mitigating circumstances to the NCAA on James’ behalf.

UK is more optimistic than James and his family that any period of ineligibility could be shortened to allow James to pitch during the last and most important part of the season, the Southeastern Conference schedule. So it is disappointing that James is unwilling to go through the normal NCAA process, allowing UK to appeal for him, if necessary. The University of Kentucky is sad to see James leave its baseball team, especially after other players gave up portions of their scholarships in August so that he would have a substantial scholarship for his senior year.

While UK is extremely disappointed in the decision made by James to not meet with the NCAA, he will always be a member of the Wildcat family. UK hopes that James will stay and earn his degree and wishes him the best in his professional baseball career. Should James change his mind and be willing to cooperate with the NCAA inquiry, the door is open for him to return to the UK baseball team and UK will seek any immediate appeal necessary for his reinstatement.

If it truly is about the team and giving student-athletes the opportunity to achieve their goals, wouldn’t that mean that the team/school would rally behind its individual athletes?  Does UK think that the stance it has taken will encourage future baseball players to attend its school any more after not backing up one of its own student-athletes?  And that sentence about UK being sad to see Paxton leave, especially after other players gave up portions of their scholarships…Please!  Do you care about Paxton, or do you wish you had the money to pay the other guys?

Now take a look at Paxton’s attorney’s statement regarding Paxton’s decision to leave UK.

In light of UK’s decision to issue a press release Friday evening, I feel compelled to explain this sad state of affairs, none of which would be occurring, if UK was not scared to death of the NCAA.

UK’s fear of the NCAA has resulted in UK withholding James from intercollegiate baseball competition, when there are no allegations or evidence against him, when he is eligible to play, and when UK admits that it cannot compel James to speak to the NCAA. This fear is based upon the unsupported supposition that someday allegations would be filed against James predicated upon some unknown set of facts that would result in some unknown NCAA retaliation down-the-line.

As everyone knows, James turned down a lot of money from the Toronto Bluejays to come back to UK to play with his teammates and for his coach with the hopes of reaching the post-season and the possibility of winning the College World Series for the Wildcats.

The past several months have been very challenging for James and his family as well as for his teammates and coach. To the many who have stood by him, he is forever grateful for their support.

Much has been speculated about why the NCAA wishes to interview James, even though UK admits that it does not know, and this speculation has focused on a single, unverified blog entry, which is vague at best. However, the implication is that James’ attorney violated the NCAA’s No Agent Rule, which attempts to limit his attorney’s representation of him, and which would be held invalid in Kentucky, if James were ever charged with such a violation—just like it was held invalid in Ohio in the Oliver v. NCAA case last year. The NCAA’s presumptive penalty for a No Agent Rule violation is permanent ineligibility, and not six games or the like that has been bandied about as a possible sanction for such a violation.

Some people wonder why James won’t just go to an NCAA “interview,” if he has nothing to “hide,” so let me tell you why:

First, at UK, students have due process rights under its Code of Student Conduct, faculty have these rights by Kentucky statute, James’ coach and the athletic director have these rights via their lucrative contracts, and UK has these rights via NCAA Bylaw 32, which affords it the rights, when it is being investigated, that it has ironically denied to James. In addition, all of these persons have the rights guaranteed by the Kentucky Constitution. However, James is being denied these rights. Indeed, despite making massive profits on the backs of student-athletes, the NCAA provides no due process protections to student-athletes like James;

Second, what the NCAA cloaks as an “interview” is in reality a prosecution and execution by ambush without notice of what the subject matter will be. On top of that, the NCAA sometimes relies on confidential witnesses, dubious so-called “evidence,” like blogs, without any standards for credibility or weight, and so on. The NCAA acts like an unscrupulous bully by doing essentially whatever it wants without regard to the rights of student-athletes;

Third, at the end its prosecution and execution of a student athlete, the NCAA, does not even have to put its reasoning or the alleged violations in writing to James. With absolute power over the athlete—as the UK AD put it, “the NCAA holds James’ life in its hands”—the NCAA is completely unaccountable to student-athletes;

Fourth, the schools like UK, which described itself to James as just the NCAA’s messenger, are forced to do the NCAA’s dirty work. Under NCAA rules, only UK can suspend James, and all suspensions are indefinite by definition. Indeed, UK indicated to James back in September that, if he went to the NCAA “interview,” he would be suspended— even though UK said that it did not know why. Thus, James has already been told going to an interview means suspension, and under NCAA rules, the suspension is indefinite and possibly forever;

Fifth, in December, James was told by UK that, if the interview was about the No Agent Rule, and if James went to the “interview” and asserted his attorney-client privilege regarding his communications with his attorney, it would be interpreted as not cooperating, and he would be suspended. In fact, UK told James that the NCAA Bylaws superceded his right to have confidential and privileged communications with his attorney, which is mind-boggling. In a nation built upon due process and equal protection, the NCAA’s refusal to respect student-athletes’ right to counsel is staggering;

Sixth, once suspended, only the NCAA can reinstate James, and it can impose whatever penalties it wants as a condition of reinstatement. James has no right to even seek his own reinstatement, and only UK can supposedly “represent” him on reinstatement, subject to whatever position regarding his future it decides to take, even if James disagrees with it. Thus, in layman’s terms, the NCAA has banned James from having any individual right to appeal, so it can do whatever it wants to him, and he has absolutely no recourse of his own; and

Seventh, UK which is beholden to the NCAA, scared of the NCAA, and the selfdescribed messenger of the NCAA, stated in its press release that it is “disappointed” that James is unwilling to go through “the normal NCAA process.” This is astonishing, because in a civilized society, the “normal NCAA process” is hardly normal and is about as un-American as it can get. Hypocritically, UK and the other NCAA members do not believe that such a process would be fair to them, since they have negotiated their own due process protections that apply to them, when they are investigated by the NCAA.

James’ lawsuit against UK was a civil rights case under the Kentucky Constitution, where he challenged the denial of due process rights to student-athletes, yet the circuit court did not even discuss the merits of this challenge. Likewise, the court of appeals did not analyze or even discuss any of the specific arguments advanced on James’ behalf, and, instead, it blamed James for this situation, which was hardly of his own making. While James could have sought discretionary review in the Kentucky Supreme Court, any such review, if at all, would most likely have come long after the baseball season was over, thus making the effort a futile one, all the while leaving James in limbo during the remainder of the season.

At some point, James believes you have to stand up for what is right, and James has decided to do so by taking a leave of absence from the University. James understands that his life will be defined by his principles, and he is making a heartbreaking sacrifice to stand up for what he believes is right. James is a wonderful young man with a bright future, and he will emerge from this process stronger and wiser than he was before. I look forward to that day very soon, when I will be able to see him pitch in the Major Leagues.

In conclusion, James apologizes to his teammates and coach, who are stuck in the middle, just like he is. James wishes his teammates and his coach a successful season, and he will be there in spirit cheering them on. James is and always will be a Wildcat at heart.

Sad ending to a sad story.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

4 replies on “James Paxton’s College Baseball Career Is Over”

I’m not sure this story is all that “sad.” It’s messy, but as an attorney and sports agent, I agree wholeheartedly with Paxton’s lawyer. Just ask Reggie Bush or Derek Rose if you can have a successful pro career even while the NCAA is trying to come after you. Paxton will be fine.

And if UK has to suffer consequences such as forfeiture, as a member institution of the NCAA, they have only themselves to blame. Their conduct in sending out this press release borders on despicable. UK hanging him out to dry was definitely despicable. The colleges that make up the NCAA could alter the NCAA’s enforcement structure if they had the will to do so. The only people who potentially suffer would be the lesser student athletes who may have to forfeit, and they have only UK to blame.

The NCAA No Agent Rule in baseball needs to continue to be challenged by people like Paxton and Oliver. The fact that 17-22 year old athletes cannot consult with counsel to negotiate potential multi-million dollar contracts is absurd.

Amateur baseball players’ first contracts are crucial because unlike the NBA or NFL the players (usually) do not make “league” money until years later. Additionally, no other sports’ draft occurs during its season (or playoffs), so players should be able to have someone who can talk to teams on their behalf. However, the NCAA rather its “money-makers” balance school work, playing 5 games a week, and negotiating with professional organizations all at the same time…

I am not 100% sure but I believe the Judge in the Oliver case agreed how ridiculous and unfair this was to the student-athletes, however, the NCAA settled with Oliver outside of court so that the case would not become precedent.

Neither Oliver nor Paxton are the trailblazers people are making them out to be. Oliver took the money and ran after being portrayed as some big Curt Flood-type figure, and Paxton hasn’t been any better.

[…] rights to such privilege and that the assertion of such right was seen as non-cooperation!!  So, without ever speaking with Paxton and without providing any evidence to support their position, ….    The NCAA sent a clear message that student-athletes are entitled to no due process rights […]

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