Oklahoma State pitcher Andrew Oliver was reinstated to the team on Thursday when an Ohio judge tossed out an NCAA rule that prevents college baseball players from hiring advisers who are in direct contact with big league clubs.
Oliver filed a lawsuit after he was ruled ineligible. The NCAA suspended him last spring because it said advisers he had hired listened in on contract negotiations after he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in June 2006.
Baseball players -- unlike those in football and basketball -- can be drafted before they've entered college, forcing many to retain advisers who can help them with negotiations. NCAA rules prevent those advisers from having direct contact with big league clubs.
Erie County Common Pleas Judge Tygh Tone ruled that the NCAA shouldn't restrict a player's right to have legal help when negotiating a big league contract.
An NCAA rule that allows players to hire a lawyer but prohibits them from negotiating a contract is impossible to enforce and allows for the player to be exploited, Tone said in his ruling filed in Sandusky.
"It all boils down to the attorney being skilled, proficient and simply having the know how to represent the best interests of his client," the judge said.
Oliver attended Vermilion High School, midway between Cleveland and Toledo. He turned down the Twins because it was his dream to play in a College World Series, said his lawyer, Richard Johnson. His suspension came last spring, just before the top-seeded Cowboys were to play in an NCAA tournament regional game, and it may have cost his team a shot at last year's series.
"Andy gets his life back, which was the No. 1 goal," Johnson said. "Beyond that, his team gets their lives back. When he was suspended last year, they didn't just ruin his postseason play they ruined all their postseason play. ... They all had their dreams taken away."
Johnson said Oliver has been working our with the team since he returned to school in August.
The NCAA said in a statement that it was disappointed in the ruling and intends to seek review by a higher court.
"The bylaws related to agent relationships are important principles our colleges and universities have established to protect and preserve amateurism standards," the statement said.
Oliver was drafted three years ago following his senior season in high school.
His former advisers, Tim and Robert Baratta, were at a meeting between Oliver and Twins officials when they discussed a potential contract.
That meeting led to Oliver's suspension from Oklahoma State last spring and his lawsuit.
Oliver and his father testified that the advisers were at the meeting because neither of them knew enough to negotiate a professional contract.
Oliver's attorneys argued that the advisers had every right to be at that meeting because they were supposed to be looking out for his best interests.
Richard Karcher, a former sports agent who now heads the Center for Law and Sports at Florida Coastal University, testified that it was commonly known that most top prospects have an agent or adviser who helps them negotiate deals when they are drafted.
The 21-year-old Oliver is projected to be a first-round pick in this year's amateur draft. The left-hander played on the 2008 USA national team, and he went 7-2 with a 2.20 ERA for Oklahoma State last season.
The NCAA told Oliver he must sit out 70 percent of Oklahoma State's games this season. His reinstatement will be a huge boost for the Cowboys who start the season Feb. 20.
Yet to be determined is Oliver's request for monetary damages from the NCAA. Johnson said lawyers will meet with the judge March 31 to discuss a trial date in that matter.
The NCAA has suspended only a handful of baseball players over the last decade for allowing their advisers to contact baseball clubs during negotiations.
Jeremy Sowers, who now pitches in the Cleveland Indians organization, had to sit out six games at Vanderbilt in 2002 after his representatives talked with Cincinnati Reds officials who had drafted him out of high school.