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Friday, December 4, 2009
Paxton says UK threatened suspension

Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The highest-drafted college baseball player to return to school this year is suing the University of Kentucky, claiming he was given the impression he could be kicked off the team if he didn't submit to an interview with the NCAA.

Pitcher James Paxton filed the lawsuit this week in Fayette Circuit Court. He claims the university threatened to rule him ineligible and strip his financial aid but didn't tell him why NCAA officials wanted to question him.

Tom Miller, one of Paxton's lawyers, said UK's legal counsel pledged during a court hearing Friday that Paxton would be allowed to practice with the team and wouldn't be punished despite the pending litigation, but the case is still going forward.

"I certainly believe that he has complied with any obligation he has," Miller said. "We're not aware of anything he may have done wrong."

University of Kentucky spokesman DeWayne Peevy said Paxton's scholarship money and status on the team were never in jeopardy.

"At no time has a change been made in James' status on the team or his receipt of services available to student-athletes," Peevey said in a statement. "He was, is and will continue to be a member of the University of Kentucky baseball team."

Paxton was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays with the No. 37 pick in this year's major league draft but opted to return to Kentucky for his senior season. According to Baseball America, he was the only college player among the top 100 picks who didn't sign.

The lawsuit says Paxton was notified by the university in October that he must participate in an interview with the NCAA. He inferred from a conversation with the school's compliance officer that he likely would be suspended even if he did participate and could potentially be expelled from the team if he didn't.

Miller said that although universities are required to answer questions from the NCAA and students are required to follow university policies, there is no requirement for student-athletes to talk directly with the NCAA -- especially without written notification of the likely line of questioning.

"Paxton was not notified -- and still has not been notified -- about the existence or nature of any allegations against him concerning NCAA or university rule violations or other wrongdoing," the lawsuit says.

Miller acknowledged it was possible the allegations could have something to do with Paxton's hiring of prominent sports agent Scott Boras to advise him after he was drafted. Boras did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

Rick Karcher, the director of the Center for Law and Sports at Florida Coastal School of Law, said players are allowed to hire legal advisers, provided those advisers don't represent them in negotiations with professional teams.

"Once they sign a professional contract nobody on this earth would say they should be able to play amateur sports," Karcher said. "That's the drawing line."

The case has some similarities to a high-profile one involving Andrew Oliver, a former Oklahoma State pitcher who recently settled with the NCAA for $750,000. Karcher served as an expert witness in that case and one of Paxton's lawyers, Richard Johnson, also represented Oliver.

Oliver, a second-round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers this year, filed the lawsuit after he was ruled ineligible for using legal advisers to negotiate with the Minnesota Twins when he was drafted coming out of high school in 2006.

Miller said it was too early to tell if there is a correlation between the Paxton and Oliver cases. Paxton's goal all along was simply to retain his amateur status, he said, especially since he turned down a lucrative pay day with the Blue Jays to return to school.

"He seems to love the coach and the team and the university," Miller said. "I can't say there's any regrets. He's looking forward to the season."