Friday, January 15, 2010
Paxton's amateur status compromised
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The University of Kentucky can keep one of the nation's top collegiate pitchers out of games for his senior season if he fails to clear up NCAA concerns about his amateur status, a judge ruled Friday night.
James Paxton, the highest-drafted college player to return to school this year, asked Fayette County Circuit Judge James Ishmael to stop the school from benching him for his refusal to answer undisclosed questions from the governing body for college athletics.
University compliance officer Sandy Bell testified she showed Paxton a newspaper clip that alleged prominent sports agent Scott Boras may have committed an NCAA violation by negotiating on Paxton's behalf with the Toronto Blue Jays, who drafted him 37th overall last year.
According to Baseball America, he was the only college player among the top 100 picks who didn't sign, and he is projected to be an early first-round pick in this year's draft.
Boras represented Paxton in an advisory role before the 2009 draft, as is allowed under the NCAA rules. If it was proven he then directly negotiated with a professional team, the pitcher could lose his amateur status -- although both sides in Friday's hearing said they have no evidence that happened.
Ishmael ruled from the bench that even though the NCAA's request was ambiguous, the school could be subjected to possible sanctions -- including forfeiture of games -- if it allowed Paxton to play without clearing up his status. The judge also rejected Paxton's argument that his due process rights guaranteed under the school's student code were violated.
"That is clearly not part of the student code," Ishmael said. "I don't see how in the world a student code can address the NCAA eligibility of a student athlete."
Paxton, who was the first witness to take the stand Friday afternoon, said he learned about the NCAA's interest in a phone call from Bell, who suggested he could face a short suspension even if he did submit to questioning and a longer one if he didn't. Another university official informed him the NCAA held his life in their hands, said Paxton, explaining that was when he decided not to cooperate. Bell said he was the first athlete in 21 years she recalled not submitting to an NCAA interview.
"I feel my eligibility is threatened going to that meeting," Paxton said. "I'm uncomfortable with feeling the NCAA makes their own rules and has my life in their hands."
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart called Paxton "the best of the best," excelling academically and athletically. He said nobody wanted Paxton to play more than him, but the pitcher wouldn't be the only victim if he was put on the field and later declared ineligible.
"There are 34 other members of this team at stake," Barnhart said. "It's very difficult for us to put that at risk."
Earlier Friday, the judge refused a motion by the university to throw out the case, allowing the afternoon hearing on the injunction to proceed. He kept court in session late, issuing his order shortly before 10 p.m.
Under questioning from UK's attorney, Stephen Barker, Paxton said he believed it was the university's responsibility -- not his own -- to provide information proving his amateur status.
"How does the university get the facts if you don't tell them?" Barker asked.
"Apparently they're getting them from a blog," said Paxton, a reference to the newspaper article that quoted a Blue Jays executive talking about Boras.
Paxton's attorneys have the right to appeal, and it wasn't immediately known whether the pitcher would now submit to questioning. Games begin next month.
"I gave up a lot to come back here," Paxton said. "I'm feeling let down they're not on my side."