CORVALLIS — Oregon State senior pitcher Ben Wetzler has been suspended by the NCAA for 20 percent of the season for his dealings with an "adviser" in connection with negotiating a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies after they drafted him in the fifth round last June.
"Ben Wetzler must miss 11 games (20 percent of the season) due to his involvement with an agent during the 2013 Major League Baseball draft," the NCAA said in a release.
With a 55-game regular-season schedule, Wetzler will miss 11 games. He has already missed the first five games, so he must only miss the next six, making him eligible to return on March 2 against Wright State in Goss Stadium.
"According to the facts of the case, which were agreed upon by the school and the NCAA, Wetzler sought help from an agent who attended meetings where Wetzler negotiated contract terms with the team," the NCAA statement went on to say.
In a release, Oregon State said the penalty is too harsh given the mitigating factors.
"I am 100 percent in support of Ben and his decision to come back to finish his college experience at Oregon State," coach Pat Casey said. "I am extremely disappointed in the circumstances surrounding this particular case. I believe the sanction is much too harsh. I look forward to Ben's impact on this team when he returns."
Wetzler declined to talk about the decision on Friday.
According to OSU, the NCAA notified the school in November that it was investigating the matter. Wetzler and OSU were both cooperative in the investigation
NCAA rules allow baseball players drafted before their senior season to receive "advice from a lawyer or agent regarding a proposed" contract.
But if the player wants to return to school, that adviser "may not negotiate on behalf of a student-athlete or be present during discussions of a contract offer, including phone calls, email or in-person conversations."
"Although the evidence was unclear, the NCAA found that Wetzler's adviser did have prohibited contact and that a violation of the spirit of the NCAA bylaw occurred," said Steve Clark, OSU's vice president for University Relations and Marketing in a statement. "It was clear from the beginning, however, that there was no intent on the part of Ben Wetzler to circumvent the rules. He was trying to do the right thing."
According to the school, Wetzler did not receive any compensation from the adviser.
"Oregon State University continues to support Ben in this matter," OSU athletic director Bob De Carolis said in a release by the school. "He is a great example of a student-athlete who turned down a significant sum of money from a professional baseball team to return to OSU to complete his academic degree and collegiate eligibility."
OSU had proposed a penalty of 10 percent of the season, but the NCAA wanted more.
"This is really a shame. To be clear, Ben received no money, nor did he enter into an agreement with the intent of hiring an agent to negotiate on his behalf," Clark said. "The violation was a technicality, and we strongly believe that it is overly harsh for him to lose 20 percent of his senior season because of that.
"Oregon State believes that this penalty does not fairly represent Ben's culpability in the matter or the seriousness of the violation. This student was looking for a way to deal with the pressures associated with the situation so he could return to school."
Clark said the NCAA rule hinders a player's ability to make an informed decision of whether to sign or return to school.
"This is simply what Ben Wetzler did — he sought to understand his options for a professional baseball career versus completing his education and playing out his senior year," Clark said. "He trusted his adviser to follow the NCAA rules and not negotiate on his behalf. Once he understood his options, he decided to remain a student-athlete for one more year at Oregon State University.
"Let's review the facts here," Clark added. "A student-athlete sought advice on whether to go pro or return to school. He received that advice, and now he is being punished by the NCAA for making a decision to complete his education — a decision that we should all applaud. This is inexplicable."
Clark went farther as to say the NCAA needs to take a look at to better help these players in the future.
"The NCAA should have the best interests of student-athletes in mind, and it should certainly question rules that produce this outcome," Clark said. "Having seen these amateurism rules in action, OSU believes the NCAA should take a serious look with an eye toward revising the rules on amateur status and find new ways to help student-athletes navigate the high-pressure negotiations of professional sports to make the best life choices."
The NCAA said Oregon State submitted a reinstatement request on Tuesday and the NCAA worked with the school to finalize the facts of the case before making a ruling on Friday.