CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University officials say the penalty imposed Friday by the NCAA staff on pitcher Ben Wetzler, which will cost him 20 percent of his senior season, is too harsh given all of the mitigating factors.
The NCAA began an investigation of Wetzler late last year concerning advice he received from a representative of a sports management group just after the 2013 Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Wetzler will be eligible to resume playing for the Beavers on Sunday, March 2, in the fourth game of a four-game series against Wright State University.
As a college junior last year, Wetzler was chosen in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies, but chose to return to Oregon State for his senior season to pursue an NCAA championship with his teammates.
The NCAA notified OSU in late November 2013 of its intent to conduct an investigation involving Wetzler. Both OSU and Wetzler fully cooperated with that investigation. During the course of the NCAA’s investigation, OSU learned that the charges were related to communications and actions by an adviser that Wetzler had engaged to advise him about his draft options. Wetzler received no compensation from the adviser.
“While NCAA rules allow a student-athlete to obtain advising services about the draft and contract offers, the adviser may have no contact with a professional organization,” said Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for University Relations and Marketing.
“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,” Clark said. “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.”
“Oregon State University continues to support Ben in this matter,” said Bob De Carolis, OSU’s Athletic Director. “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.”
Oregon State proposed a self-imposed penalty on Wetzler of 10 percent of his team’s games, which apparently was not enough for the NCAA, according to Clark.
“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,” Clark said. “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 complexity of a student-athlete being able to individually evaluate an offer to become a professional athlete, or instead choose to remain in school, is “incredibly daunting and not something we should expect young people to be able to do on their own.
“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 said. “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 said the decision by the NCAA suggests that the organization needs to re-evaluate its stance on how best to help student-athletes determine their futures.
“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.”
De Carolis said that OSU takes its NCAA obligations seriously and works hard to support the success of its student-athletes on and off the playing field.
One of the best pitchers in OSU history, Wetzler has a 24-6 all-time record pitching under Coach Pat Casey – just seven wins shy of breaking Oregon State’s school record for victories. Last year, the southpaw hurler from Clackamas, Ore., went 10-1 with a 2.25 earned run average, winning his last 10 decisions en route to being named to the All-Pac-12 First Team.