Bob Lutz

Minnis learns the hard way

There are good sports agents who represent athletes for the right reasons. They do their homework, they operate with integrity and they command respect.

But as the riches in professional sports grow, more and more agents bend the rules, blur the lines and allow greed to be their only pursuit.

Then there's the case of a baseball pitcher at Wichita State most Shocker fans haven't even seen perform. He's Albert Minnis, a freshman from Lawrence who could miss half of the upcoming season because his adviser made improper contact with the Atlanta Braves last summer.

Minnis, a left-hander, was chosen by the Braves in the 33rd round of the June draft, but his adviser initiated two telephone calls and four text messages with the Braves, according to WSU associate athletic director for student services Korey Torgerson.

That's a no-no. A seemingly minor no-no, but a no-no nonetheless.

But here's the rub: Minnis is one of probably at least half the high school senior baseball players in the country with Division I offers and professional aspirations who are tied to advisers, who are supposed to offer their player information and opinion on signing with the club.

WSU argues Minnis had no knowledge of the contact between the adviser — whom Torgerson would not name — and the Braves.

But those contacts — two telephone calls and four text messages — could jeopardize Minnis' ability to be certified as an amateur.

It's ridiculous, but major sports organizations are sick and tired of so-called advisers snooping around to gauge the worth of a potential client when the rules don't allow them to do so.

Yet I'll guarantee you a high majority of high school baseball players projected to be taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft are getting advice from people supposedly in the know. And I'm not talking about parents or high school coaches.

Because of baseball's lucrative bonuses, it's difficult to blame a player for wanting to get a feel for his value. And that means enlisting the help of an adviser, which means the adviser may contact a professional scout, which means rules are being broken.

I'm told this is rampant in baseball, which comes as no surprise. Most of the time, such contacts are denied by pro clubs who don't want a player or a baseball program they work with to come under NCAA scrutiny.

By denying such contact, the pro clubs are essentially lying. Excepts it's considered a little wink-wink lie that doesn't hurt anyone and in the mind of some is nobody's business.

But the NCAA has rules against such contact, of course, and you can argue all day about whether those rules are sensible or even enforceable. I suspect those at the NCAA whose job it is the police the relationship between players, agents and baseball scouts are torn about the purpose of the rules.

It seems, however, that the NCAA is cracking down. How else to explain the potential half-season suspension of Minnis, who represents a minnow in a pond full of piranhas?

According to Torgerson, the Braves never made an offer to Minnis, whose desire to attend Wichita State caused him to drop down in the draft after initially being projected as anywhere from an eighth- to 10th-round pick.

The contact between Minnis' adviser was, as Torgerson said in a story in The Eagle earlier this week, innocuous. The adviser, Torgerson said, simply asked a scout if the Braves planned to watch Minnis pitch.

The NCAA has not issued a final report on the matter. When it does, Wichita State could appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, I feel for Minnis. Out of all the players who reach out for advice, he's the one who got caught. And from the sound of it, he wasn't even aware what his adviser was up to.

The Shockers have big plans for this guy, perhaps even this season. He was considered to be in the mix for one of the starting slots in midweek games, which would have helped establish him as a potential weekend starter in 2012.

Missing half a season amounts to only 28 games, but it must seem like an eternity to Minnis, who is guilty of doing what so many high school players do in weighing their options.

Yes, he should have been more aware of what his adviser was doing. But those people can be sneaky. There are good ones and bad ones. The bad ones are out for a fast buck. The good ones recognize their reputations are worth more than money.

Unfortunately, they're all swimming in the same pool. It can be difficult to tell one shark from the other.