- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - Oregon State starting pitcher Ben Wetzler must sit out the team’s first 11 games under a penalty imposed by the NCAA.

Wetzler sought the advice of a representative from a sports management group following last summer’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. The left-hander was selected in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Phillies, but he ultimately decided to return to Oregon State.

Wetzler, who went 10-1 with a 2.25 ERA last season, is eligible to return on March 2. With a career record of 24-6, he is seven wins shy of the school record.

The NCAA notified Oregon State that it was looking into the matter in November. The school and Wetzler cooperated fully with the investigation, Oregon State said in a statement Friday.

Wetzler didn’t receive any compensation from the representative. A university release Friday called the punishment “too harsh” given the circumstances.

“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. “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.”

The Beavers proposed a penalty of 10 percent of the season, half of the NCAA’s punishment.

“NCAA rules allow a baseball student-athlete to receive advice from a lawyer or agent regarding a proposed professional sports contract. However, if the student-athlete is considering returning to an NCAA 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. Along with the school, a student-athlete is responsible for maintaining his eligibility,” the NCAA said in its decision announced Friday.

Clark maintains that Wetzler trusted the representative to look out for his best interests.

“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 university is appealing the decision.

“Oregon State University continues to support Ben in this matter,” athletic director Bob De Carolis said. “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.”

Wetzler was scheduled to be Oregon State’s starter on opening day but was a late scratch. The Beavers, who were ranked as high as No. 2 in the national preseason polls, are 4-1 in the midst of an eight-game Arizona road trip to open the season.

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