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The University of Houston could enter the 2014 college baseball season without one of its elite arms in senior right-handed pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon, who for now, has been declared ineligible by the NCAA to play in the spring because of concerns surrounding his amateur status.
Poncedeleon's situation has been a whirlwind for the Cougars. UH head coach Todd Whitting was ecstatic earlier this summer when Poncedeleon returned to college for the fall semester despite being a 14th-round (408) selection to the Chicago Cubs.
As Whitting soon found out, that feeling of euphoria was overshadowed by disappointment.
Though Poncedeleon, in fact, returned to Houston for the fall, his story had plenty of moving parts. Poncedeleon actually agreed to terms with the Cubs. And though most players verbally agree to terms with clubs, only to sometimes end up in college, Poncedeleon, according to Whitting and the Cougars, did so in written fashion.
Poncedeleon, after agreeing to terms, flew to Arizona for his physical exam. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder, failed his physical, thus nullifying that agreement of terms. More importantly in this situation, Poncedeleon never signed his Uniform Player Contract (UPC), thus there was not a financial transaction.
The University of Houston self-reported Poncedeleon's signing of the agreement to terms, but hasn't received a positive result. The NCAA declared Poncedeleon ineligible to compete in the spring after receiving that information, and a first appeal by UH was denied by the NCAA. Houston is in the process of filing a second and final appeal to the organization.
"In Daniel's situation, I'm confident the NCAA will be fair and just in this unique of situations," Whitting said. "Daniel didn't feel like he was jeopardizing his amateur status by simply signing an agreement to terms. I just want them [NCAA] to be fair in this situation."
Both the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball have sent Houston documentation clearly stating the agreement to terms was not a binding financial document.
Time will tell if the NCAA decides to overturn the Poncedeleon decision, but there's no doubt it could have lasting effects, or perhaps even spur reform, on dealing with amateurism in college baseball.
There are numerous cases in the past when players have verbally agreed to terms with professional baseball clubs, only to attend college. Only in this situation with the UH right-handed pitcher, the fact is he signed a document agreeing to terms. That's the sticking point in this matter, as there's a line drawn between verbal and written agreements.
The NCAA will not address pending investigations or appeals, but NCAA Associate Director for Public and Media Relations Cameron Schuh was kind enough to provide the rules surrounding amateurism in intercollegiate athletics.
Poncedeleon's situation would sit under Rule 12.1.2, Part C, which states: "Signs a contract or commitment of any kind to play professional athletics, regardless of its legal enforceability or any consideration received, except as permitted in Bylaw 220.127.116.11."
Poncedeleon, who has a fastball anywhere between 89-92, would log significant innings for the Cougars in 2014. The righty finished last season with a 4.47 ERA in 86 2/3 innings of work, along with 62 strikeouts and 34 walks. Should UH's second appeal fail, Poncedeleon would be forced to either finish out his senior year as a student only at UH, or head to an NAIA baseball program for his senior campaign.
For now, it looks bleak that Poncedeleon returns to the mound for UH in 2014. The question, though: Should there be a distinction between verbal and written agreements?