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Pitcher to stay on UK team, keep scholarship

Attorneys have agreed to allow a University of Kentucky baseball player suing the university to remain on the team and receive his scholarship money without the threat that it will change.

James A. Paxton's ability to participate in games in the spring is a subject that attorneys will debate in litigation, said one of Paxton's attorneys, Thomas W. Miller.

UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy said in a statement that Paxton's scholarship money and status on the team have never been in jeopardy.

"At no time has a change been made in James' status on the team or his receipt of services available to student-athletes," Peevy said. "He was, is and will continue to be, a member of the University of Kentucky baseball team."

Attorneys for Paxton and UK were in Fayette Circuit Court Friday morning for a hearing. Paxton, a senior pitcher, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in which he alleged that officials tried to force him to submit to NCAA questioning or face expulsion from the team.

It's not clear where that leaves the NCAA's push to interview Paxton.

A response to Paxton's lawsuit filed Friday by UK reveals what NCAA officials wanted to discuss with Paxton. According to the documents, NCAA officials have asked to interview Paxton about his amateur status following his participation in the Major League Baseball June 2009 draft.

"In order to achieve Plaintiff's and UK's joint goals, UK has encouraged Plaintiff to participate in the interview," the document states.

Paxton's refusal to submit to an interview leaves his eligibility status unresolved, according to UK's response. UK therefore risks NCAA sanctions if the university lets Paxton play. The university could also withhold Paxton from competition until the matter is resolved.

NCAA representatives have declined to comment.

Sports law experts say Paxton's case creates a unique legal dilemma about whether UK or the NCAA has the ruling authority over a student athlete.

The UK student code of conduct states that a student must be informed in writing of the specific charges against him if an interview is part of or could lead to a suspension from an extracurricular activity.

The code also says students have the right not to be compelled to give testimony "and refusal to do so shall not be considered evidence of responsibility for an alleged violation."

Paxton's lawsuit says UK officials have refused to inform Paxton "about the existence or nature of any allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing against him."

Richard G. Johnson, a Cleveland lawyer who represents Paxton, has asked how they can cooperate "unless you know what they want?"

According to NCAA guidelines, it is a violation of its rules for an athlete to refuse "to furnish information relevant to an investigation of a possible violation of an NCAA regulation."

Johnson said the guidelines are unclear about how far a student athlete must go to cooperate with an NCAA investigation.

Matt Mitten, a law professor and director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette Law School, said UK could face NCAA sanctions if the university allows Paxton to refuse to furnish information to the NCAA.

University officials have "put themselves in kind of a catch-22 where they have to comply with NCAA rules and bylaws and respect any contractual rights and other rights that student athletes and others would have," Mitten said.

Rick Karcher, director of the Center for Law and Sports at Florida Coastal School of Law, said UK can't disregard its constitution and bylaws in its dealings with Paxton.

"This is an issue right now between the student and school, so the NCAA rules are possibly second at this stage," Karcher said. "The school can't pick and choose which students get those rights and which students don't."

But UK officials say this is not a code of conduct issue because Paxton has not been charged with any violation of the code, according to court filings.

"This matter is an NCAA eligibility review that could be resolved if Plaintiff agrees to be interviewed and goes through the process with the NCAA," according to UK's response.

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