NEW YORK Maurice Clarett is ready to enter the NFL draft, clearing another legal obstacle Wednesday when a federal judge rejected the league's request to suspend her ruling.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin concluded the Ohio State running back could face ''very detrimental'' harm if excluded from the draft. She said the NFL would not be irreparably harmed if Clarett and other underclassmen are eligible.
''Maurice Clarett's going to be in the draft,'' the player's lawyer, Alan Milstein, said after the decision.
NFL lawyer Gregg Levy said the league will ask the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay Scheindlin's ruling while it appeals.
Scheindlin ruled last week that an NFL rule barring eligibility to Clarett and other young players from April's draft violates antitrust law.
''Contrary to the NFL's argument, most of the rules governing this case were established decades ago,'' she said.
''Indeed, the legal framework for that decision was laid in a long line of Supreme Court precedent,'' she added.
Scheindlin said ''it would be perverse indeed'' to grant a delay of her ruling.
''If a stay is granted, Clarett will miss the 2004 draft,'' she said. ''He will not be eligible to play in the NFL until the 2005 draft, when he would have been eligible under the current rule. If the stay is granted, Clarett will have effectively lost his lawsuit.''
The judge said the NFL's concern that younger players may over-train or resort to steroid use to better qualify for the draft ''makes no sense.'' Players must announce they are entering the draft by March 1.
She predicted few younger players would enter the draft.
''At worst, the NFL will be forced to tolerate the handful of younger players who are selected in the 2004 draft,'' she said.
''What would amount to a one-year suspension of the league's eligibility rule scarcely imposes any great hardship on the NFL or its teams.''
NCAA President Myles Brand wondered about the long-term effects of the ruling.
''I am not unhappy that Maurice Clarett will have the opportunity to play in the NFL, as well as a few other young men. Those are special athletes and if they do have the ability and the NFL wants them, that makes reasonable sense,'' Brand told Sporting News Radio. ''I am worried about the many others who are going to get caught in the wash.''
Levy, the NFL lawyer, was not surprised by this latest ruling and insisted the league is confident about its coming appeal.
''Mr. Milstein is ahead at the end of the first period,'' he said. ''There, the game starts over.''
Milstein said he was not concerned because the 20-year-old running back had won at the lower court level on every issue.
''It was frivolous here,'' he said, referring to the NFL's claims. ''It will be even more frivolous there.''
Clarett ran for 1,237 yards and led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman in the 2002 season. But the school suspended him before last season for accepting money from a family friend and for lying about it to NCAA and university investigators.
Milstein said his client always intended to enter the draft but said Ohio State threatened that Clarett would be ineligible to play college football if he declared for the draft.
Scheindlin said she did not believe Clarett would sacrifice his college eligibility simply by announcing he was entering the draft.
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