Court stops Clarett short of NFL draft

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2004

WASHINGTON Maurice Clarett's bid to enter this weekend's NFL draft was turned down by the Supreme Court on Thursday, delaying his attempt to bypass the league's eligibility rule.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rejected his first request, saying she saw no reason to overturn a lower court's stay preventing the former Ohio State running back from being taken in the draft.

She cited the NFL's willingness to ''promptly'' hold a supplemental draft if the 20-year-old Clarett, out of high school two years, prevails in his lawsuit challenging the NFL's requirement that players wait three years after high school before turning pro.

Clarett filed a second emergency appeal with Justice John Paul Stevens, who quickly rejected it. The athlete's lawyer said he did not plan a third.

''That's not the route we're going,'' said attorney Alan Milstein, who refused to elaborate.

A Clarett victory would have also helped wide receiver Mike Williams of Southern California, who entered the draft after the original decision allowing in Clarett. Williams was expected to be a first-round pick.

Neither justice ruled on the merits of Clarett's claim that the NFL's rule was arbitrary and anticompetitive, robbing young players of an opportunity to enter the multimillion-dollar marketplace.

His attorneys had relied on a court ruling letting major league baseball players move among teams, and other court decisions opening up the NBA and NHL to younger players.

The NFL contends younger players are not physically ready to play professional football and may harm themselves by over-training or resorting to steroid use.

''From the NFL's perspective this was never really about Maurice Clarett. It was about a rule that has served the NFL well, served fans well and served players well for many years,'' NFL attorney Gregg Levy said.

Some teenage athletes have flourished in pro leagues. LeBron James was named the top rookie in the NBA this season, just one year out of high school. And 14-year-old Freddy Adu is the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer.

Clarett was appealing a stay issued Monday by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that put on hold a lower-court ruling saying the NFL can't enforce its three-year rule.

Ginsburg was assigned the case because she oversees appeals from New York, where the NFL is based. Stevens may have been the next choice because of his expertise in antitrust law, the basis for Clarett's case.

The NFL had said in a filing with the Supreme Court that allowing Clarett to be drafted could be unfair to the team that picked him and to a player who loses out on a spot because Clarett was chosen.

''The NFL may have been successful in keeping them out of Saturday's draft, but there's always the possibility of the supplemental draft,'' said Williams' agent, Mike Azzarelli.

Clarett led Ohio State to a national college football title as a freshman in 2002, but he was ruled ineligible as a sophomore for accepting money from a family friend and lying about it to NCAA and university investigators.

If allowed into the draft, Clarett was expected to be a late second-round or third-round choice. He has not played since the 2002 season at Ohio State, showed up out of shape at the NFL scouting combine, and had what most scouts considered a mediocre workout in Columbus earlier this month.

NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard reiterated that the schools could appeal for reinstatement of Williams and Clarett and that such issues would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

''I think it would be premature to decide one way or the other where the membership will ultimately come to rest,'' he said.

Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL players' union, said he believes the league's eligibility rule is necessary.

''But I feel bad for those two kids,'' he added. ''That was the risk they took when they applied. Now, they're faced with returning to college or staying out of football for at least another year.''



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