NEW YORK -- Maurice Clarett's bid to jump to the NFL was
blocked Monday by a federal appeals court that left open the
possibility he could enter a supplemental draft.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put on hold a lower-court
decision to allow the former Ohio State star and other athletes,
like Southern California's Mike Williams, to enter this weekend's
Players are barred from the NFL until three years after high school graduation under current league rules.
The appeals court said it stayed the earlier ruling to safeguard the NFL from harm and to ensure a more thorough review. Its final opinion will probably be issued after the draft, perhaps weeks from now.
Any potential harm to Clarett would be lessened by the NFL's agreement to hold a supplemental draft if the appeals court later ruled in his favor, the court added.
The ruling came on the same day Williams filed his own lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan, saying the NFL had issued conflicting statements about eligibility for the draft, thus causing him to sacrifice his college career.
But Williams' college coach, Pete Carroll, said it was possible the wide receiver could return to school.
"We'll continue to help our guy out, just like we did when he was making his decision," Carroll said. "Nothing definitive has been declared by the NCAA. Some steps would have to be taken for
the players to get back into college football."
NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard would not comment specifically on the
Clarett case, but he said players who hire agents could be
reinstated if the school petitions the organization.
"The individual facts of each case ultimately will determine
whether or not an athlete is reinstated," he said.
NCAA president Myles Brand said if the NFL ultimately loses the
case that graduation rates for football players could decrease
"Not because of the small number that may be eligible to go to
the NFL," he said, "but rather because of the literally thousands
of wannabes who will give up concentrating on their studies, both
in high school and college, for that one in a million chance to get
in the NFL. And they will be the losers."
After more than an hour of arguments, the appeals court said the NFL showed it could win its case.
"We are pleased that the court has issued a stay. As the court
order says, we have 'demonstrated a likelihood of success on the
merits,'" league lawyer Jeff Pash said. "We are grateful for the
prompt attention the court has given to this matter and we await
its decision on the merits."
Clarett's lawyer, Alan Milstein, did not immediately return a telephone message after
the appeals court ruling.
During the appeals hearing, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan asked Milstein
why the NFL cannot exclude young athletes, suggesting the league
was saying, "It's good for them, good for us and in the long run
good for the sport."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league has officially informed all 32 teams that Clarett and Williams will not be part of this weekend's draft.
Clarett's mother said her son would continue to train as if he would be playing in the NFL.
"He's continuing to work out so his mind and body are in sync," Michelle Clarett told The Columbus Dispatch for Tuesday's editions, adding that she wasn't particularly bothered by Monday's ruling.
Judge Sonia Sotomayer said it was not surprising that the
players' union would agree to exclude players such as Clarett.
"That's what unions do every day -- protect people in the union
from those not in the union," she said.
Clarett, who led Ohio State to a national title as a freshman
before becoming ineligible as a sophomore, challenged the NFL rule
that requires a player to be out of high school for at least three
years before entering the draft. Williams declared for the draft
after a lower court ruled in Clarett's favor.
"I think America should recognize that these two young men are really being railroaded," NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown told Sporting News Radio on Monday. "All they need is an opportunity to be drafted; no one has to draft them. Both of them have the talent.
"The NCAA and Ohio State have never given a ruling on Maurice, so he lost a year at Ohio State. Now, he is looking at losing another year just to have the opportunity to be drafted and to play football. I do not understand it. The power of these organizations seem to be prevailing and I don't understand it."
Seven others also declared for the draft after the initial
ruling, but none is a prospect.
Although he was a sophomore last season, Pittsburgh wide
receiver Larry Fitzgerald was declared eligible for the draft by
the NFL in a separate case.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in February
that Clarett should be allowed in the draft. She said the rule
excluding him violates antitrust law and unjustly blocks a player
from pursuing his livelihood.
NFL lawyer Gregg A. Levy confirmed Monday what league officials
said earlier: If a subsequent ruling makes Clarett eligible, the
league later could hold a supplemental draft, something the NFL has
done for players who entered the draft late.
Ohio State suspended Clarett before last season for accepting
money from a family friend and for lying about it to NCAA and
In 2003, Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and led the Buckeyes to
a national championship.
He maintained he was not subject to the NFL's "three years out
of high school" rule because it was not properly negotiated and
because he was not in the union. Under the rule, he would be
eligible for the draft next year.
Milstein said Monday the NFL can't argue that players such as
Clarett are not physically ready to play professionally. Williams
was considered by some to be a first-round pick; Clarett was expected to be
chosen in the later rounds.
"The teams are lining up to hire these guys ... because the
teams know these players are ready to play," Milstein said.
He said only a "group boycott" by NFL teams would keep Clarett
out of the league.
Milstein also argued that the NFL uses colleges as a "free and
efficient" farm system for developing players.
"All of the risk is on the player," he wrote in court papers.
"College football is a willing partner in this arrangement, as it
generates millions of dollars for the colleges without their having
to incur the expense of player salaries."
In written arguments, Levy told the appeals court that
Scheindlin's ruling was "fundamentally inconsistent with both
established economic principles and common sense."
He said the judge "strained to reach a decision that not only
cannot be justified under this court's precedents but is also
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.