Suit claims NFL rules restrain amateurs

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maurice Clarett is going to court in a bid
to enter the 2004 NFL draft.

The suspended Ohio State tailback sued the NFL on Tuesday,
asking a judge to throw out a rule that prevents him from entering
the draft until he has been out of high school for three years.

The lawsuit contends the NFL rule violates antitrust law and
harms competition.

Clarett, who ran for 1,237 yards and led Ohio State to the
national championship as a freshman last season, wants U.S.
District Judge Shira Scheindlin to declare him eligible for the
2004 draft -- or require the NFL to hold a special supplemental
draft sooner. Under current rules, he's not eligible until 2005.

"Had Clarett been eligible for the 2003 Draft, it is almost
certain he would have been selected in the beginning of the First
Round and would have agreed to a contract and signing bonus worth
millions of dollars," according to the lawsuit filed in federal
court in New York.

The NFL says it will fight any challenge to the rule it adopted
in 1990 because coaches and executives believe younger players
aren't physically ready for the league.

"We do not believe that this lawsuit serves the best interests
of Maurice Clarett or college football players generally, but we
look forward to explaining to the court both the very sound reasons
underlying our eligibility rule and the legal impediments to the
claim that was filed," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Football is the only sport with a draft that doesn't allow teams
to select players when their high school eligibility is finished.

Clarett was suspended from the team for at least a year after an
investigation determined he broke NCAA bylaws concerning benefits
for athletes and lied to investigators.

His lawyer, Alan Milstein, filed the suit a day after he and
Clarett's mother met with NFL executives in Washington to discuss
whether Clarett would be eligible for the April 24 draft.

Many observers have said it would take years for a player to
overturn the NFL's three-year rule. Milstein disagrees.

"Three months, best-case scenario," he said Tuesday. "The
worst-case scenario is it takes us past April -- but I don't think
it will be the worst-case scenario."

The suit argues the NFL rule "is a restraint of amateur
athletes who were strangers to the collective bargaining process."

A Duke University legal expert said the NFL will probably have
trouble keeping Clarett out of the draft.

"Any attempt by competitors to restrain competition in the
labor market is regarded by the courts with great suspicion," law
professor Paul Haagen said. "Unless the restraint falls under a
limited number of narrow exceptions, it will be treated as a
violation of the antitrust laws."

When NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was asked earlier this
month if he thought the league could win such a lawsuit, he
replied: "My feeling as commissioner is that we have a very strong
case and that we'll win it."

The NFL Players' Association said in a statement Tuesday that,
under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it wouldn't sue or be a
party to a suit against the league challenging the college draft.
The association declined further comment.

Milstein said that if Clarett wins his suit against the NFL, it
wouldn't mean dozens of players would leave college early.

"This is not going to open the floodgates," he said. "You
still will have to be of a certain level of ability to consider
this. I read where someone said, 'We don't want 13-year-olds in the
NFL.' That's ridiculous. You still would have to be drafted, signed
and make the team."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he had spoken to Clarett's
mother this week and was told Clarett would be enrolled for the
fall quarter.

"I don't know really much of what's behind the decision, so I
don't know if he's testing the waters, how he's approaching it,"
Tressel said.

Clarett can only be reinstated by Ohio State after the school
appeals to the NCAA. Athletic director Andy Geiger said Tuesday
that, "We don't intend to apply for reinstatement for quite a