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Friday, August 1
Updated: August 6, 8:59 PM ET
Road to NFL a long one if Clarett leaves early

By Len Pasquarelli

Long before the NCAA began sniffing around him, Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett began investigating his NFL potential and the possibility of overturning the league's draft eligibility rules, has learned.

Three prominent player agents, all accredited by the NFL Players Association and each of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, told this week that they had spoken to either Clarett or a member of his family about both issues. The discussions took place in the spring, with two agents recalling that the timing was March or April.

I think, from a labor standpoint, it's a slam-dunk that Clarett or anyone else would beat the (draft eligibility) system. But it's going to be a long battle and you'd better have the heart for it.
One NFL agent

Such contact, even by Clarett himself, would not violate NCAA rules. Players can discuss their futures with agents, or any number of issues, as long as there is neither a written nor verbal agreement for formal representation. All three agents acknowledged Clarett made it clear he was not seeking to retain representation.

"It was pretty basic stuff, you know, a kid doing his homework," said one agent. "The big difference was, here's a guy who has played only one college season, and who is going to have to challenge and beat the (draft) rules if he really wants to play now."

League rules preclude a prospect from petitioning for entry into the draft until three years after his high school class has graduated. Since he participated in '02 as a true freshman, Clarett could not enter the draft until after the 2004 season, according to the rules.

Those rules, however, were not collectively bargained between the league and the union, and that essentially leaves the draft guidelines open to court challenge.

League officials have said in the past, and reiterated this week, that they would vigorously defend the draft eligibility rules. Certainly the NFL has much deeper pockets, and likely legal resources, than any individual might be able to summon. While there have been a few players in the past who hinted they might challenge the rules, they always backed off, because by the time the court battle was resolved, they would be eligible anyway.

Clarett first admitted he thought about leaving Ohio State early for the NFL in an October, 2002 ESPN The Magazine story. "Do I think about it?" Clarett said in The Magazine about about challenging the NFL's rule. "It's got to go through your head, man. It's got to go through your head. I'm not saying it's something I will do. I'm not saying it's something I won't do."

But the fact Clarett or people close to him have recently made the inquiries of NFL player agents offers at least some circumstantial evidence that he is considering a challenge to the rules.

"I think, from a labor standpoint, it's a slam-dunk that Clarett or anyone else would beat the (draft eligibility) system," said one agent. "But it's going to be a long battle and you'd better have the heart for it."

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