<
>

Williams takes next step in bid for reinstatement

In an effort to enhance the chances of having his NCAA eligibility restored, Southern California wide receiver Mike Williams and his agents have signed a mutual letter of dissolution, formally voiding the standard representation agreement required by the NFL Players Association for draft prospects.

Mike Azzarelli, the lead agent for Williams, said the decision to sign the letter of dissolution was aimed at presenting the strongest case possible to the NCAA as the player attempts to be reinstated. And Azzarelli, who has known Williams since the wideout was a child, made it clear the maneuver does not end their relationship; he said there "is no question" he will represent Williams if he is in an NFL supplemental draft this summer.

In fact, there probably exists an even greater chance of a supplemental draft than of the Southern California star's being cleared by the NCAA to rejoin the Trojans.

"I will tell you that, if the NCAA rejects him, within 24 hours we will file papers in a Tampa federal court and seek an injunction to have the NFL put Mike in a supplemental draft," Azzarelli told ESPN.com. "When I tell you that the paperwork is completed, and sitting here in our office, believe me. That would be the next move and we feel [the NFL] would have no recourse than to allow Mike into a supplemental draft."

Williams, of course, was bumped from the regular draft in April after an appellate court reversed a ruling in the case brought by former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett, and subsequently upheld the NFL's draft eligibility guidelines. Those guidelines hold that player must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the draft.

A United States district court initially ruled in favor of Clarett, forcing the NFL to re-open its deadline for underclassmen to apply for the 2004 draft, and it was during that period that Williams opted to enter the lottery.

But with the NFL option now closed to him, at least temporarily, Williams announced last week that he will petition the NCAA for reinstatement. To strengthen Williams' case with the NCAA, Azzarelli and partner Ken Harris signed the dissolution letter, although the move was considered academic.

While the letter voids the standard representation agreement, both agents acknowledge the SRA was moot anyway, since Williams is no longer draft eligible.

"If he can't be in the draft, he doesn't need an agent," Azzarelli said. "And if he doesn't need an agent right now, well, there is no reason to have an SRA on file with the union. Basically, it's nullified anyway."

The letter of dissolution has been portrayed in some quarters as representing a split between Azzarelli and Williams. Various reports have suggested that Williams "fired" Azzarelli and the perception is that their long-standing relationship is fractured. Sources close to Williams agreed that is hardly the case, that the two men speak daily, and that the latest move was aimed only at strengthening the appeal to the NCAA.

The letter will be included in paperwork to be filed with the NCAA, likely by the end of this week, and Azzarelli said Williams has been apprised by Southern Cal officials that the process to determine if he recaptures his college eligibility will be a short one.

In a radio interview last week, Williams, who termed his treatment by the NFL "a raw deal," conceded that regaining his eligibility is hardly a given.

"By no means," Williams said, "is this a slam dunk."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.