Alouettes GM: Clarett must make 1st move

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2003

COLUMBUS - If Maurice Clarett wants to play in the Canadian Football League, he'll have to make the first call.

The Montreal Alouettes own the CFL rights to the suspended Ohio State running back, but general manager Jim Popp won't pick up the phone to start negotiations.

''If he has any intent of giving up college - hires an agent and automatically becomes a professional - or it is deemed he can't play in college anymore … then this organization will wait for him to contact us,'' Popp said Thursday.

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Indeed, Popp thinks Clarett should stay in school and weather the season-long penalty handed down Wednesday.

''I'm a true believer that all players should try to get their college education,'' Popp said. ''They can only play pro football so long. He needs to get his degree. That's the best thing that can happen to him.''

It's among Clarett's options. He could stay at Ohio State and go to class while on scholarship, waiting for his suspension to end. He also could ask to be released from his scholarship and transfer to another school. Clarett would still have to sit out at least the mandated suspension season.

If he moved to another Division I-A school, he would also have to sit out a transfer year. If he transferred to a school in Divisions I-AA, II or III, though, he would not have to sit out the transfer year.

The NFL isn't a possibility - unless Clarett challenges the league's rule that requires players to be out of high school at least three years.

The CFL doesn't have that sort of requirement. The Alouettes (9-2) have the league's best record and lead their division by 4 1/2 games. Then again, they also have two established tailbacks.

Popp selected Clarett for the Alouettes' negotiation list this summer, shortly after word of the player's off-field problems arose. But while acclaimed NFL rookies can get millions of dollars in signing bonuses, the CFL is not nearly as lucrative.

The average salary in the CFL is about $34,000. And the 18-game regular season is more than half finished.

''He's not going to come up here and make a bunch of money. That isn't happening,'' Popp said. ''This is an option to continue his football year and he can better himself as a human being and can prepare himself for the NFL.''

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said Wednesday that Clarett was guilty of 14 violations of the ethical-conduct bylaw for lying to investigators and two violations of receiving preferential treatment or benefits because he is an athlete.

The NCAA received the university's report Wednesday and will review it, but will not comment on what it contains, NCAA spokeswoman Kay Hawes said.

Alan C. Milstein, the Clarett family attorney, said Clarett, his mother Michelle, other family members and friends are still contemplating what comes next.

''It's clear what Ohio State has done,'' Milstein said. ''Now they (the Claretts) have to make a choice as to how to respond on a number of levels. They will try to decide what the next move is.''

OSU coach Jim Tressel said he hopes Clarett still will practice with the defending national champions this season if he meets certain criteria off the field and in class.

''As far as I know, he intends to go to school. That's what he says,'' Geiger said. ''It doesn't start until Sept. 24. I can't predict the future. I'm anticipating that he will.''

Other schools are rooting for Clarett to move on.

Grambling coach Doug Williams showed up at his weekly news conference Tuesday waving a No. 13 jersey and joking about a Clarett transfer.

There has been some speculation that Clarett might be interested in going home to Youngstown to play college ball; Tressel left perennial I-AA power Youngstown State to coach Ohio State. Youngstown State is now coached by Jon Heacock, brother of Ohio State defensive line coach Jim Heacock.

''We cannot do anything in any transfer situation until the individual is admitted to Youngstown State after getting a release from his previous school,'' Jon Heacock said. ''Then when our compliance director tells me I can contact that individual or school, that is when I can do so.''

NCAA ''tampering'' rules prohibit directly or indirectly contacting an athlete enrolled at another school.