Clarett files emergency appeal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 21, 2004

COLUMBUS - The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett enters this weekend's NFL draft.

Clarett's attorney, Alan Milstein, filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, asking for a stay of a federal appeals court's decision preventing Clarett from being in the draft.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will handle the case.

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In 1971, lawyers for Detroit high school star Spencer Haywood followed the same path. A stay preventing Haywood from going in the NBA draft was tossed out by Justice William O. Douglas, opening the door to underclassmen and teenagers to play professional basketball.

''It's the exact same scenario,'' Milstein said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ''It just needs to play out the same.''

A decision Monday by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on a lower court ruling that said the NFL can't force players to wait three years after high school before turning pro.

The NFL said the appellate decision will ultimately stand.

''There was ample support for the ruling of the 2nd Circuit, which thoroughly considered and completely rejected the arguments that Mr. Clarett's lawyers have presented to the Supreme Court,'' NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said.

Southern California sophomore receiver Mike Williams filed his own lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, saying the NFL had issued conflicting statements about eligibility for the draft, causing him to sacrifice his college career.

If they wind up being eligible, Williams would be expected to go in the first round of the draft, while Clarett might not be taken until the second or third round.

Clarett argued in Tuesday's filing that the NFL would not suffer any harm if he is allowed in the draft - but he would be harmed if he is blocked.

Clarett led Ohio State to a national title as a freshman, but he was ruled ineligible as a sophomore for accepting money from a family friend and for lying about it to NCAA and university investigators. Williams declared for the draft after a lower court ruled in Clarett's favor.

Clarett, 20 and out of high school two years, would be eligible for the draft next year under the current rule. He dropped out of classes at Ohio State after the winter quarter.

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.

Ginsburg is a Clinton administration appointee who oversees matters from the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit. She could decide on her own whether to intervene or refer the issue to the full court. She could also ask the NFL to file a response.

There is no court deadline for Ginsburg to act on the request, but Clarett's lawyer said if no decision is rendered before the draft, Clarett ''will suffer substantial irreparable injury.''

If Ginsburg or the full court turns down the request, the lower court's decision against Clarett stands.

Should the court decide against Clarett - and by extension, Williams - the players could only return to play college football if they met academic standards and their universities successfully petitioned the NCAA for reinstatement.

Steve Snapp, an assistant athletic director at Ohio State, said there were significant obstacles in the way of Clarett regaining his eligibility even if he wanted to rejoin the Buckeyes.

''There is a number of issues about whether or not he has professionalized himself,'' Snapp said.

The NFL also could be compelled legally to include Clarett and Williams in a supplemental draft. Former stars such as Reggie White, Cris Carter and Bernie Kosar all moved into the NFL after being taken in supplemental drafts.