Ruling keeps Clarett out of draft

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 23, 2004

WASHINGTON - The NFL draft will go on this weekend without Maurice Clarett.

The former Ohio State running back's bid to enter the draft was turned down by the Supreme Court on Thursday, delaying his attempt to bypass the league's eligibility rule.

Clarett filed separate emergency appeals with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice John Paul Stevens. But both were rejected Thursday, and the athlete's lawyer said he will not make a third try.

Email newsletter signup

Neither justice ruled on the merits of Clarett's claim that the NFL rule that bars him from entering the draft because of his age is arbitrary and anticompetitive, robbing young players of an opportunity to enter the multimillion-dollar marketplace.

But the justices refused to consider a lower-court decision that put the lawsuit on hold, leaving Clarett's name out of the NFL draft that begins Saturday.

Ginsburg said Clarett could still get to the NFL this year since the league has expressed a willingness to promptly hold a supplemental draft if Clarett prevails in his lawsuit.

Clarett, who is two years out of high school, is challenging the NFL's requirement that players wait three years after high school before turning pro.

His attorneys cited a court ruling that allows major league baseball players to move among teams, and other court decisions that opened the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the now-defunct U.S. Football League to younger players.

The issue is pending before 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which put on hold a lower-court ruling that said the NFL can't enforce its three-year rule.

The NFL contends younger players are not physically ready to play professional football and may harm themselves by over-training or resorting to steroid use.

''From the NFL's perspective, this was never really about Maurice Clarett,'' NFL attorney Gregg Levy said. ''It was about a rule that has served the NFL well, served fans well and served players well for many years.''

Clarett led Ohio State to a national football title as a freshman in 2002, but he was ruled ineligible as a sophomore for accepting money from a family friend and lying about it to NCAA and university investigators.

A victory by Clarett at the Supreme Court would've helped another college player as well: Wide receiver Mike Williams of Southern California, who also is seeking to get into the draft in violation of the three-year rule.

''The NFL may have been successful in keeping them out of Saturday's draft, but there's always the possibility of the supplemental draft,'' said Williams' agent, Mike Azzarelli.

While Williams would've been a first-round pick, Clarett was expected to be a late second-round or third-round choice. Clarett hasn't played since the 2002 season at Ohio State, showed up out of shape at the NFL scouting combine, and had what most scouts considered a mediocre workout in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month.

NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard said the schools also could appeal for reinstatement of Williams and Clarett, and such issues would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

''I think it would be premature to decide one way or the other where the membership will ultimately come to rest,'' he said.