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Court blocks Clarett from NFL draft
Updated: 2004-04-20 08:55

Maurice Clarett's bid to jump to the NFL was blocked Monday by a federal appeals court that left open the possibility he could enter a supplemental draft.

Maurice Clarett
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put on hold a lower-court decision to allow the former Ohio State star and other athletes, like Southern California's Mike Williams, to enter this weekend's draft.

Players are barred from the NFL until three years after high school graduation under current league rules.

The appeals court said it stayed the earlier ruling to safeguard the NFL from harm and to ensure a more thorough review. Its final opinion will probably be issued after the draft, perhaps weeks from now.

Any potential harm to Clarett would be lessened by the NFL's agreement to hold a supplemental draft if the appeals court later ruled in his favor, the court added.

The ruling came on the same day Williams filed his own lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan, saying the NFL had issued conflicting statements about eligibility for the draft, thus causing him to sacrifice his college career. Williams hired an agent, which usually means a player cannot return to play in college.

But Williams' college coach, Pete Carroll, said it was possible the wide receiver could return to school.

"We'll continue to help our guy out, just like we did when he was making his decision," Carroll said. "Nothing definitive has been declared by the NCAA. Some steps would have to be taken for the players to get back into college football."

Although Clarett never announced he hired an agent, there have been reports that he did. He was never cleared by Ohio State or the NCAA to play after being suspended last year for accepting money from a family friend and for lying about it to NCAA and university investigators.

NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard would not comment specifically on the Clarett case, but he said players who hire agents could be reinstated if the school petitions the organization.

"The individual facts of each case ultimately will determine whether or not an athlete is reinstated," he said.

NCAA president Myles Brand said if the NFL ultimately loses the case that graduation rates for football players could decrease significantly.

"Not because of the small number that may be eligible to go to the NFL," he said, "but rather because of the literally thousands of wannabes who will give up concentrating on their studies, both in high school and college, for that one in a million chance to get in the NFL. And they will be the losers."

After more than an hour of arguments, though, the appeals court said the NFL showed it could win its case.

League lawyer Jeff Pash said simply that the league was "pleased." Clarett's lawyer, Alan Milstein, did not return telephone messages asking for comment.

Clarett led Ohio State to a national title as a freshman but was ruled ineligible as a sophomore. Williams declared for the draft after a lower court ruled in Clarett's favor.

Seven others also declared for the draft after the initial ruling, but none is a prospect.

Although he was a sophomore last season, Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was declared eligible for the draft by the NFL in a separate case.

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.

If a subsequent ruling makes Clarett eligible, the league could hold a supplemental draft, something it has done for players who entered the draft late since 1977, NFL lawyer Gregg A. Levy said.

Such prominent players as Bernie Kosar, Brian Bosworth, Rob Moore and Cris Carter were taken in supplemental drafts, with the teams that chose them forfeiting the corresponding draft pick the following year.

During the hearing, Milstein said he disagreed with the NFL's argument that players such as Clarett are not physically ready for pro football. Williams was expected to be a first-round pick; Clarett was expected to be chosen in the second or third round.

"The teams are lining up to hire these guys ... because the teams know these players are ready to play," Milstein said.

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