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Thursday, February 5, 2004
Updated: February 6, 8:52 AM ET
 



SO, MAURICE CLARETT IS NOW ELIGIBLE FOR THE NFL DRAFT. WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE NFL?

Good for the NFL | From Dan Shanoff

Clarett's new judge-provided eligibility -- and, by extension, the eligibility of any collegian -- is the most interesting thing to happen to the NFL since ... Janet Jackson. (Four days later? Well, it's been kind of a rough week for the NFL, now hasn't it?)

Actually, it's great for the NFL. Those freshmen and sophomores at the top of their game -- wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Mike Williams immediately come to mind -- could START in the NFL tomorrow. Why shouldn't teams have access to NFL-ready talent?

And doomsayers, don't worry: Even if every frosh and soph (and don't forget high school senior!) in the country made themselves eligible next winter, NFL GMs aren't in the business of drafting projects. The NFL is much too bottom-line a business for that, and artificial constraints (like "you must be three years removed from high school" ... as if all 19-year-olds are equal) choke both players and teams from maximizing their utility. Uh oh ... economics ...

Legal legacies
The five biggest court rulings that have affected sports:

1. McNally/Messersmith ruling
Curt Flood paved the way in challenging Major League Baseball's "reserve clause," which bound a player to one team for life. Flood lost his Supreme Court case, but when Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith filed a grievance in 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in their favor, eliminating the reserve clause and creating free agency.

2. NBA v. Spencer Haywood, Seattle SuperSonics
Haywood signed with the ABA in 1969 after his sophomore year of college and then jumped to the Sonics after one year. The NBA sued Haywood and the Sonics, since his college class hadn't graduated yet. The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Haywood, opening the door for underclassmen to join the NBA.

3. USFL v. NFL
The USFL sued the NFL for $600 million for violation of antitrust laws before a federal jury in New York in 1986. The USFL won but was awarded just $1 in damages by the jury (trebled to $3 in accordance with antitrust law). The USFL folded, appeals failed and the NFL monopoly got even more lucrative.

4. Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National Baseball Clubs
Baltimore, a member of the Federal League that operated as a major league from 1914-15, had sued the National and American Leagues, charging the FL's inability to sign players was due to antitrust violations. In 1922, the Supreme Court ruled against Baltimore, giving MLB an antitrust exemption it still holds.

5. Maurice Clarett v. NFL
A federal judge rules the Ohio State sophomore eligible for the NFL Draft, concluding the NFL violated antitrust laws. Like the Haywood decision, will open the doors for non-juniors and seniors to enter the NFL Draft.
-- David Schoenfield, ESPN.com

Simply put -- let the market sort it out: Those who are good enough will get drafted; those who aren't won't. A market system works the same way right now with juniors and seniors.

Yes, there will be a first early-entry class of young collegians who learn the hard way (and if the NFL was smart, they would allow undrafted players to return to college for more free NFL development), but like any market, there will be a correction that knocks some sense into decision-making on both sides of the draft pipeline.

Next ... no draft at all? | From David Schoenfield

This, of course, leads us to the next inevitable lawsuit: The legality of the drafts themselves. It's surprising Scott Boras hasn't pursued this. The free market has proven that top prospects are underpaid, as happened in the Major League Baseball Draft several years ago when four players were declared free agents due to a rules technicality and ended up with the largest draft bonuses in history.

You don't think Eli Manning would get a bigger contract if he were allowed to negotiate with all 32 teams instead of one?

Imagine this scenario:

"Lipsyte, you had a great undergrad career at Harvard, graduated cum laude, won several college journalism awards .... congratuations, the first pick in the 2004 Newspaper Draft goes to the Pensacola Tribune and they've selected you to cover their opening on the police beat."

Check out the prom pictures! | From Robert Lipsyte

I was thrilled to be drafted by the PCola since under the new Newspaper League rules all contracts are only for a year. But the Curt Flood Clarett Legacy has turned everything upside down. All of us on the police beat were shifted to covering college football. The SEC, Big 10 and ACC are desperate, offering Escalades for options, family housing for two-year signings, and they still can't compete with NFL expansion.

MTV has a team! And this new NFL Maturity Test is amazing. Just that first year, guys who were clean for coke, grass and steroids tested out as middle-school on the Dork-O-Meter and had to take "Everyday Living" courses before they could play. Who would have thought even Romo needed therapy? Wiped out the wideouts for starters, and six secondaries. After the lawyers, the shrinks are making all the money now. But there's some sweet stuff coming down. There's a cornerback on the Jets who doesn't have a driver's license and I love to go into locker rooms and look at Prom pictures.

If the NFL were smart ... | From Luke Cyphers

They'd use this as an excuse to open the floodgates for anybody over 18 ("Sorry Ohio State and USC, but the courts, well, they're making us do it"), expand NFL Europe rosters, and start a summer league in mid-size markets, using mid- to-low-level NFL players and Clarett-like youngsters on the way up.

Why?

TV. The NFL needs more programming for its new cable channel. Without it, the big cable companies can't sell enough advertising, and so those conglomerates aren't allowing NFL Network anywhere near basic cable. But with a whole new set of games to show, thanks to a whole new pool of players, some of whom have built-in followings thanks to growing interest in high school football, hey, you've got a year-round game to sell soap and beer with. You've created a farm system that a loyal core of fans will bet on, build fantasy teams around -- and watch.

But that's if the NFL were smart ...

A true American system | From Chuck Hirshberg

Good idea, Dave, ending the draft. But your proposal doesn't go far enough. I say, since football is both an American treasure, and a business, let's make it a genuinely AMERICAN business. And America, of course, means Free Markets.

Herewith, the Hirsh Horn Proposition to Americanize the National Football League:

Any municipality, company or individual that is willing and able to make the necessary financial commitment to support an NFL team for five years should be allowed to field one, wherever they may choose. They'll need to prove that they have a sealed deal with a stadium that accommodates at least 50,000 persons, and cash reserves to support a payroll (both on and off the field) on a par with current teams. That's basically it. There'd be a lot of fine print, of course, 'cause lawyers are lawyers. But think of the advantages! Below, the FAQs:

Wouldn't there be too many teams?

No. The NFL could simply go to the "Division System" used with great success by soccer leagues overseas. Each division consists of a fixed number of teams, say, a dozen. At the end of each season, the worst teams from Div. I drop down to Div. II, the best teams from Div. II rise up to Div. I. And so on, all the way down to Div. XVIII, if necessary.

Would the quality of play suffer?

Maybe; maybe not. If Division I consisted of say, 12 teams, it might even be better than the current NFL, what with the best teams competing mainly against their best rivals. And even if play DID suffer, what a small price to pay to give thousands of athletes a chance to play pro sports, to give millions of Americans a chance to root for their very own home team, and, most important, to give Donald Trump the opportunity to throw away millions on another crappy franchise. (Remember those New Jersey Generals from the USFL?)

Wouldn't players, especially stars, get paid less money?

Yes. They make way too much money under the current system.

Wouldn't Al Davis and the rest of those Plantation Owners make a lot less money?

Yes. Yes, Yes, YES!!!

And that is the reason why -- the only reason why -- the Hirsh Horn Proposition will never be adopted. Just one more good idea, among millions, choked to death by wealth and power.

Just say no | From Alan Grant

I hope this ruling is appealed. I really hope the league is able to save itself from itself. Because if this isn't successfully overturned, high school kids will dream of trading prom night for draft day. And when that happens, NFL scouts, GMs and personnel guys will suddenly find themselves entertaining impure thoughts of virile, talented fresh-faced high school kids.

I'm serious.

Oh, for now they're holding steadfast to the rule, which was reiterated by judge Scheindlin: "Younger players are not physically or mentally ready to play in the NFL."

I just hope they keep thinking that way.

I'm just a bit skeptical when grown men start evaluating the mental and physical maturity of teenagers. Perhaps that has something to do with the current proceedings in Eagle, Col. ... or perhaps it's more simple than that.

Each year, with every Kobe, LeBron, or K.G., basketball has made college obsolete. But football is a different animal. Basketball, especially the part of the game which takes place in the paint, is a contact game. But football, as put so eloquently by Vincent T. Lombardi, is a "hitting" game.

While Maurice Clarettt and a few other youngsters at the skill positions may prove to be exceptions to the rule, the same does not apply to their comrades in the trenches. I doubt there's one 18-year old offensive lineman who can successfully jump from Friday night pillow fight to Sunday afternoon trench warfare with the likes of Warren Sapp or Michael Strahan.

But if one goes then they have to let all of 'em go. And that will surely spell disaster for a whole bunch of kids.

Vote no, league.