Fitzgerald draft status could be key

Updated: January 19, 2004, 4:16 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Suspended running back Maurice Clarett remains committed to trying to force his way into the NFL draft even though he hasn't ruled out playing again for Ohio State.

"What Maurice continues to do is to look at the options that are before him," his mother, Michelle Clarett, told The Associated Press on Monday. "Nothing is carved in stone, on any arena. That is the intent. So, yes, we are continuing to pursue the lawsuit."

Maurice Clarett, who helped Ohio State win the 2002 national championship as a freshman, was suspended from the team before last season because he accepted money from a family friend and lied about it to university and NCAA investigators.

Clarett filed a federal lawsuit in New York in September challenging the NFL rule that says a player must be three years removed from his high school graduation before he can be eligible for the draft. Under that rule, the sophomore would have to wait at least one more season before entering the draft.

The league wants the case thrown out. Judge Shira Scheindlin is scheduled to rule by Feb. 1.

Clarett's attorney in the NFL case, Alan C. Milstein, said he is "supremely" confident that Clarett will win entry to the draft.

The Clarett family is unwavering in its support of the NFL legal challenge but wants Clarett to be able to return to college if he loses his lawsuit or is not taken early in the draft, Milstein said.

"He is trying to keep his options open," he said.

Another of Clarett's lawyers, Percy Squire, said last week that the 20-year-old wants to play for Ohio State even if he becomes eligible for the draft.

Squire represented Clarett last week when he pleaded guilty to lesser charge after being accused of lying on a police report about the value of items stolen from a dealership car he borrowed. He was fined $100 on a charge of failure to aid a law enforcement officer, which will not appear on his criminal record.

Ohio State officials have set goals and incentives that need to be met for Clarett to regain eligibility.

"All of the outstanding issues with the NCAA stuff has to be cleared up, restitution and all those kinds of things," Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said Monday. "And he has to do what a student has to do at Ohio State. He has to be eligible academically."

Geiger said he could not comment on whether Clarett has maintained his academic eligibility throughout his suspension.

Clarett's future is in his own hands, Geiger said.

"We would welcome him back if he wants to be back and does what it takes to be back," he said. "But if he wants to do the other thing, that's there for him to do if that option comes available for him."

The is looking into whether Pittsburgh All-American receiver Larry Fitzgerald is eligible for the April's draft. Fitzgerald has played just two seasons at Pittsburgh, but spent a year at a prep school before entering Pitt.

"We are in the process of clarifying his status," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday.

Milstein, a Philadelphia antitrust law specialist, argued that Fitzgerald should have to play one more year in college because his time in prep school should not count toward his eligibility., citing unnamed league sources, reported Sunday that Fitzgerald would be ruled eligible in the next week.

Milstein said Fitzgerald being ruled eligible would underscore "the arbitrary manner in which the NFL interprets and applies its eligibility rules. And it certainly confirms that sophomores are ready and able to star in the NFL."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press