Lawyer: Clarett will be in draft

Updated: February 12, 2004, 2:41 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- With a federal judge leading the way, Maurice Clarett is headed to the NFL.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin refused to suspend her ruling that the Ohio State running back and other younger players are eligible to play in the NFL.

"Maurice Clarett's going to be in the draft," Clarett's attorney, Alan Milstein, said right after Scheindlin's decision Wednesday.

Scheindlin said Clarett could face "very detrimental" harm if he was excluded from the draft. She said the harm to the NFL will be minimal, even if it succeeds on appeal, and she predicted that few younger players would enter the draft.

"At worst, the NFL will be forced to tolerate the handful of younger players who are selected in the 2004 draft. What would amount to a one-year suspension of the league's eligibility rule scarcely imposes any great hardship on the NFL or its teams," she said.

Last week, Scheindlin concluded that an NFL rule barring eligibility to Clarett and other young athletes from April's selection process violates antitrust laws. On Wednesday, she rejected the NFL's arguments that she must suspend the effect of that ruling.

Scheindlin said the NFL's concern that younger players may over-train or resort to steroid use to better qualify for the draft "makes no sense" in arguing for a stay since players must announce they are entering the draft by March 1.

"It is extremely unlikely that younger players will over-train or turn to steroid use in the period between now and the end of the month," she said.

NFL lawyer Gregg H. Levy said the NFL would ask the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay Scheindlin's ruling while it appeals the case.

He said he wasn't surprised by the ruling, and that the appeals process would begin soon.

"Mr. Milstein is ahead at the end of the first period," Levy said, but added that the NFL was confident of its chances before the 2nd Circuit. "There, the game starts over."

Milstein said he wasn't concerned because Clarett had won at the lower court level on every issue. "It was frivolous here. It will be even more frivolous there," he said of the NFL argument.

"The NFL will appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court and we will beat them there," Milstein told Dan Patrick on ESPN Radio on Thursday. "If they keep going with it we will keep beating them. Eventually they will realize that they've lost."

Ohio State suspended Clarett before last season for accepting money from a family friend and for lying about it to NCAA and university investigators.

He rushed for 1,237 yards and led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman in the 2003 season but was ineligible for the draft until 2005 under NFL rules.

Scheindlin said "it would be perverse indeed" to grant a stay of her ruling.

"If a stay is granted, Clarett will miss the 2004 draft. He won't be eligible to play in the NFL until the 2005 draft, when he would have been eligible under the current rule. If the stay is granted, Clarett will have effectively lost his lawsuit," she said.

Milstein said his client always intended to enter the draft, but the lawyer for Ohio State threatened that Clarett would be ineligible to play college football ever again if he declared.

On Wednesday, Scheindlin said she didn't believe the 20-year-old Clarett would sacrifice his college eligibility simply by announcing he was entering the draft.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE