Hansen hopes NCAA will show leniency

Updated: April 20, 2004, 10:03 PM ET
Associated Press

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen hopes the NCAA will show leniency and allow Mike Williams to return to Southern California if that's what the star receiver wants.

A federal appeals court on Monday ruled Williams can't enter this weekend's NFL draft.

Trojans coach Pete Carroll has said he'd like to have Williams back. But the NCAA makes the final decision. The governing body has said players who hired agents could be reinstated if a school petitions for it and the athlete meets academic standards.

On Monday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put on hold a lower-court decision allowing former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett and other underclassmen or high school players to be part of the NFL draft. Clarett filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, trying to force his way into the draft.

Williams, a sophomore All-America, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, saying the NFL issued conflicting statements about eligibility for the draft, thus causing him to sacrifice his college career.

"We would hope that the NCAA would rule favorably, because Mike and anyone else acted based upon the ruling of the court, and now that the court's reversed it and that opportunity is no longer available, it doesn't seem to me that he should be penalized for acting upon the best available information," Hansen told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

"The NCAA has become in the last few years much more inclined to assist a student-athlete who through no fault of himself or herself has become ineligible. They've done a lot more to look at the situation on an individual basis, which is good."

Williams was projected as a high first-round pick, while Clarett might not have been taken until the second or third round.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Williams had two years of eligibility remaining for the defending national champion Trojans. He said after USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl he planned to stay in school, but then came the Clarett ruling.

Although Clarett never announced he hired an agent, there have been reports 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.

Williams caught 95 passes for 1,314 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns as the Trojans (12-1) won The Associated Press national championship.

As a freshman, he caught 81 passes for 1,265 yards and 13 TDs from Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer in 2002.

"He is really uniquely positioned," Hansen said of Williams.

Hansen believes it is in the best interest of college football not to allow players to leave for the NFL until they're three years out of high school, which is the NFL rule upheld by the court. The argument is that younger players are not physically ready for pro football.

"It gives more stability to the colleges, and I don't think they're ready to play," Hansen said. "The biggest, strongest kids would be manhandled. I want kids to get a college degree. You never know when your next play is your last play."

If an emergency appeal doesn't allow Williams and Clarett to enter the draft this weekend, a court could rule later that the NFL is compelled to include them in a supplemental draft. Former stars such as Reggie White, Cris Carter and Bernie Kosar all moved into the NFL after being taken in supplemental drafts.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press