Deadline not extended for previously eligible

Updated: February 7, 2004, 8:40 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Want to play in the NFL? It's sign-up time for high school players and newly eligible college underclassmen.

A day after a federal judge struck down the league's rule limiting the draft to players at least three years out of high school, the NFL set a March 1 deadline for those covered to apply for this year's draft.

As part of the new rules issued Friday to comply with the decision, the newly eligible players must obtain a form from the NFL.

The March 1 date does not apply to players previously eligible to apply for the draft -- they had a Jan. 15 deadline.

Players who became eligible because of Thursday's decision in the case of Ohio State sensation Maurice Clarett must apply for the draft by Feb. 15 to be considered for invitations to the scouting combine, which starts Feb. 18 in Indianapolis.

Clarett and Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, now among the 43 underclass prospects eligible for the '04 draft, will be invited to the combine workouts, ESPN.com has learned.

The league notified U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin on Friday that it would file papers Tuesday seeking a stay of her decision, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. The NFL's new draft rules apply only if the Clarett decision remains in force.

Scheindlin has scheduled a hearing on the case for Wednesday, and it is possible the stay application will addressed then, Aiello said.

In her 71-page opinion, Scheindlin declared the rule violated antitrust laws and proposed alternatives.

"Age is obviously a poor proxy for NFL-readiness, as is a restriction based solely on height and weight," she wrote. "Medical examinations and tests are available to measure an individual player's maturity. The league could easily use those tests to screen out players who are not prepared to play in the NFL. ...

"By requiring draft prospects to submit to these examinations, the league could provide valuable information about player maturity to its teams and allow them to decide whether a prospect is worth selecting."

On Friday, NCAA president Myles Brand called the ruling a "setback" from an educational perspective. He suggested that the NFL and NBA look elsewhere for ways to prepare young athletes for the pros.

Brand said it's ironic that the two major professional sports without developmental leagues will have two of the most liberal draft rules if this decision isn't overturned.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli was used in this report.