NFL wants decision held until appeal

Updated: February 10, 2004, 6:29 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NFL asked a judge Tuesday to suspend her decision to allow high school players into the draft, arguing that an onslaught of teenagers would harm the league, its athletes and college football.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin issued her ruling last Thursday in a lawsuit by Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, a 20-year-old sophomore who played just one season in college before trying to enter the draft.

The NFL asked the judge for a stay while it appeals, saying a higher court may not be able to rule before the April draft.

"Absent a stay, countless college underclassmen, as well as high school students who lack the physical and psychological maturity to succeed in professional football, will be encouraged prematurely to declare themselves eligible for the NFL draft," it said.

At issue is a league rule that a player must be out of high school for three years before he is eligible for the draft.

The NFL argued that the rule is for the young players' own good: It is designed to make sure they are big enough and strong enough to play with the pros.

The league said "immediate enforcement of the court ruling will encourage teenage athletes to overtrain -- or worse -- to use steroids or dangerous nutritional supplements in the hope of rapidly developing the strength and speed required to compete in the NFL."

Scheindlin, however, said the eligibility rule violates antitrust law by denying young athletes the right to market their talents.

The NFL has set a March 1 deadline for high school players and college underclassmen to apply for the draft, pending its appeal.

The league said that without a stay, its 32 clubs will be forced to evaluate and interview a large number of prospective NFL players.

Those players then would sacrifice their scholarships and education for an uncertain future, ultimately perhaps displacing NFL veterans.

"There would also be corresponding serious, disruptive and irreparable effects on the college football programs that invested substantial sums in recruiting these players and fostering their athletic development," the NFL said.

Any veterans who lose their jobs "would have no remedy if this court's ruling were ultimately reversed."

The NFL said it will appeal Scheindlin's ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regardless of whether the judge agrees to suspend her ruling.

The league cited what it called a "substantial possibility that the Second Circuit will have a different view on the merits."

Alan C. Milstein, a lawyer for Clarett, said the NFL's arguments were frivolous. "How are they irreparably harmed by letting Maurice in? I think it's ridiculous to even go through this," he said.

Clarett led the Buckeyes to the 2002 national championship. He was barred from playing in the 2003 season for accepting improper benefits from a family friend and then lying to investigators about it.

Clarett has not said whether he would enter the draft because he still might want to return to college. Ohio State would have to petition the NCAA to allow Clarett to return for the 2004 season, and it is unclear whether the school would succeed.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press