Bader Ginsburg to hear emergency appeal

Updated: April 21, 2004, 11:02 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maurice Clarett's status for the NFL draft is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clarett's attorney, Alan Milstein, filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, asking for a stay of a federal appeals court's decision from 24 hours earlier preventing the former Ohio State tailback from being in this weekend's draft.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will handle the case.

In 1971, lawyers for Detroit high school star Spencer Haywood followed the same approach. A stay preventing Haywood from going in the NBA draft was tossed out by Justice William O. Douglas, opening the door for underclassmen and teenagers to play pro basketball.

"It's the exact same scenario," Milstein said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It just needs to play out the same."

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the stay on Monday, putting a hold on a lower-court ruling that said the NFL can't force players to wait three years after high school before turning pro.

The NFL said the appellate decision will ultimately stand.

"There was ample support for the ruling of the 2nd Circuit, which thoroughly considered and completely rejected the arguments that Mr. Clarett's lawyers have presented to the Supreme Court," NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said.

Southern California sophomore receiver Mike Williams filed his own lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, saying the NFL issued conflicting statements about eligibility for the draft which caused him to sacrifice his college career.

If they wind up being eligible, Williams would be expected to go in the first round of the draft, while Clarett might not be taken until the second or third round.

Clarett argued in Tuesday's filing that the NFL wouldn't suffer any harm if he's allowed in the draft -- but he would be harmed if he is blocked.

Clarett led Ohio State to a national title as a freshman, but was ruled ineligible as a sophomore for accepting money from a family friend and lying about it to NCAA and university investigators. Williams declared for the draft after a lower court ruled in Clarett's favor.

Clarett, 20 and out of high school two years, would be eligible for the draft next year under the current rule. He dropped out of classes at Ohio State after the winter quarter.

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in February that Clarett should be allowed in the draft. She said the rule excluding him violates antitrust law and unjustly blocks a player from pursuing his livelihood.

Ginsburg is a Clinton administration appointee who oversees matters from the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit. She could decide on her own whether to intervene or refer the issue to the full court. She could also ask the NFL to file a response.

There is no court deadline for Ginsburg to act on the request, but Clarett's lawyer said if no decision is rendered before the draft Clarett "will suffer substantial irreparable injury."

If Ginsburg or the full court turns down the request, the lower court's decision against Clarett stands.

Should the court decide against Clarett -- and by extension, Williams -- the players could only return to play college football if they met academic standards and their universities successfully petitioned the NCAA for reinstatement.

Steve Snapp, an assistant athletic director at Ohio State, said there were significant obstacles in the way of Clarett regaining his eligibility even if he wanted to rejoin the Buckeyes.

"There is a number of issues about whether or not he has professionalized himself," Snapp said.

The NFL also could be compelled legally to include Clarett and Williams in a supplemental draft. Former stars such as Reggie White, Cris Carter and Bernie Kosar entered the NFL after being taken in supplemental drafts.

Clarett's mother said her son would continue to train as if he would be playing in the NFL.

"He's continuing to work out so his mind and body are in sync," Michelle Clarett told The Columbus Dispatch for Tuesday's editions.

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