Decision now in hands of Supreme Court

Updated: April 22, 2004, 2:19 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The NFL urged the Supreme Court on Thursday to keep Maurice Clarett out of this weekend's draft because the dispute over his eligibility is unsettled.

Saying a team picking Clarett would be left with nothing if he ultimately is barred from the pros this season, the league said the former Ohio State running back could enter a supplemental draft if allowed into the NFL.

Clarett, 20, asked the court this week to require the NFL to let him in the draft despite a lower court injunction against him.

He is fighting the NFL's requirement that players wait three years after high school before turning pro. Also awaiting word from the Supreme Court is wide receiver Mike Williams of Southern California, who is expected to be a first-round pick -- if eligible.

In a filing with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the NFL argued against having Clarett in the draft.

"The NFL club drafting [Clarett] would forfeit the value of its draft selection, if, after a decision on the merits, [Clarett] were deemed ineligible; there would be no way for the affected club to 'unscramble the egg' and recoup its pick," Washington lawyer Gregg Levy wrote in a filing released by the court Thursday.

Levy said if Clarett wins the dispute over eligibility rules, a supplemental draft will be held and he could participate in training camps this summer.

Clarett's attorney, Alan Milstein, said he wasn't surprised by anything in the NFL's response.

"There was nothing new, that's for sure," he said.

Clarett is appealing a stay issued Monday by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, putting a hold on a lower-court ruling that said the NFL can't enforce its three-year rule.

The case has been sent to Ginsburg because she oversees appeals from New York. She can decide the appeal by herself, or she can turn to her fellow justices to reach a decision. Most emergency appeals like this one are rejected by the court.

Clarett led Ohio State to a national championship 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. Clarett, out of high school two years, would be eligible for the 2005 draft under the current rule.

Ginsburg is not bound by a deadline in deciding on the case. Milstein said in his filing if no decision is rendered before the draft Clarett will "suffer substantial irreparable injury."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Wednesday it was "far-fetched" that Clarett would return to play for the Buckeyes. He dropped out of classes at Ohio State after the winter quarter.

"From an academic standpoint, unless the NCAA really changes its posture about academics, I think it would be difficult," Tressel said.

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 court could decide in favor of either side, or reach a compromise. The NFL might be permitted to preserve its three-year rule, but Clarett and Williams could move into the NFL in a supplemental draft this summer.

Former stars such as Reggie White, Cris Carter and Bernie Kosar entered the NFL after being taken in supplemental drafts.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press