Colleges call Clarett ruling `a mistake'

Coaches, officials defend current NFL system, don't see many making jump

`Most kids not physically ready'

Pitt's Fitzgerald receives NFL go-ahead to follow Ohio State back to pros

February 06, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Whether or not the proverbial floodgates open, college football coaches and administrators took a predictable stance on yesterday's ruling that could allow former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett to jump to the NFL after spending only one season in a Buckeyes uniform.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who saw star players Kevin Jones and DeAngelo Hall declare last month after their junior years, said that the current system that precludes players from leaving until three years after their high school classes have graduated should be kept intact.

"I think we have an orderly way of doing things right now," Beamer said on the Hokies Hotline. "We have a system that we're all familiar with. I'd hate to see that system just go. It's just a fact that most kids are not physically ready to play NFL football when they just come out of high school.

"To me, it's a mistake to do anything with the system."

But U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin disagreed, ruling in New York that the NFL is in violation of antitrust laws by prohibiting players from entering the draft before they have been out of high school three years. The NFL is expected to appeal, but it's uncertain that the appeal can be heard before April's draft.

Clarett led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman in 2002, but sat out last season after running into both legal and NCAA trouble.

Clarett pled guilty to failure to aid a law enforcement officer after an incident last summer when he filed a police report that exaggerated the value of items stolen from a car he borrowed from a local dealership in April.

He had been ruled ineligible by both the NCAA and Ohio State for taking improper benefits and lying about the value of the property he received. Clarett is still enrolled in school, and there had been some speculation recently that he might try to regain his eligibility for next season.

Though Clarett is currently not working out with the team in offseason conditioning drills, the Buckeyes are keeping that option open.

"Should Maurice elect to continue his education and football career at Ohio State, we will work with him in the process of seeking his reinstatement with the NCAA for the 2004 season," said athletic director Andy Geiger.

If yesterday's ruling is upheld, many players could follow Clarett's lead and try to jump to the NFL. At least one, sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of Pittsburgh, plans to do so, having received clearance from the NFL yesterday.

Fitzgerald, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, will be allowed to enter the draft based on the fact that his one year in prep school helped him reach the three-year window.

Though most concede that Fitzgerald is ready for the NFL and will be a very high draft choice, the jury is still out on Clarett because of his inactivity the past eight months and the fact that he is relatively inexperienced. Clarett, 6 feet and 230 pounds, rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns in the 2002 regular season. He had two more touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.

Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver doesn't think the ruling on Clarett will start a mass exodus from the college ranks. Nor does he believe that the NFL will start to resemble the NBA on this issue and start drafting high school players.

"I see it somewhere in between, I don't think it will get close to basketball due to the physical issues," Weaver said from his office in Blacksburg. "But I think there will be more young people going out, especially those who haven't been motivated to work academically."

Longtime coach George O'Leary, who recently returned to the college ranks at the University of Central Florida after spending the past two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, said that it might go beyond the physical readiness of most players trying to make the jump.

"As far as my experiences, I think very few are ready for the mental toughness that the NFL takes at that young age," said O'Leary.

Said Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni: "The rationale behind the NFL's policy is to provide the kids time to mature physically for the impact, violence and speed of the game. The No. 1 priority should be the safety and welfare of the student-athletes."

Grant Teaff, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, expects that his organization's members will not change their recruiting tactics because of the decision. Not that Teaff was pleased by the ruling.

"The American Football Coaches Association is very disappointed with the ruling handed down by the federal judge in the Maurice Clarett case," said Teaff. "Our head coaches and their staffs will handle this ruling calmly and with the best interest of the student-athlete as the focal point. The NFL has made it clear, they will vigorously and to the full extent of the law appeal this ruling."

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