Clarett ruling is hardly popular

Many remain convinced that players leaving early for NFL not a good thing

February 07, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg and Lem Satterfield | Kevin Van Valkenburg and Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Thanks to Maurice Clarett, high school seniors and college underclassmen now have the legal right to enter the NFL draft after a federal judge's decision Thursday, but it's not a decision everyone is rushing to embrace.

"I think it hurts college football in general," said Notre Dame freshman defensive end Victor Abiamiri, a player many believe has NFL potential. "Not to knock another man's decision, but I wouldn't do it.

"I think he's an isolated situation. I don't know if it's a good decision to allow kids to make that jump so early. I think you need three years, if not all four years. Only a very few exceptional athletes can make that jump."

U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin struck down the NFL's rule forcing players to wait three years after high school to declare for the draft, allowing Clarett, 20, to enter despite playing only one year at Ohio State (2002).

Abiamiri, a high school all-American at Gilman who started seven games for the Irish last season, has the combination of size (6 feet 5, 250 pounds) and speed (4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash) that NFL general managers crave, but he also said it's foolish to believe he's ready for the NFL.

"I think a lot of kids across the country, particularly linemen, they understand that there's a huge discrepancy between what it takes to play lineman in college and what it takes to play that position in the NFL," Abiamiri said.

Even in the rare instance where a player like Abiamiri might be physically ready to make the leap, other obstacles - such as non-guaranteed contracts, limited salary cap space and small NFL rosters - mean young players would be expected to contribute and succeed immediately.

That's not the case in the NBA, where contracts are guaranteed and patience is easier for teams to justify. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, both of whom bypassed college to go to the NBA, got limited playing time initially and didn't blossom into stars until their third or fourth year.

"In terms of impact, the thing to remember is there is only a limited number of draft choices," said Jeff Pash, the NFL's chief in-house legal counsel. "So in terms of who comes to the NFL, it's going to be the same number of draft picks, same roster size, same players, [and] the salary cap stays in place. There's no more money, and there's no more roster positions as a result of this lawsuit."

That means an NFL team interested in a 19- or 20-year-old kid's potential would have to tie up a roster spot and pay a salary to someone who might not be ready to contribute for two or three years. And if that player is injured because he's not physically ready, it's unlikely he will stay on a roster for long.

"It's perfectly clear, and decades of experience show this, that players who stay in school are better players," Pash said. "They have longer careers. They have more lucrative careers. They play better, and it's a benefit to the player, and it's a benefit to the NFL, and a benefit to the people.

"The people hurt most by this ruling are not NFL clubs. Whether they're sophomores, seniors or juniors, we will find a way to coach them to play the NFL game. We'll send them to NFL Europe if need be."

"People who will be hurt are players who, for one reason or another, try to make the jump from college to the NFL, and they'll lose their opportunity at a college education, and they'll lose their opportunity to be a quality NFL player [someday]."

That may be especially true for kids who think they're stars when they're not.

"The problem is the agents who are going to try to convince these kids that they can come out now, and they'll be conning these kids even more," said Stan White, a former player with the Balitmore Colts whose son, Stan Jr., played with Clarett at Ohio State.

"I spent a whole week with Clarett down at an All-Star game in January when he was a high school senior and Stan was a senior. ... Clarett's basically a good kid, but he's never had much discipline in his life, and that's what caused him problems. He just couldn't handle a lot of the things that happened during his freshman year, and he's getting a lot of bad advice from a lot of people."

But when money is tight and a player sees the NFL as his chance to help out his family, it's not an easy decision.

"Nobody ever wants to turn down money," said Erin Henderson, a Maryland recruit whose brother, E.J., is a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings. "But I feel if you are that good, you should at least go to college for a year and prove yourself."

Still, if the Clarett ruling isn't overturned on appeal, the day when a high school player decides to bypass college entirely probably isn't far off. Many experts said this week that the top two recruits in the country, running back Adrian Peterson, who is going to Oklahoma, and defensive back Ted Ginn, who is going to Ohio State, are close to being ready right now.

"I've seen some great, great high school players in my time, but I don't think I've seen anybody in football that I believe can make that jump," said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. "Could Ray Lewis have made that jump? Could Joe Montana make that jump? Could Jonathan Ogden make that jump? I don't see it."

"I think Clarett's pretty stupid," said Loyola's Brady Smith, a highly rated linebacker who said he plans to attend college for at least three years. "If he would have stayed in college, he might have gotten a higher draft pick. If he goes now, he goes in the second or third round and he's losing tons of money."

Sun staff writers Ken Murray and Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.