Supreme Court ends Clarett's draft bid

Back's emergency appeals denied by two justices

USC's Williams also out

Pro Football

April 23, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Maurice Clarett's latest legal maneuver to force his way into this weekend's NFL draft ended with rejections by two Supreme Court justices yesterday.

The former running back from Ohio State appeared to have exhausted his options after Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens denied emergency appeals by Clarett's lawyer to have him reinstated in the two-day college draft that begins tomorrow.

No sooner had Ginsburg rejected the first appeal yesterday morning than Alan Milstein, Clarett's attorney, submitted the second. Stevens promptly rejected that, too, without comment.

Milstein told the Associated Press he did not plan to file a third emergency appeal.

Barring some other unanticipated development, Clarett and Southern California wide receiver Mike Williams are off all NFL draft boards this year.

Clarett temporarily gained entry into the draft in February when he challenged the league eligibility rule that bans players less than three years removed from high school graduation. A federal judge in New York struck down the bylaw, opening the draft to all comers, regardless of age.

But the NFL appealed the decision, and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday issued a stay of the lower court's order, knocking Clarett out of the draft.

The appellate court has yet to rule on the merits of the lawsuit.

In her comments yesterday, Ginsburg said she saw no need to overturn a lower court's stay while Clarett's challenge to the rule is unresolved.

She also cited the NFL's willingness to hold a supplemental draft if the appellate court ultimately ruled in Clarett's favor.

"From the NFL's perspective, this was never really about Maurice Clarett," NFL attorney Gregg Levy said. "It was about a rule that has served the NFL well, served fans well and served players well for many years."

The league's position on the three-year rule is that younger players are not emotionally or physically prepared to participate in pro football.

While there is a "theoretical possibility" that Clarett might yet win the case, a New York attorney acknowledged that it is unlikely.

"In the 2nd Circuit's short order issued a couple days ago, the court expressed the view the NFL had demonstrated the likelihood of success on the merits," said Howard Ganz, a partner in the sports law department at Proskauer Rose LLP in New York. "That's a pretty clear indication that when the court gets around to deciding it formally and issuing an opinion, it will prevail."

For the NFL, there was even more good news yesterday. In a brief statement, the league announced that a related lawsuit filed this week by Williams would be withdrawn no later than today.

Williams, a sophomore, declared for the draft not long after the NFL was forced to remove all restrictions. Because he hired an agent, he lost his college eligibility, although the NCAA does have an appeals process.

He claimed that the NFL's conflicting statements after the original Clarett decision had caused him to lose his NCAA eligibility.

Mike Azzarelli, the agent, said it would be very difficult to retrace his steps and return to USC.

"Everybody was talking about him going back to USC," Azzarelli said. "That seems like a monumental task. ... He's taken money from trading card deals, a shoe deal, things brought him through the [NFL] players association.

"To unwind all of that would be very difficult."

Azzarelli declined to comment on the NFL's contention that Williams' lawsuit would be withdrawn.

Meanwhile, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that there were no negotiations to settle that suit, or to put Williams in a supplemental draft.

"There are no negotiations to put Williams in a supplemental draft," Aiello said in a statement. "There was no settlement. Williams' lawyers withdrew their complaint because, once Clarett's emergency appeal was denied by Justice Ginsburg, they had to; at that point there was nothing left to their claim."

Clarett, 20, hasn't played since January 2003, when Ohio State won the national championship. He was suspended last year for accepting money from a family friend and lying about it to NCAA investigators.

Ginsburg did not rule on the merits of Clarett's claim that the NFL's eligibility rule was arbitrary and anticompetitive, robbing young players of an opportunity to enter the multimillion-dollar marketplace.

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