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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Let Clarett play


Free market rules

The National Football League believes it takes a player at least three years after high school graduation to play at their level.

The reasoning is that bigger, stronger players that proliferate in the league would be too dominant for the average 20-year-old.

But what if you're Maurice Clarett? If you were, you would be 6 feet tall, weigh 230 pounds and be able to run like a deer. And, on paper, you would be bigger and faster than the average professional running back. But if you're Clarett, you're only 19, and you won't be able to play in the NFL until 2005. That's too long for Clarett, the Ohio State running back who has been suspended from the team for a year because he violated NCAA bylaws concerning benefits for athletes and for lying to investigators. He has no interest in college studies; he wants to play football. So let him.

Clarett is challenging the NFL's rules in court, asking the league to let him play. His lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in New York, claims the NFL violates antitrust law and harms competition by excluding players who have not been out of high school for three years. Clarett's suit also alleges that the eligibility rule is creates a free farm system for the NFL in the college ranks, and that it prevents potential players from earning their livings as professional athletes.

The NFL should revise its rules, starting with Clarett, and drop the three-year-out of high school requirement. Granted, the learning curve and maturation process pose challenges for younger athletes, but so what. We are not saying they have to play - only that they should have the opportunity to try.

Other major sports, such as baseball and basketball, routinely draft younger players (think LeBron James), and many succeed immediately on a professional level. Football should be no different.

Teams want to field the most competitive group of players they can in order to win. They routinely cut players who don't measure up. Let younger players prove themselves in competition.

Clarett and others should be allowed to test their abilities to play in the NFL through the competitive process.



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