Thursday, February 12, 2004

Judge stands by ruling on Clarett

Player still eligible for NFL draft

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Maurice Clarett is ready to enter the NFL draft, clearing another legal obstacle Wednesday when a federal judge rejected the league's request to suspend her ruling.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said the Ohio State running back could face "very detrimental" harm if excluded from the draft. She said the NFL would not be irreparably harmed if Clarett and other underclassmen are eligible.

"Maurice Clarett's going to be in the draft," the player's lawyer, Alan Milstein, said after the decision.

Lawyer Gregg Levy said the NFL will ask the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay Scheindlin's ruling while it appeals. Scheindlin ruled last week that an NFL rule barring Clarett and other young players from April's draft violates antitrust law.

"If a stay is granted, Clarett will miss the 2004 draft," she said. "He will not be eligible to play in the NFL until the 2005 draft, when he would have been eligible under the current rule. If the stay is granted, Clarett will have effectively lost his lawsuit."

She predicted few younger players would enter the draft.

"At worst, the NFL will be forced to tolerate the handful of younger players who are selected in the 2004 draft," she said. "What would amount to a one-year suspension of the league's eligibility rule scarcely imposes great hardship on the NFL or its teams."

Levy, the NFL lawyer, said the league is confident about its coming appeal.

"Mr. Milstein is ahead at the end of the first period," he said. "There, the game starts over."

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