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American Football: NFL works to tweak its early-entry system

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posted on Mar, 19 2004 @ 11:22 AM
The NFL and the NFL Players Association recently have been involved in discussions to insert language into the current collective bargaining agreement that would require all draft-eligible players to be three years removed from their high school graduation.

The rule being discussed will not be implemented in time to affect the draft status of former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett, USC receiver Mike Williams, or the six high school players who have entered next month's NFL draft. The move is designed to prevent future players who aren't three years out of high school from entering the draft.

"The league doesn't want this to ever happen again, and neither does the union," one source said. "What Clarett and the other guys got was a one-time deal."

That deal was made possible when Clarett went to federal court last year to challenge the rule. He won his case on Feb. 5, when U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled Clarett should be allowed to turn pro, partly because there was no explicit language about players' age requirements in the CBA.

It is legal for the NFL and the union to jointly alter and insert language in the current CBA, which expires in 2006. A new rule would not be enough to prevent lawsuits from future players looking to turn pro. But if the league and union agree to it, a player would have a much more difficult time winning a case, according to Tulane law professor Gary Roberts.

If the NFL and NFLPA inserted a three-year draft eligibility rule into their CBA, Roberts said, "they wouldn't have to lose any sleep over it."

Scheindlin's decision, which the NFL has appealed, said the NFL eligibility rule "must be sacked."

In her decision, Scheindlin wrote that the current NFL rule "is precisely the sort of conduct that the antitrust laws were designed to prevent." She added that, "One can scarcely think of a more blatantly anticompetitive policy than one that excludes certain competitors from the market altogether."

However, Roberts strongly disagrees with the notion.

"Employers and unions have these entry requirements and collective-bargaining agreements all the time. The decision Judge Scheindlin made is just wrong. It's just so foolish that she would rule otherwise. Any labor lawyer in the country would agree."

Clarett, 20, didn't play for the Buckeyes in the 2003 season after accepting improper benefits from a family friend and subsequently lying to investigators about those benefits. In 2002, he helped lead Ohio State to the national championship. However a national controversy erupted in October of that year when he told ESPN The Magazine that he was considering challenging the NFL's three-year rule.

It's been speculated that the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder will be at the earliest a second-round pick in the draft, which takes place April 24-25.


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