Judge Rules In Favor Of Clarett; Geiger Speaks

U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has ruled that the NFL Draft rule regarding early entry violates anti-trust laws and has ordered the NFL to allow Maurice Clarett into this year's NFL draft. We have updated the story to include a statement from OSU athletic director Andy Geiger.

According to sources, Maurice Clarett is expected to appear at a news conference at 6:30 p.m. tonight to discuss his legal victory in his federal court case against the National Football League.

In the interim, OSU athletic director Andy Geiger issued the following statement:

"Today's ruling concerning Maurice Clarett's eligibility for the NFL draft has not changed the University's position regarding his role at Ohio State," Geiger said.

"Should Maurice elect to continue his education and football career at Ohio State, we will work with him in the process of seeking his reinstatement with the NCAA for the 2004 season.

"NCAA rules state that if a student-athlete formally applies for entry for the NFL draft, he is no longer eligible for college football. We are attempting to notify Maurice of this through his New Jersey and Columbus attorneys.

Here is the initial story we published this morning, shortly after the judge announced her decision in the case:

The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has ruled in favor of Maurice Clarett in his case against the NFL and that the NFL must allow him to enter this year's draft.

Clarett brought a suit against the NFL, asking that its rule requiring a player to have spent three seasons out of high school before becoming eligible to enter the draft be overturned. U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in favor of Clarett, stating "The NFL has not justified Clarett's exclusion by demonstrating that the rule enhances competition. Indeed, Clarett has alleged the very type of injury -- a complete bar to entry into the market for this services -- that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent."

The 20-year-old Clarett was the subject of an ESPN.com expose on Wednesday for his ties to a known gambler, Warren, Ohio, caterer Bobby Dellumuti, who also provided Clarett with illegal extra benefits. Those benefits, reportedly totaling $3,800, as well as his lies to NCAA investigators led Ohio State and the NCAA to suspend Clarett, a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, for the 2003 season.

He now faces a decision on whether to formally enter his name in the 2004 draft. All indications are he will do that, although he maintained several times during the legal process his desire to return to OSU this season. For him to return, OSU would need to petition the NCAA on his behalf. There are no certainties he would regain full eligibility, either.

Clarett sued the NFL last summer to challenge a league rule that a player must be out of high school three years for draft eligibility. The judge's ruling, if it is not successfully appealed, could allow teen-age football stars to take advantage of the marketing and business opportunities available to young athletes in other sports.

In trying to maintain the status quo, the NFL argued that Clarett should not be eligible because its rule resulted from a collective bargaining agreement with the players. Hence, the rule is immune from antitrust scrutiny, because Clarett cannot bring such a lawsuit and because its rule is reasonable.

"While, ordinarily, the best offense is a good defense, none of these defenses hold the line," the judge opined in a 70-page ruling.

Scheindlin sided with Clarett because he was fighting a policy that excludes all players in his position from selling their services to the only viable buyer, the NFL.

The judge said that "age is obviously a poor proxy for NFL-readiness, as is restriction based solely on height or weight."

The NFL was preparing a statement to respond to the ruling. It was unclear if and when the league would initiate appeals proceedings. It was also unclear what impact such appeals may have on Clarett's ability to enter this year's draft.

John Langel, a lawyer for Clarett, told the AP he was "obvious pleased" and praised the ruling as "incredibly well written and thorough and touching on all issues the parties addressed."

Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman in 2002.

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