Clarett Meets Media, Keeps His Options Open

Maurice Clarett and his legal team took questions Thursday night in New York City after their legal victory over the NFL in U.S. District Court. But, with the NFL pondering an appeal, Clarett preserved his college eligibilty by not officially declaring for the 2004 draft. Click this free link for a full report.

Maurice Clarett, his mother and his legal team met with the media this evening at a hotel in New York City hours after they prevailed in a U.S. District Court fight with the National Football League.

It was clear that Clarett intends to enter the NFL draft at his earliest possible convenience, but he could not say that at tonight's press conference.

Ohio State advised Clarett that if he announces his intention to enter the draft he would not be able to retain his college eligibility. His attorney, Alan Milstein, advised Clarett to steer clear of making such a pronouncement until it is clear whether the NFL will appeal and whether a judge will grant the league a stay of execution in this matter. The NFL draft is set for late April.

Clarett was all smiles as he was joined at the press conference by his mother, Michelle, as well as Milstein.

"We are gratified and pleased," Milstein said. "This is a historic victory, a victory for all athletes."

Milstein said he did agree with OSU's advice to not declare immediately, but he and Clarett agreed to abide by it just in case this court decision is overturned.

"We were advised this morning by Ohio State that if Maurice says he is going to try to be eligible for the draft he immediately would lose his eligibility for the NCAA," Milstein said. "At this point, we don't know if there will be any kind of stay. This keeps his NCAA eligibility alive until he is absolutely certain that he is eligible for the NFL draft.

"I think it's nonsense," Milstein added, regarding OSU's advice. "But if there is a stay, he needs to keep his eligibility in place so he can go play college football."

Clarett has made few, if any, media appearances since he was suspended by OSU and the NCAA last August. He had plenty to say, though, regarding his court victory.

"I want to thank God for putting me in this position to make a decision, an either/or between the NFL or going back to school," Clarett said. "I want to thank my legal team for what they did. I want to thank my mother and everybody who supported me through this whole period.

"I am waiting patiently to see whatever the NFL is going to do. At that time, I will make my decision."

Reporters tried to get Clarett to tip his hand about the decision, asking where he prefers to be this fall.

"On the football field," a coy Clarett smiled and said.

Clarett was asked if he viewed himself as a pioneer.

"This wasn't about trying to bring down the NFL," he said. "It was just about having another option."

Draft analysts are mixed on where Clarett would go in the 2004 draft. Some say he could go as high as the middle of the first round, while others say he would probably have to wait until the second round.

"To me, it really doesn't matter," Clarett said. "I can't control where somebody picks me or where I will go. That doesn't bother me."

When asked if he thinks he is ready for the NFL, he replied, "Am I ready? I'm like every kid, of course I'm ready."

Clarett was asked about the various off-the-field problems he has been through over the last two years.

"I take responsibility for all of my actions," he said. "It is all part of growing up and being mature. I don't cry or blame anybody. It's all a part of moving forward and just doing the best I can."

Clarett was asked about not being able to play football this past season.

"That could take hours, days, weeks to talk about that," he said. "It was stressful. I've played football since I was 5. It took away games and it took away practice. People were constantly following me with cameras and knocking on my door. Everywhere I went I had the same questions."

Clarett said he has spoken regularly with OSU coach Jim Tressel, who told Cleveland radio station WKNR-AM an hour earlier that he hopes Clarett will still consider a return to school despite this decision.

"We talk around the facility," Clarett said. "We've got an agreement -- any personal discussions we have are between me and him. It's our business."

Clarett also reacted to a comment by his close friend, OSU quarterback Troy Smith, who said prior to the Fiesta Bowl that as many as 80 percent of his teammates would welcome him back.

"What happened to the other 20?" Clarett joked.

Milstein declared that the court decision was a "victory for the marketplace. If people are ready to join the marketplace, then let them. You don't keep them out because of age or some other arbitrary reason."

Milstein also believes the decision will stand up on appeal.

"There is almost no chance at all of getting a stay," Milstein said. "If they want to go to the Second Circuit (Court of Appeals), we will win at the Second Circuit. If they want to take it to a higher court, we'll win there, too. I am confident we will prevail at every level."

The NFL indicated it plans to appeal.

"We believe that today's ruling is inconsistent in many respects with well established labor and antitrust law," the league said in an release.

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