Clarett, the headstrong tailback who won a court battle with the National Football League last week, now intends to enter the league's draft in April after a federal district court judge today denied the NFL's motion for a stay of execution on that ruling.
The NFL may still appeal the ruling to the U.S. 2nd District Court of Appeals, but legal obsevers say there is no way that process will affect the status of Clarett or any other college underclassmen who decide to enter this year's draft by the new NFL-imposed deadline of March 1.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the NFL would not suffer irreparable harm if Clarett and other underclassmen are allowed to participate in April's draft.
"Maurice Clarett's going to be in the draft," his attorney Alan Milstein announced right after the decision.
Scheindlin ruled in Clarett's favor a week ago citing antitrust violations that restrict football players from applying for the NFL draft until three years after they leave high school.
"Contrary to the NFL's argument, most of the rules governing this case were established decades ago," she said. "Indeed, the legal framework for that decision was laid in a long line of Supreme Court precedent."
According to the Associated Press, NFL lawyer Gregg H. Levy said the league will ask the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay Scheindlin's ruling while it appeals the case. He said the appeals process would begin soon.
Clarett helped Ohio State win the national championship as a freshman in 2002, when he rushed for 1,237 yards. But he missed all of the 2003 season after it was determined he took extra benefits from a family friend and then lied to NCAA investigators.
The running back from Warren, Ohio, had remained in school at Ohio State, keeping his options open to petition the NCAA for reinstatement this year. But Milstein's announcement today seems to signal that Clarett's run in the scarlet and gray is over.
Under NFL rules, Clarett would not have been eligible to enter the draft until 2005.
"If a stay is granted, Clarett will miss the 2004 draft," Scheindlin 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."
Reporters caught up with OSU head coach Jim Tressel at a function this evening at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Cafe.
"We wish him the best and we will root for him," Tressel said. "We would like him to take some more time to get ready (for the pros), certainly. But that's not where we are."
Tressel was asked if he thought Clarett was ready for the NFL.
"The speed of the game is what they always talk about as the biggest change at each level," Tressel said. "The amount of mental preparation also goes up at each level. Maurice has shown he is capable of making those hurdles. We'll be hoping he can make this next one."
Early projections have Clarett tabbed as the fourth-best running back in the draft and likely a second- or third-round pick.