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SBD/Issue 9/Leagues & Governing Bodies
Maurice Clarett Legally Challenges NFL's Early-Entry Rule
Published September 24, 2003
|Clarett Files Suit Against
NFL For Antitrust Violations
Maurice Clarett has filed suit against the NFL, seeking to overturn a rule that states players must be at least three years removed from high school to be eligible to play in the league. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the southern district of NY by attorney Alan Milstein, states, "Playing football professionally is the only means by which Clarett can profit from his athletic ability." NFL VP/Communications Greg Aiello said in a statement, "We expected to have an opportunity to respond after [Monday] night's meeting and are disappointed that we were not permitted to do so. We do not believe that this lawsuit serves the best interests of Maurice Clarett or college football players generally, but we look forward to explaining to the court both the very sound reasons underlying our eligibility rules and the legal impediments to the claim that was filed" (Mult., 9/24). The NFLPA released a statement Monday stating that it will "take no position on the case," referring to a part of the CBA that reads, "[The NFLPA] will not sue or support any suit against the terms of the college draft that are included in the NFL Constitution and Bylaws" (L.A. TIMES 9/24).
MIL WORKS: Milstein said, "The purpose of the lawsuit is to give Maurice and any other players in his situation the option (of entering the draft)" (USA TODAY, 9/24). More Milstein: "We think we have a very good case. We think Maurice will be in the NFL by next season" (NEWSDAY, 9/24).
NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND: NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said before the suit was filed, "My feeling as commissioner is that we have a very strong case and that we'll win it" (Mult., 9/24). Steelers Chair Dan Rooney: "I think the player-student's best interest is that really these kids should have to go to school for four years. I think you have to look at this a little bit altruistically and say they should stay in school and get their education" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/24).
THE KID'S GOT A POINT: Duke Univ. law professor Paul Haagen on the NFL's entry rule: "Any attempt by competitors to restrain competition in the labor market is regarded by the courts with great suspicion" (AP, 9/23). Lloyd Constantine, the former head of antitrust enforcement for the state of NY, said, "I wouldn't say Clarett's case will be a slam-dunk victory in his favor, because antitrust cases are complicated. But on the surface, he presents a very strong case. You have to like his chances" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/24). Sports attorney Bret Adams: "I think most legal scholars agree that (the league rule) is a clear violation of the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts. I have looked at the complaint and the precedent has been there with the NBA" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 9/24).
NOT OPEN AND SHUT: Gary Roberts, the Dir of the sports law department at Tulane Univ., said of Clarett, "I think he is fighting an uphill battle. The labor exemption is a huge hurdle to get around. I also think Clarett is not an attractive plaintiff. He's not a guy who's played by the rules. The only reason he's in court now is because he screwed up at Ohio State, so why change the law to accommodate a guy like that?" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/24). More Roberts: "[Tagliabue] might decide that discretion is the better part of valor and give a one-time exemption here so that a bad precedent isn't set. I don't see that happening. I think the commissioner's prepared to defend the rule, and I think he'll be successful" ("OTL Nightly," ESPN, 9/23). Attorney and ESPN legal consultant Roger Cossack said if he was representing the NFL, "I would delay, delay, delay." Cossack: "I would try and make the traditional arguments that football is just a different kind of a sport. That, in fact, a young man isn't mature enough ... to come into the game" (ESPN, 9/23). Antitrust litigator Rob Cohen: "What the courts have said is the antitrust laws are designed to protect competition, but not competitors. That is a real important distinction" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 9/24).
COLUMNIST REAX: In DC, Tom Knott: "Tagliabue ought to
reconsider his position. ... This is the wrong fight. It goes against the fundamental
principle of America"
(WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/24). YAHOO.com's Dan Wetzel: "This is just an outdated rule of convenience for the [NFL and NCAA]. The NFL doesn't want the hassle associated with teenagers, with having to draft on potential ... and college football wants its returning stars, its consistent powerhouse programs, and its calm offseasons for coaches who, unlike their basketball counterparts, don't have to fret" (YAHOO.com, 9/23). In Baltimore, Laura Vecsey: "The NFL should get over it" (SUN, 9/24). In Seattle, Steve Kelley: "Clarett deserves his chance" (SEATTLE TIMES, 9/24). In Pittsburgh, Ron Cook: "This is America. You can't deny someone the chance to make a living" (PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE, 9/24). In San Diego, Tim Sullivan writes the NFL rule is "arbitrary, discriminatory, disingenuous and probably indefensible" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/24).