A young man's game?


Issue: "California's new governor," Oct. 4, 2003

Maurice Clarett won't play college football this season, but he is rushing toward the courthouse. Mr. Clarett, the embattled and suspended Ohio State running back, is testing the NFL's age limits that would prevent him from entering the league's draft this coming April. Under NFL rules, a player must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the draft.

But don't expect the NFL to be cowed by Mr. Clarett's demands. League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said the NFL won't change the rule and would resist Mr. Clarett's lawsuit: "My feeling as commissioner is that we have a very strong case and that we'll win it." Plus, league attorneys could draw from the quiver of stall tactics, possibly delaying a decision in a trial until after the 2004 draft.

Some sports lawyers, however, say that Mr. Clarett could win an injunction. "Courts often seem to get wrapped up in the excitement, mythology, and action of sports and their decisions are sometimes less predictable," said Alan C. Michaels, former lawyer for major-league baseball's players association.

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At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, the running back's physical preparation is less of a question than his mental readiness. Mr. Clarett turns 20 this month.

Neil Cornrich, a Cleveland-based attorney and sports agent, said Mr. Clarett would have a "slam-dunk victory" in the courts. He said the rule amounted to an antitrust violation and wasn't a part of the league's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL players association.


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