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Monday, May 24, 2004
Updated: May 25, 12:16 PM ET
Clarett to appeal three-judge ruling against early-entry

ESPN.com news services

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite another setback, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett is continuing his legal fight for a chance to play in the NFL next season

Clarett's attorney Alan C. Milstein told ESPN's Sal Paolontonio on Monday that he would file a motion for the case Tuesday to be heard before the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan.

Milstein declined further comment to The Associated Press on Tuesday, other than to say he was preparing the brief.

The next appeal would be before the entire 12-judge panel. Should Clarett lose that battle, he could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An appeals court said Monday that federal labor policy allows NFL teams to set rules for when players can enter the league.

The decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was consistent with the appeals court's refusal last month to permit the former Ohio State running back into the NFL draft.

A lower court judge in February ruled Clarett eligible for the draft. It said the NFL was violating federal antitrust laws by blocking Clarett's entry into his profession with a rule barring eligibility until a player was three years out of high school. Clarett is only two years out of high school.

After the appeals court blocked Clarett's entry, saying it believed it would rule against him, the 20-year-old athlete sought help from the U.S. Supreme Court. Two justices turned him down.

On Monday, the appeals court said Clarett was "no different from the typical worker who is confident that he or she has the skills to fill a job vacancy, but does not possess the qualifications or meet the requisite criteria that have been set."

It said ruling in favor of Clarett would be deciding that professional football players were entitled to advantages under federal labor laws that transport workers, coal miners or meat packers do not enjoy.

The draft was held on April 24-25, and Clarett was ineligible for it. This ruling means he will not be eligible for a supplemental draft and will have to wait for the 2005 draft.

A victory by Clarett would have helped another college player: wide receiver Mike Williams of Southern California, who also tried to enter the draft despite the three-year rule.

Williams' agent, Michael Azzarelli told ESPN on Monday that he will file a separate lawsuit against NFL in Tampa alleging the NFL encouraged Williams to make himself eligible for the draft.

Azzarelli has said that Williams' NFL eligibility should be considered separately from Clarett's because he entered the draft only after the league set a new deadline for previously ineligible players in the aftermath of the ruling that made Clarett eligible.

NFL officials have said they will keep Williams out of the league along with Clarett if they're legally able to do so because they warned Williams before he entered the draft that they would attempt to overturn the decision and would rule Williams ineligible if they were able to reverse the decision.

NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash said in a statement that the appeals court ruling Monday "leaves no doubt that legal challenges to the NFL's long-standing eligibility rules have no basis whatsoever."

"We are grateful for the court's prompt attention to our appeal, but not at all surprised by the result, which represents a complete victory for the National Football League," he said.

In its Monday ruling, the appeals court said Clarett's case was not an instance "in which the NFL is alleged to have conspired with its players union to drive its competitors out of the market for professional football."

The lawsuit instead "reflects simply a prospective employee's disagreement with the criteria, established by the employer and the labor union, that he must meet in order to be considered for employment."

Williams forfeited his college eligibility when he signed with an agent.

Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll said the school will seek the All-American's reinstatement.

"We've been preparing for this outcome for a while," Carroll said. "Mike was aware of this possibility. He'll now look to get reinstated into college by the NCAA. The process is underway, but it will take a while.

"We're counting on the NCAA to understand the uniqueness of this situation and give Mike the opportunity to come back to school."

Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman in 2002, leading the Buckeyes to the national championship. He was suspended before the 2003 season for accepting money from a family friend and lying about it to NCAA and Ohio State investigators.

He also pleaded guilty in January to a misdemeanor after exaggerating the value of items stolen from a car he borrowed from a Columbus used-car dealer. He was fined $100.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.