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Clarett sues NFL over draft eligibility

Ohio State's Maurice Clarett, right, who was suspended for one year, wants to enter NFL draft.
Ohio State's Maurice Clarett, right, who was suspended for one year, wants to enter NFL draft.
Amy Sancetta, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio— Suspended Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett sued the NFL on Tuesday, asking a judge to throw out a league rule that prevents him from entering the 2004 draft.

The lawsuit contends the NFL rule prohibiting players from being drafted until they have been out of high school for three years violates antitrust law and harms competition.

Clarett, who rushed for 1,237 yards and led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman last season, wants U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin to declare him eligible for the 2004 draft — or require the NFL to hold a special supplemental draft sooner.

Under current rules, he is not eligible for the draft until 2005.

"Had Clarett been eligible for the 2003 draft, it is almost certain he would have been selected in the beginning of the first round and would have agreed to a contract and signing bonus worth millions of dollars," according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in New York.

The NFL says it will fight any challenge to the rule.

"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 rule and the legal impediments to the claim that was filed," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Clarett was suspended from the team for at least a year after an investigation determined he broke NCAA bylaws concerning benefits for athletes and lied to investigators.

His attorney, Alan Milstein, filed the lawsuit against the NFL a day after he and Clarett's mother met with league executives in Washington.

The lawsuit argues the NFL rule "is a restraint of amateur athletes who were strangers to the collective bargaining process."

A Duke University legal expert says Clarett has a strong case and the NFL will probably have trouble keeping Clarett out of the draft.