Whether or not the proverbial floodgates open, college football coaches and administrators took a predictable stance on yesterday's ruling that could allow former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett to jump to the NFL after spending only one season in a Buckeyes uniform.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who saw star players Kevin Jones and DeAngelo Hall declare last month after their junior years, said that the current system that precludes players from leaving until three years after their high school classes have graduated should be kept intact.
"I think we have an orderly way of doing things right now," Beamer said on the Hokies Hotline. "We have a system that we're all familiar with. I'd hate to see that system just go. It's just a fact that most kids are not physically ready to play NFL football when they just come out of high school.
"To me, it's a mistake to do anything with the system."
But U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin disagreed, ruling in New York that the NFL is in violation of antitrust laws by prohibiting players from entering the draft before they have been out of high school three years. The NFL is expected to appeal, but it's uncertain that the appeal can be heard before April's draft.
Clarett led Ohio State to a national championship as a freshman in 2002, but sat out last season after running into both legal and NCAA trouble.
Clarett pled guilty to failure to aid a law enforcement officer after an incident last summer when he filed a police report that exaggerated the value of items stolen from a car he borrowed from a local dealership in April.
He had been ruled ineligible by both the NCAA and Ohio State for taking improper benefits and lying about the value of the property he received. Clarett is still enrolled in school, and there had been some speculation recently that he might try to regain his eligibility for next season.
Though Clarett is currently not working out with the team in offseason conditioning drills, the Buckeyes are keeping that option open.
"Should Maurice elect to continue his education and football career at Ohio State, we will work with him in the process of seeking his reinstatement with the NCAA for the 2004 season," said athletic director Andy Geiger.
If yesterday's ruling is upheld, many players could follow Clarett's lead and try to jump to the NFL. At least one, sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of Pittsburgh, plans to do so, having received clearance from the NFL yesterday.
Fitzgerald, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, will be allowed to enter the draft based on the fact that his one year in prep school helped him reach the three-year window.
Though most concede that Fitzgerald is ready for the NFL and will be a very high draft choice, the jury is still out on Clarett because of his inactivity the past eight months and the fact that he is relatively inexperienced. Clarett, 6 feet and 230 pounds, rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns in the 2002 regular season. He had two more touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.
Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver doesn't think the ruling on Clarett will start a mass exodus from the college ranks. Nor does he believe that the NFL will start to resemble the NBA on this issue and start drafting high school players.
"I see it somewhere in between, I don't think it will get close to basketball due to the physical issues," Weaver said from his office in Blacksburg. "But I think there will be more young people going out, especially those who haven't been motivated to work academically."
Longtime coach George O'Leary, who recently returned to the college ranks at the University of Central Florida after spending the past two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, said that it might go beyond the physical readiness of most players trying to make the jump.
"As far as my experiences, I think very few are ready for the mental toughness that the NFL takes at that young age," said O'Leary.
Said Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni: "The rationale behind the NFL's policy is to provide the kids time to mature physically for the impact, violence and speed of the game. The No. 1 priority should be the safety and welfare of the student-athletes."
Grant Teaff, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, expects that his organization's members will not change their recruiting tactics because of the decision. Not that Teaff was pleased by the ruling.
"The American Football Coaches Association is very disappointed with the ruling handed down by the federal judge in the Maurice Clarett case," said Teaff. "Our head coaches and their staffs will handle this ruling calmly and with the best interest of the student-athlete as the focal point. The NFL has made it clear, they will vigorously and to the full extent of the law appeal this ruling."
One program that could be impacted is Miami, which lost star tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. after his junior year and often sends several players a year to the NFL. It wasn't surprising that the decision by the New York judge might send shock waves all the way down to Coral Gables.
"If this decision is upheld, it would have a serious effect on the football programs at colleges and universities, and athletes unprepared for that transition," said Miami athletic director Paul Dee. "At a time when the NCAA and Congress are so seriously concerned with graduation rates, this decision will certainly undermine those efforts."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
A chronology of events leading to yesterday's court ruling that Maurice Clarett should be allowed to enter the NFL draft:
January 2001 - Commits to attend Ohio State to play football.
December 2001 - Averages 10 yards per carry and scores 22 touchdowns during the regular season at Harding High School in Warren, Ohio. Is named the Ohio Associated Press Mr. Football and is selected as USA Today 's high school Offensive Player of the Year.
January 2002 - Begins classes at Ohio State after graduating early from Harding.
Aug. 20, 2002 - Listed as the starting running back at Ohio State, the first time a freshman has opened a season as the starter at the position since 1943.
October 2002 - Misses two games with an injured left shoulder. Says he has received dozens of pieces of hate mail from Ohio State fans since an ESPN The Magazine article quoted him saying he's thought about leaving college early for the NFL.
Nov. 23, 2002 - Returning for his first full game since the injury, he rushes for 119 yards on 20 carries, scores on a 2-yard run and sets up another touchdown with a 26-yard reception in a 14-9 win over Michigan that puts the Buckeyes into the Fiesta Bowl.
December 2002 - Blasts Ohio State officials for not allowing him to fly to Youngstown for the funeral of a friend, then accuses university administrators of lying when they say he didn't file necessary paperwork for emergency financial aid for the trip.
Jan. 3, 2003 - Dives into the end zone on a 5-yard run, providing the winning score in a 31-24 double-overtime victory over Miami to give Ohio State its first national title in 34 years.
July 12, 2003 - The New York Times reports that Clarett was allowed to take an oral exam after walking out of a midterm exam.
July 29, 2003 - Ohio State confirms the NCAA is investigating Clarett's claim that more than $10,000 in clothing, CDs, cash and stereo equipment was stolen in April from a car he borrowed from a local dealership.
Sept. 9, 2003 - Clarett is charged with misdemeanor falsification for the police report about the theft. The charge carries a penalty ranging from probation to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Sept. 10, 2003 - Clarett is suspended for the season. Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger says Clarett received special benefits worth thousands of dollars from a family friend and repeatedly misled investigators.
Sept. 23, 2003 - Clarett sues the NFL, challenging the rule that a player must be out of high school three years to be eligible for the draft.
Dec. 17, 2003 - Ohio State says a university committee finds no evidence to support allegations of academic misconduct by athletes, including Clarett.
Jan. 14, 2004 - Clarett pleads guilty in Franklin County Municipal Court to failure to aid a law enforcement officer, a lesser charge than lying on a police report. Ordered to pay the maximum fine of $100, Clarett will serve no jail time and the charge won't appear on a criminal record.
Feb. 5 - Clarett is ruled eligible for the NFL draft by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York.
- Associated Press