The NFL and the NFL Players Association will try to protect their draft eligibility rule against future legal challenges by writing explicitly into the pending extension of their collective bargaining agreement that players cannot enter the league until three years after high school, union chief Gene Upshaw said yesterday.
The lack of such a rule being expressly written into the current collective bargaining agreement played a role in former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett being made temporarily eligible to play in the NFL this year by a February ruling by a federal judge, Upshaw said in a morning meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Post.
Upshaw's comments came as Clarett's attorney, Alan C. Milstein, filed a motion yesterday seeking to have the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit take up the case after a three-judge panel of the appeals court Monday reversed the Feb. 5 ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, leaving Clarett and former University of Southern California wide receiver Mike Williams again ineligible to enter the league until the 2005 season.
"The rule has to be clear,'' Upshaw said. "You knew that eventually someone was going to challenge the rule. It did happen. Whatever we have in the CBA now, in this next extension we will tighten it up even more.''
The NFL's draft-eligibility rule is not written into the collective bargaining agreement. But the NFL maintains that the rule resulted from the collective bargaining process because the union did not raise objections to it. The appeals court judges wrote Monday that they agreed with the NFL's assertion that its draft-eligibility rule should be exempt from antitrust scrutiny because it resulted from collective bargaining.
But Milstein wrote in his brief yesterday that "the eligibility rule does not appear in the parties' collective bargaining agreement," and added: "The panel has conferred unprecedented, and seemingly limitless, power upon labor and management (or, as in this case, upon management alone with the silent acquiescence of the union) to control the labor market and destroy competitors as they desire. . . . The rule long preexisted the advent of the union and was never subject to the kind of bargaining necessary to exempt the rule from the normal operation of the law."
The NFL's current collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2007 season, but the parties have opened negotiations on an extension that likely would run through the 2011 season, Upshaw said. He said he sympathizes with Clarett and Williams for being "in no-man's land" but reiterated that he supports the league's draft-eligibility rule, saying that Scheindlin's decision was "just so out of whack that you knew it was going to get overturned."
Williams entered the draft after the league set a new deadline for previously ineligible players in the aftermath of Scheindlin's ruling. Now he, like Clarett, is ineligible to play in the NFL this year and ineligible to return to college football under NCAA rules. Williams's agent, Michael Azzarelli, has threatened to sue the NFL separately. USC Coach Pete Carroll said Monday that the school had put in process an appeal to the NCAA to try to have Williams's college eligibility restored. Upshaw said that Williams hasn't decided which course to follow, but he'd like to see the wide receiver attempt to return to USC.
"I wish his next step would be to try to get back in school," Upshaw said. "To me, the strategy would be to try to get back in school and to run that as hard as you can to try to get back. . . . When I talked to Pete Carroll about this, he said that he's convinced that if he goes to summer school, he has enough credits to be eligible to play next year."
Upshaw said he is trying to broker a settlement between Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and linebacker LaVar Arrington on the grievance that Arrington filed against the team, alleging that the contract extension he signed in December is missing $6.5 million from the deal to which the sides had agreed verbally.
"That's going to be a tough case to win simply because it's all written down and it's all signed, sealed and delivered," Upshaw said. "The only way it can settle now is if Snyder decides to try to make it right in some way with Arrington. . . . I can just get them in the room. I can't make them make a decision. I try to at least keep them communicating and all of that."
Upshaw said he couldn't say with the grievance pending whether the union, which oversees the certification and discipline of agents, will take action against Arrington's agent, Carl Poston. He said the union "will probably take a close look at" possible sanctions against Jerome Stanley, the agent who missed a February deadline to make Cleveland Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt a free agent. The union has decided against pursuing sanctions against agent David Joseph, Upshaw said, for missing a similar deadline with wide receiver Terrell Owens because the union brought a case before NFL special master Stephen B. Burbank that resulted in Owens being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and signing a new contract.
"We bailed [Joseph] out all the way,'' Upshaw said. "It was beyond bailing him out. Now we can't go back and prosecute him for something that was in the contract but he didn't see the loophole, and we were able to drive a truck through it and we got it settled. Now we can't go after him, so he's kind of like off the hook. But he knows we're watching."
NFL Notes: Bud Adams, owner of the Tennessee Titans, said at owners' meetings in Jacksonville that running back Eddie George could be a salary cap casualty June 1. "The closer we get to June 1st, you know, I don't think he'll be with us," Adams told the Tennessean. "I'll be watching someone else for the Titans. That's not what we intended, but it looks like that's the way it's going to be." George, 30, would count $7.3 million against the cap this year with a $4.25 million salary. . . .
The NFL will take over the production and the content of the pregame and halftime shows of Super Bowl XXXIX after a controversial performance by entertainers Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake last season in Tampa. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that the entertainment portions of Super Bowl XXXIX will be produced by Steve Bornstein, named last year as the president of the league's NFL Network.
News services contributed to this report.