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Underclassman's NFL Dream On Hold

A federal appeals court Monday blocked former Ohio State sensation Maurice Clarett and other young football stars like him from entering the NFL draft this weekend.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the NFL demonstrated that it will probably prevail in arguing that high school stars and college underclassmen should not be allowed to turn pro.

Clarett, a 21-year-old sophomore, had challenged the NFL rule that requires a player to be out of high school for three years before entering the draft. The NFL argued that the rule is for young athletes' own good, because it is designed to make sure they are big enough and strong enough to play with the pros.

In February, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin sided with Clarett, declaring that the NFL rule violates antitrust law by preventing young athletes from pursuing their livelihoods. She ruled that underclassmen should be allowed to turn pro.

But the appeals court Monday blocked Scheindlin's ruling while it takes up the issue.

"We are pleased that the court has issued a stay," NFL lawyer Jeff Pash said. "We are grateful for the prompt attention the court has given to this matter and we await its decision on the merits."

Calls to Clarett's attorney and to the Youngstown, Ohio, home of Clarett's mother were not immediately returned.

Clarett will be eligible for the draft next year.

Scheindlin's ruling could open up the NFL to young phenoms the way the NBA has done. Dozens of basketball players, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, have gone to the NBA straight after high school in recent years, becoming instant celebrities and signing endorsement contracts that make them millionaires before the ink is dry on their diplomas.

The appeals court said that any potential harm to Clarett from being kept out of the draft was offset by the NFL's agreement to hold a supplemental draft if the appeals court later ruled in his favor.

That possibility seemed unlikely, though, after the manner in which three appeals court judges questioned Clarett's lawyer, Alan Milstein, during more than an hour of courtroom arguments Monday.

Circuit Judge Lewis A. Kaplan asked Milstein why the NFL cannot exclude young athletes, suggesting the league was saying, "It's good for them, good for us and in the long run good for the sport."

University of Southern California sophomore Mike Williams, who announced he would enter the draft after the lower court ruled in Clarett's favor, also would be affected by the appeals court ruling.

Seven other players also said they would enter the draft after the initial ruling, but none is considered a top prospect.

As a freshman, Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and led the Buckeyes to a national championship. But Ohio State suspended him before last season for accepting money from a family friend and lying about it.

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