Let the kid play | TheUnion.com

Let the kid play

I’m not sure if U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wears a John Elway throwback jersey under that black robe of hers, but she scored big points with this football fan thanks to her ruling in Maurice Clarett’s antitrust lawsuit against the NFL late last week.

For those who are still a little discombobulated after the whole Janet & Justin mess, here’s a little background:

Clarett – who led the Buckeyes to the 2002 BCS title as a freshman – had his ticket punched for the 2003 season when he was caught lying to investigators about receiving ‘improper’ benefits from a family friend.

He then sued the NFL last year for the right to enter the 2004 draft despite a league rule which requires prospective players to have completed three years of college ball, or is at least three years removed from high school graduation.

Then Thursday, thousands of football fields away from her Manhatten bench, Scheindlin hooked up with the Buckeye phenom for the biggest score of his short career.

“Age is a obviously a poor proxy for NFL-readiness, as a restriction based solely on height or weight” Scheindlin said in her ruling. “In such a scenario, no player would be automatically excluded from the market, and each team could decide what level of risk it is willing to tolerate.”

NFL commish and resident spoilsport Paul Tagliabue stuck to his guns.

He contended the rule in question was agreed upon by the player’s union and the league in 1993’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, thus, it cannot be challenged on an antitrust basis.

“Our system is working. It is easy to identify players who were helped by staying in school and were developing their skills,” Tagliabue said in an interview with The Associated Press after the ruling.

Down, but not out, Tagliabue vowed to unleash the financial might of the NFL and its herd of lawyers onto the appeals court.

While Tagliabue’s motives seem to be in the best interest of all parties involved:

n Younger players have time to hone their physical and mental skills in preparation for a shot at the the big time

n The league’s teams will receive players with proven track records, thus have a better chance to build a competitve squad which would in turn, put the butts in the seats.

n Fans of college football wouldn’t be put in the same spot as their brethern in college basketball, who have one, maybe two seasons to watch future superstars do their thing in their favorite school’s uniforms.

That seems pretty reasonable on it’s face, until you take into account the rights of individuals in a free-market system.

Plumbers, principals and painters have the right to sell their services to whomever they choose.

Why are football players any different?

It’s true 99.99 percent of high-school age football players have no business anywhere near a professional training camp, let alone strapping it up on Sundays.

But who’s to say there won’t be some 18-year-old out there sometime who can get the job done?

Put yourself in his or her shoes:

You’re big enough, you’re strong enough, you’re tough enough, but thanks to a completly arbitrary rule, you have to wait three years after graduating high school before you can cash in on your talent.

The point isn’t whether or not Clarett, or any future younger pigskin players who follow in his cleats, succeeds or fails, isn’t the point.

It’s they have the freedom to try.

Keith Jiron is a sports reporter for The Union. He can be reached at 477-4244, or online at keithj@theunion.com

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