Term Paper: Sports and Anti-Trust

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[. . .] The Maurice Clarett Case

Regarding the NFL's position, they do not believe they are unreasonably restraining trade by insisting on monitoring and controlling the entry of players into the game. They are simply setting guidelines by which all players can have equal access to the game, and all teams within the league can have a fair and equal access to the annual crop of new players. According to NFL's executive vice president Jeff Pash, "We will move promptly for a stay in the Court of Appeals. We continue to believe that last week's ruling is legally erroneous and not in the best interests of the NFL, college football, or professional and college players. We are a long way from a final decision." (nfl.com, online) Pash continued: "We believe today's ruling is inconsistent in numerous respects with well-established labor and antitrust law... No other player has challenged the eligibility rule. It was supported by the league's coaches and executives, who say younger players aren't physically ready for the NFL.... Although the 6-foot, 230-pound Clarett could be an exception... I don't know that the floodgates are opening," Pash said. "While the ruling is broad in its language, I think we have to wait and see what the effect is." (cbssportsline.com, online)

Jeff Reynolds, a writer at Pro-Football Weekly, said the ruling probably would not have an immediate effect on young players around the country. He continued that the game could change considerably if NFL teams started sending scouts to high school games. It was more likely that a greater number of players will leave college early to enter the draft. (cbssportsline.com, online) But these repercussions could be grave for many young athletes as well as the game of football itself. Both high school play and college football programs could forever change as the schools feel the squeeze of NFL recruitment from both sides.

There are currently 1,200 agents registered with the NFLPA, and more than half of them don't even have a signed player. (utahdailychronicle.com, online) These unemployed agents, and others who are looking to break into the lucrative business of player representation, will have twice as many players to coax into leaving college for the pros. The character and ethics of the players and their agents will be the only restraining force keeping the game from becoming an extended version of college ball. As the nation has seen lately, the character and ethics of the players may also need more time to mature before they are ready for the opportunity of professional ball.

Regarding Maurice Clarett, ethics are a valuable point to discuss when considering his case. Although the court will not weigh these issues as it works toward a final decision, Clarett is entering the draft early because he has been declared ineligible for college play. His own violation of school and league rules created the situation in which he was ineligible during the 2003 season, and Ohio State is hesitating as to the value of fighting to reinstall his eligibility for the 2004 season. So, rather than accept the consequence for his actions, Clarett is making trouble for another group of athletes, for the entire national football league, and possibly for unprepared collegians who will follow him.

Under the current rules, the purpose for three years of college football is to weed out the pretenders and those who will not make the cut into the NFL. If this ruling stands, the task will fall the NFL to sort through the unprepared players, and find the professional quality players. This can be bad for the college game, the pro-game and the players themselves.

College football, much like college basketball, will likely lose young talent before they can display their talent for their college team. The game will no longer have as many world-class juniors and seniors as it enjoys today.

As a result, the quality of play will also slowly deteriorate, and the game will be less exciting. The same thing could happen to the pro-game because the talents of the experienced players will have to take bench time in order for the team to 'get the most out of its investment' in the new, younger players. The NFL will be charged with the difficult task of refining talent that has not had the benefit of a number of years playing college ball.

In addition, the pro-game is much faster and more detailed than the college game. Taking the step from high school ball to the professional level will be like asking a person who builds model airplanes to fly a 747. The task is simply out of the preparedness of the applicant. If this ruling stands, rookies could land in the NFL after playing one year of relatively simple college schemes, playing as freshmen. Is this in the best interest of the athlete?

Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said Clarett could be in for a rough time when he joins the league. "Because of the way he's done all these things, some people here see it as disrespectful," Arrington said. "I'm sure guys are going to break his tail, try to break him in. " (cbssportsline.com, online)

Literature Review

Definition of Terms:

Sherman Antitrust Act: 1890, first measure passed by the U.S. Congress to prohibit trusts, contracts or agreements which limited competition, or constructed barriers to other companies to enter a business pursuit. It was named for Senator John Sherman. Prior to its enactment, various states had passed similar laws, but they were limited to intrastate businesses. (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2003)

Clayton Antitrust Act: 1914, passed by the U.S. Congress as an amendment to clarify and supplement the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Drafted by Henry De Lamar Clayton, the act prohibited exclusive sales contracts, local price cutting to freeze out competitors, rebates, interlocking directorates in corporations capitalized at $1 million or more in the same field of business. (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2003)

Review of the Legal basis of Scheindin decision.

The Judge was quoted as supporting her decision based on some of the following reasons. Scheinin ruled that the NFL rule barring eligibility to Clarett and other young players from the NFL draft violates antitrust law. "Contrary to the NFL's argument, most of the rules governing this case were established decades ago... Indeed, the legal framework for that decision was laid in a long line of Supreme Court precedent," she added. (nfl.com, online) The judge said that the NFL's concern younger players might over-train or resort to steroid use to better qualify for the draft "makes no sense... At worst, the NFL will be forced to tolerate the handful of younger players who are selected in the 2004 draft," she said. "What would amount to a one-year suspension of the league's eligibility rule scarcely imposes any great hardship on the NFL or its teams." (nfl.com, online) "One can scarcely think of a more blatantly anti-competitive policy than one that excludes certain competitors from the market altogether," Scheinin continued. (dailyutahchronicle.com, online)

According to a review of the case at law.com, the judge distinguished this case from other prominent rulings in sports law which upheld the distinction between antitrust legislation and professional exemptions from the same, including Wood v. National Basketball Ass'n, 809 F.2d 954 (1987).

In that case, the 2nd Circuit ruled that a basketball player, after being drafted by the National Basketball Association could not challenge the league's collective bargaining agreement on antitrust grounds. The court held that the non-statutory labor exemption barred the player's claim. The player was arguing that his contract was in violation of the antitrust agreement.

However, in the case of Clarett, Scheinin said that the rule is not covered by the nonstatutory labor exemption. She insisted that the exemption applies to only players "who are complete strangers to the bargaining relationship." Exactly what she meant by this is unclear, but she went on to say that the NFL's purported justifications for the rule, that a player must be 3 years out of high school before they would be allowed to enter the NFL, needed to be pro-competitive, rather than an arbitrary rule which was anti-competitive.

The NFL's concern for the health of younger players is laudable, but it has nothing to do with promoting competition," she wrote. "Age is obviously a poor proxy for NFL readiness, as is a restriction based solely on height or weight." (law.com, online)

The judge noted that Maurice Clarett stands 6 feet tall and 230 pounds, and is bigger than all-time football greats Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Emmett Smith. She ruled that rather than being automatically excluded, players of his size and caliber could submit to medical tests to determine maturity and preparedness for the league.

According to Northwestern University athletic director Mark Murphy, who holds a law degree… [END OF PREVIEW]

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