Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Antitrust News: Clarett Complains Too Much

The money line, literally and figuratively, from Maurice Clarett's federal complaint against the NFL comes in paragraph 31:
Had Clarett been eligible for the 2003 [NFL] Draft, it is almost certain he would have been selected in the beginning of the First Round and would have agreed to a contract and signing bonus worth millions of dollars.
Even by antitrust standards, this is a huge assumption. Clarett is seeking triple damages to compensate his alleged losses in not being a high first-round pick in last April's draft. There's no objective way to prove such a claim. It's possible an NFL owner might argue "I wanted to take Clarett with the #3 pick, but I knew he wasn't eligible," but somehow I doubt that's going to happen.

Mel Kiper, Jr., the best-known analyst of the NFL Draft, says Clarett is "no better than a second-round pick at this point." Clarett hasn't even played one full year of college football, as he was injured for part of the 2002 season. Len Pasquarelli, who covers the NFL for ESPN, cites numerous NFL scouts as projecting Clarett as a second- or third-round pick. This is not a trivial difference from a financial standpoint, and Clarett knows this, which is why the complaint insists he's a guaranteed first-round pick, despite the lack of supporting evidence.

Under the current system, which permits college juniors to leave one year early for the NFL, 10 of the 32 first round picks this year were eligible underclassmen. Of those 10 only one plays running back, Clarett's position, and that was Miami's Willis McGahee. Overall, only 23% of the college juniors that declared for the draft were taken in the first round, and 34% weren't taken in any of the draft's seven rounds. This hardly spells a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract for a freshman running back with less than a dozen games to his credit.

Here's one problem I see: Suppose the court permits Clarett to enter the 2004 Draft, and he's not taken until the third round. Will he then go back to Court and argue the owners are "colluding" against him because, in his mind, he should have been a first round pick? And to take that hypothetical one step further, will future underclassmen who enter the draft and don't get picked as high as they want seek antitrust relief? As things stand now, these would be ridiculous scenarios. Underclassmen get shafted all the time in the NBA Draft and there are no antitrust complaints. But if Clarett is allowed to recover damages from the NFL under his "I was definitely a first-round pick" theory, all bets could be off.

And incidentally, Clarett's complaint omits any mention of the fact he was kicked off the Ohio State team, or that he's currently facing criminal charges in Ohio over filing a false insurance claim.

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