Maurice Clarett, NFL Trust-buster

Maurice Clarett wants to play in the NFL. (So do I, but the difference is that I’m a not a star Ohio State running back who, presumably, the various and sundry NFL teams WANT on the field).

The NFL franchises have a rule that bars the hiring of players until they’re three years out of high school. Clarett, who is only two years out of high school, challenged that rule on anti-trust grounds. He said, basically, that the NFL teams getting together and agreeing not to hire him is violative of anti-trust laws: it’s no different than a collection of merchants getting together and setting prices or hiring practices. Normally, he’d be able to compete: even if one team didn’t hire him, another would. But for the NFL teams’ agreement, he’d be in training camp this fall.

A federal judge agreed with him, and ruled that the NFL’s collusion amounted to an illegal trust. However, the NFL appealed, and last month a panel of the 2nd Circuit reversed the trial court and said the the NFL could, in fact, agree not to hire players not yet three years out of high school.

(I should point out that Clarett is not exactly an angel: he’s not playing football for Ohio State because he was suspended last fall for accepting money from a family friend and lying about it to NCAA investigators - thus his eagerness to get into pro ball.)

Still - no expert I on anti-trust law, but it seems to me that the dishonest football player nonetheless has a good point: why should the NFL get to collude amongst its member teams who they should hire? Isn’t this exactly what the anti-trust laws are intended to prevent?

  • Rick

First of all Bricker, have you tried out for any NFL teams? If you practice and work out a lot maybe you too could be a walk-on phenom. I know that the good wishes of the entire SDMB would be with you.

That the NFL is a monopoly was pretty much established by the USFL suit.

My understanding was that the appeals decision went the NFL’s way based on labor law rather than anti-trust law. Even it is not the players union contract that forbids the employment of Mr. Clarett the change in the NFL rules would certainly impact the employment position of current players/union members. It is something that the NFL probably could not change without negotiating with the players union, who would be unlikely to agree. It boils down to the disagreement really being between Clarett and the union and not Clarett and the NFL.

Only the fact that the requirement is in the league rules only and not in the current players’ union contract gives Clarett any leverage. The union leadership has already stated that it will agree to put the 3-year limit in the next deal, and presumably the league will, too. Perhaps you could argue that a meeting of the minds between the business and the union that isn’t actually spelled out in the contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on? Would you argue that collective bargaining agreements should be illegal under anti-trust laws? I thought that was settled, oh, about a century ago.

I presume you’d agree that Clarett would be doing himself more good by getting into shape and playing in Canada or the Arena League this year. He has, what, 7 games of college experience, and a growing load of baggage already.

I presume the intention of your anti-trust laws is to prevent anti-competitive behaviour which is bad for consumers and/or workers. There are certainly occasions when restricting competition can be a good thing. In this case, you could argue that since a large number of NFL prospects will get permanently injured or be emotionally unsuitable for the game, it is a good idea for everyone for the clubs to commit to resisting tempation in drafting the young. ElvisL1ves says the union will put it in their next agreement, and I suppose that’s a point in its favour (although from my scant knowledge of US sport I recall that the football union is rather ineffectual). Perhaps the interests of young players are best served by having an opportunity to get a degree. :dubious:

Most likely though is that this is an agreement designed to get someone else (colleges) to pay for player development. And if the union is only looking after the interests of those who make it rather than those who might, they’d agree.

First, the 2nd circuit’s opinion.

From my quick reading, it appears the Court made a policy choice (in line with prior decisions) and found the eligibility requirement that kept Clarett out of the NFL draft fit the “non statutory exception to anti-trust regulations.” Basically, the Court found that, in cases such as these, there is a conflict between anti-trust legislation and the policies instilled in federal labor law. As they stated:

The Court felt, as SCOTUS had in a prior case, that permitting antitrust liability in some cases would call into question a great deal of conduct, such as multi-employer bargaining, that federal labor policy promotes and for which labor law provides an array of rules and remedies, The Court held that the non-statutory labor exemption necessarily applied not only to protect such labor policies but also to prevent “antitrust courts” from usurping the NLRB’s responsibility for policing the collective bargaining process.

As the Court said:

The Court went on to discuss specifically the eligibility requirement that kept Clarett out of the NFL Draft and found that that requirement

Although the eligibility rules work a hardship on prospective rather than current employees does not render them impermissible. As a consequence of the NFL’s unique position in the professional football market, of course, such joint action deprives Clarett of the opportunity to pursue, at least for the time being, the kind of high-paying, high-profile career he desires. In the context of collective bargaining, however, federal labor policy permits the NFL teams to act collectively as a multi-employer bargaining unit in structuring the rules of play and setting the
criteria for player employment. Such concerted action is encouraged as a matter of labor policyand tolerated as a matter of antitrust law/

At is most basic level, the court found collective bargaining trumps anti-trust in this case.

It’s not just a decision amoung the teams, it’s a decision among the teams AND the player’s association. That’s the reason the eligibility requirement is excepted from anti-trust legislation.

Hey Look! I turned British!!!

Cite for the skeptical.

Only compared with the unions in baseball, basketball, and hockey. The NFL has a strong tradition of losing lawsuits, while we’re at it.

Personally, I think Clarett is an idiot for trying to shit all over the rules of the very prganization he wants to play for. He will be eligible for the NFL draft 11 months from now anyway. It will be interesting to see who takes a chance on him and in what physical shape he’ll be in.

In which case you need to hush up talking about football and go talk about soccer or rugby or cricket or something. :wink:

Yet, oddly, the trial court disagreed:

The League’s Collective Bargain Agreement provides:

Does this mean that the NFL and the players union actually bargained over the terms of the Constitution and Bylaws (which contain the eligibility rule in question), or that the union bargained away its ability to bargain over or challenge the Bylaws’ provisions?

It seems disingenuous to claim that the Rule is the result of collective bargaining when it predates the NFL and the players’ union by some time. (It came into being after the 1925 Red Grange scandal.)

Let’s admit that, but for the Rule, Clarett would be drafted. The guy is an outstanding athlete and, for all the carping about “protecting younger players from physical harm,” is taller and heavier now than some of the classic all-star running backs of all time - he’s got two inches and thirty pounds on Walter Peyton, for example.

How many of the Player’s Union reps are offensive linemen? Clarett might want to moderate his position a bit, seeing as how all these guys have to do is miss a block at the right time, say during a preseason game, and he could be sidelined with a torn ACL in a heartbeat. Then nobody would hire him. :smiley:

Yet, oddly, the trial court was wrong. :wink:

No. It means that the union and the NFL had an agreement over how the eligibility rules would be handled. The union and the NFL agreed that the process for determining the eligibility rules would remain with the NFL and the union would be bound by those as long as the agreement was in effect. Any change in the eligibility rules that substantially changed the terms and conditions of employment would be preceeded by notice and be subject to continued bargaining.

The union was aware of the eligibility rules, were given (and signed for) copies of the Constitution and ByLaws, and agreed to be governed by them. The Red Grange rule was, in fact, amended in 1992, and again in 2003.

While I agree the underlying principles behind the rule may not have the most convincing reasons, they are still binding as agreed to by both the union and the NFL.

I’ll apologize in advance because I won’t be able to come back to the thread until after this weekend. I’m sure you will be waiting with bated breathe for my next response though.

There are a couple of articles on the appellate court’s decisions and Ginsberg’s refusal to override that decision at the Armchair GM.

Basically the appeals court did not rule in his favor overall, but merely prevented him from participating in the 2004 draft right now - the NFL agreed to hold a supplemental draft should the appeals court rule against them. Basically, each team will (in order) be allowed to trade a future first round pick in exchange for Clarett. Given his less than dazzling nonperformance and appraisals prior to the draft it is likely that this will mean a higher pick (1st round) than would otherwise have occurred, plus first round money. He loses relatively little by missing the draft while a team that picked him would be SOL if the appeals court ruled against him.
On Ginsberg’s decision: given the current NFL draft rules and the uncertain outcome of the case, the team that picks Clarett could be more damaged by a subsequent ruling against Clarett than would be Clarett if a subsequent ruling is in his favor. Clarett, should his case eventually end up in his favor, would be in a better position salarywise having missed the draft rather than drafted in a discounted position. A team drafting Clarett would, in the case of a ruling against Clarett effectively lose their draft pick, as Clarett would return to the draft pool if unsigned.