February 06, 2004

Clarett Ruled Eligible

Posted by shonk at 11:03 AM in Sports | TrackBack

Maurice Clarett, Ohio State’s wayward star running back, yesterday won a lawsuit he brought against the NFL for barring him from the draft in April. The ruling stems from the judgment that the NFL’s policy to exclude players less than three years out of high school is a violation of anti-trust law. From the judge’s decision:

The NFL has not justified Clarett’s exclusion by demonstrating that the rule enhances competition. Indeed, Clarett has alleged the very type of injury — a complete bar to entry into the market for this services — that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent.

I tend to side with Skip Oliva when he says, “It’s always a sad day when a federal judge decides what ‘enhances competition’ in the private sector”; the NFL, as a private organization, ought to be able to set whatever standards for employment it desires, and then suffer whatever costs are associated with maintaining those standards. Instead, the NFL (and, ultimately, football fans) will be forced to suffer the consequences (and I’m convinced they will be largely negative) of unskilled players with high “potential” like Clarett being forced into the league by judicial fiat.

Oliva responds to the reaction of Tony Kornheiser and Andy Pollin:

Kornheiser said the judge upheld Clarett’s “civil rights”—as if the men who died at Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima gave their lives so Maurice Clarett could force the NFL to hire him against its will.

And if you think I’m out of line invoking those battles, consider how many lives and businesses have been destroyed by the antitrust laws. The “civil rights” of Americans are violated every day by those who infringe private property rights in the name of “competition” and “fairness”. These laws—and I use that term loosely here—are nothing more than an excuse for handing unchecked, arbitrary power to the government.

On this issue, he’s exactly right. Anti-trust laws, even at their best, are some of the worst-written and most arbitrarily-enforced laws currently extant. Furthermore, even if one were to accept the validity of the anti-trust framework, the NFL is not anywhere close to a monopoly. The NFL is really in the entertainment business, where they face incredibly stiff competition from not just other sports leagues, but movies, music, television, etc. To say that they have a meaningful monopoly on much of anything is to miss the forest for the trees. Certainly, someone like Clarett doesn’t have much of a chance for high-salary employment anywhere other than the NFL, but neither the NFL, the courts, nor anyone else should be held responsible for Clarett making personal choices that leave him only a single viable option. Clarett has no more of a right to be employed by the NFL than a sociology Ph.D. has a right to a tenure-track job, instead of a job waiting tables or selling over-priced coffee.

As Skip notes in the comments to Eric’s post over at Off Wing Opinion:

The court found this rule violated the Sherman Act under “rule of reason” analysis which, like all antitrust law, is purely an invention of the judiciary with no direct basis in statute. The court found there was a “relevant market” for “NFL players” that the NFL exercised “exclusive market power” over. This is conventional antitrust trickery — defining a relevant market as the company’s own product.

Ultimately, I suspect Clarett will be eligible for the April draft despite the NFL’s appeal of the ruling. If the team owners who make up the league’s leadership were really serious about preventing Clarett and others like him from turning the NFL into the NBA, none of them would draft him. In fact, not drafting Clarett would be a good idea even if he weren’t an underclassman, as his litany of troubles at Ohio State do not speak well of his maturity and ability to handle the increased competition he will face at the NFL level. Unfortunately, as noted on Off Wing Opinion, “if that were to happen, we’d have another lawsuit, except this time the charge would be collusion.” Not that it will ever get to that stage, as some limp-wristed owner is sure to make select Clarett in the early rounds.

JC of Old fishinghat has a slightly different take; he sees this as a positive judgment, not necessarily for its effect on the NFL, but rather for what it will do to the NCAA. He has this to say to the statement made by Wally Renfro, senior advisor to the president of the NCAA, that “[f]rom an educational standpoint, we’re disappointed in the court’s decision” :

Oh how you weep for the children…you jackass! Many of these poor kids with immense athletic talent are forced to sit through classes they don’t want or need. If a player wants a college degree, there is nothing stopping him from getting it after his short NFL career is over. There is nothing inherently valuable about a college degree. Just ask Bill Gates, who realized his skills were more valued in the real world than in the academy. Colleges earn huge sums of money for putting these kids on the football field, yet the college kids see nothing but a scholarship that they never wanted in the first place. The reason these kids play is the expected value of NFL wages that may or may not come in the future. The NFL gets a cheap training ground, the NCAA gets a low cost fundraiser. Don’t put that “for the good of the children” crap in my face! If we want antitrust law to do something good, we should hope the courts would tear down the college sports monopsony of the NCAA, which is propped up by heavy state subsidies.

Hear, hear! The NCAA’s stance on amateurism is ridiculous and the only reason, in my opinion, that it hasn’t been slapped down by the courts is that the biggest beneficiaries of major-college sports are state universities. Football programs like the one at Ohio State bring in millions of dollars in revenues for the university, while the players receive only a scholarship to attend classes that most of them have exactly zero interest in. Of course, there are exceptions, like former Colorado defensive lineman and current MIT professor Jim Hansen, but Division I football players are, on average, more likely to fail AIDS awareness than get a degree in Aeronautical Engineering.