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Harris opposed to early entry

Pitt coach Walt Harris opposes Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett’s lawsuit asking a judge to throw out an NFL rule that prevents him from entering the 2004 draft. The case could affect the future of Panthers wideout Larry Fitzgerald.

The lawsuit contends the NFL rule prohibiting players from being drafted until they have been out of high school for three years violates antitrust law and harms competition.

Under current rules, Clarett is not eligible for the draft until 2005, but he wants a judge to declare him eligible for the 2004 draft — or require the NFL to hold a special supplemental draft sooner. Clarett, a true sophomore, was suspended for the season after an investigation determined he broke NCAA bylaws concerning benefits for athletes and lied to investigators.

“He’s in this predicament because he’s not ready for the NFL,” Harris said, laughing at the notion. “The NFL is more than just lining up and hitting somebody. You’re talking about guys who have jobs making big-time money and you have free time on your hands and money in your pocket. … Sooner is not better.

“(Clarett) obviously proved that he has a lot of growing up to do — like all kids. He’s gifted and he’s had a lot of things come his way, and a lot of times when they come your way, they come easy. What happens is you get a feeling that life is pretty easy. Now, he has a better understanding that life is a lot tougher than it is and he’s accountable for his actions.”

Harris has a player in true sophomore Fitzgerald who could be affected by the outcome of Clarett’s case. Many believe Fitzgerald, who leads the nation in receiving yards per game and is vying for the Heisman Trophy, is NFL ready.

However, Fitzgerald is not currently eligible for the draft, even though his high school class graduated three years ago. That’s because he did not graduate with that group, transferring instead to Valley Forge Military Academy after the first semester of his senior year at The Academy of Holy Angels in Minneapolis.

When Fitzgerald enrolled at Valley Forge, the academy placed him as a second-semester high school junior, not a senior. He graduated a year later — in May of 2002 — from Valley Forge’s high school program, according to academy records. He did not go through the prep-school contingent.

That means Fitzgerald has been out of high school for only two years, not the necessary three to be eligible for the draft. Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. would not discuss Fitzgerald recently, saying, “I’ve researched his situation and he can’t come out.”

Fitzgerald’s father has said he’s heard otherwise, but it should be pointed out that he is not pushing his son to leave college after this season.

Nonetheless, if Clarett wins his case, it could open doors for players of Fitzgerald’s ilk.

“It would just open up Pandora’s box, I believe,” Harris said. “Anybody that felt like they needed to go, they’d go. Then, we’d have more problems in college football than we already have.”


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