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CHANGE THE RULE
Suspended Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett is hardly a sympathetic plaintiff, having jeopardized his college career with his own dishonesty, but the hope here is that he wins his lawsuit to gain early entry into the NFL. Clarett should be allowed in if only because the league's rationale for keeping him out is flawed.
The NFL insists that the main reason it bars players from entering the draft until three years after they graduate from high school is because their still-maturing bodies aren't ready to absorb the pounding they will take in the pros. Either the NFL is being disingenuous or commissioner Paul Tagliabue hasn't taken a good look at a big-time college football game recently.
Clarett, a 19-year-old sophomore who is listed at 6 feet, 230 pounds, outweighs four of the NFL's five leading rushers, and he's only one pound lighter than league leader Jamal Lewis of the Ravens. He's no more at risk against NFL competition than he was against some of the Buckeyes' opponents. The Miami defensive line he faced in the Fiesta Bowl last season-the Hurricanes' four starters ranged from 264 to 297 pounds-is comparable with the one he would have seen against the Miami Dolphins (255 to 325 pounds) this year.
But the NFL's argument is mostly a smoke screen. The league might be concerned with the health of prospective young players, but it is undoubtedly more concerned with the health of the system that has made college football a free minor league for the pros. Maintaining the status quo isn't a good enough reason to deny young players like Clarett.
The names may change each year, but the Heisman Trophy race never really does. This year's leading candidates can all be plugged into the usual familiar categories.