NEW YORK -- A stay was granted Monday by a federal appeals court until it rules on the NFL's appeal of an earlier decision that allowed Maurice Clarett and eventually Mike Williams to be part of the draft.
A stay in the proceedings technically will keep Clarett and Williams out of the draft Saturday at least temporarily, but a ruling could come down in their favor beforehand that would make both eligible to be selected. If Clarett and Williams are declared eligible for the draft after it takes place, the NFL already has said the two would be part of a supplemental draft.
The ruling was faxed to all parties in the case only hours after the court heard the league's arguments, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports. The ruling is expected to be announced later Monday afternoon. It's possible that Clarett, Williams and seven other undistinguished underclassmen could seek further recourse from the courts, but more unlikely that they can have the stay overturned before the draft begins.
Sources told Pasquarelli that there is a possibility that the parties could arrive at a middle ground -- perhaps a settlement that would permit Clarett and Williams to be included in a supplemental draft.
Federal appeals court judges and an NFL lawyer suggested that Clarett could go into a supplemental draft if he's ruled out of the main draft. The issue of the supplemental draft came up after the three judges questioned Clarett's lawyer, Alan Milstein, about whether the NFL must accept players who don't meet negotiated eligibility rules.
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan asked Milstein why the NFL cannot exclude young athletes, suggesting the league was saying, "It's good for them, good for us and in the long run good for the sport."
Judge Sonia Sotomayer said it was not surprising that the union would agree to exclude players such as Clarett. "That's what unions do every day -- protect people in the union from those not in the union," she said.
Clarett, who played as a freshman at Ohio State and was ineligible as a sophomore, challenged the NFL rule that requires a player to be out of high school for three years before entering the draft. Williams, a Southern Cal sophomore who declared for the draft after a lower court ruled in Clarett's favor, also would be affected if the appeals court blocks Clarett.
Seven others also declared for the draft after the initial ruling, but none is a prospect.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in February that Clarett should be allowed in the draft. She said the rule excluding him violates antitrust law and unjustly blocks a player from pursuing his livelihood.
The appeals court could temporarily suspend Scheindlin's ruling until it issues its own full written decision. NFL lawyer Gregg A. Levy confirmed Monday what league officials said earlier: If a subsequent ruling makes Clarett eligible, the league later could hold a supplemental draft, something the NFL has done in the past for players who entered the draft late.
Ohio State suspended Clarett before last season for accepting money from a family friend and for lying about it to NCAA and university investigators.
In 2003, he rushed for 1,237 yards and led the Buckeyes to a national championship.
Clarett maintained he was not subject to the NFL's "three years out of high school" rule because it was not properly negotiated and because he was not in the union.
Milstein said Monday the NFL can't argue that players such as Clarett are not physically ready to play professionally. Williams is expected to be a first-round pick Saturday; Clarett is expected to be chosen in the second or third round.
"The teams are lining up to hire these guys ... because the teams know these players are ready to play," Milstein said.
He said only a "group boycott" by NFL teams would keep Clarett out of the league.
Milstein also argued that the NFL uses colleges as a "free and efficient" farm system for developing players.
"All of the risk is on the player," he wrote in court papers. "College football is a willing partner in this arrangement, as it generates millions of dollars for the colleges without their having to incur the expense of player salaries."
In written arguments, Levy told the appeals court that Scheindlin's ruling was "fundamentally inconsistent with both established economic principles and common sense."
He said the judge "strained to reach a decision that not only cannot be justified under this court's precedents but is also economically senseless."