At the root of the question of whether the interests of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would best be served by sitting out the 2013 college football season is a rule that prevents him from entering the draft before 2014.
Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports (who apparently survived that giant plate of hot dog chili with shredded cheese that he scarfed down as a possible last meal during the Super Bowl blackout) argues that Clowney should challenge the rule in a court of law. And while Silver makes a variety of salient philosophical points, the problem is that this ground already has been plowed unsuccessfully — under a stronger set of facts.
In 2004, Maurice Clarett initially secured a floodgates-opening ruling that struck down the NFL’s three-year waiting period, which arises from a desire to strike the right balance with college football coaches who run the league’s free farm system, and who can make it much harder for NFL teams to scout college football players by restricting access to practices and film and other pertinent information. (Receiver Mike Williams joined the flurry of otherwise ineligible players, and then Williams found himself ineligible to return to USC after the ruling failed on appeal, because he had signed with an agent. Williams was the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft; Clarett went to the Broncos at the bottom of round three.)
At the time Clarett sued, the three-year rule wasn’t part of the labor deal. The fact that the waiting period didn’t result from bargaining between the NFL and the NFLPA helped Clarett’s case at the district court level. Even though Clarett’s case ultimately failed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the NFL insulated itself against a future challenge in a state falling within another circuit (there are 13 in all) by making the rule part of the 2006 CBA.
That’s why it’s odd, to say the least, to see Silver explain that the union would welcome a challenge to the rule. The union has agreed to the rule, making the union as much to blame for its existence as the NFL.
Moreover, should the union really welcome the opportunity for more players to potentially bump current union members out of jobs? For every players who gets in to the NFL earlier than he otherwise would under the existing rule, that’s one more veteran who gets pushed out. (And it’s that kind of protectionist thinking that spawned the current rookie wage scale.)
Though the three-year rule is unfair to the men who play football for free (or close to it) at the college level, the fact that the NFLPA has signed off on the rule makes it even harder for Clowney or anyone else to fight it.
Besides, Clowney apparently wouldn’t file suit, even if he had a good chance of winning. By all appearances, Clowney remains fully under the spell of a multimillionaire “Ball Coach” who has no problem with shaming his players into playing football for peanuts in comparison to the paycheck given to a guy who never has to step between the white lines and put his future earning potential at risk.