University of Southern California officials are prepared to petition the NCAA to restore wide receiver Mike Williams's collegiate eligibility if Williams is unable to enter the NFL this summer, an athletic department spokesman said yesterday.
"If Mike decides he wants to return to college, we would be receptive and would work with him to see if we could bring it about," USC athletic department spokesman Tim Tessalone said.
Williams and former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett were kept out of the April 24-25 NFL draft when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit granted the league's request for a stay of the February ruling by a federal judge that temporarily made Clarett and other college sophomores (like Williams) and freshmen and high school players eligible for the draft. The players remained ineligible for the draft when two U.S. Supreme Court justices denied Clarett's application for emergency relief to have the stay lifted.
Now the parties are waiting for the three-judge panel of the appeals court that granted the stay to rule on the NFL's appeal of the Feb. 5 decision by U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin. The judges said when they issued the stay that the NFL had a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal.
Williams and Clarett are barred from returning to college football under NCAA eligibility rules, having entered the draft and signed with agents. But a school can seek to have a player's eligibility restored by an NCAA committee that oversees such matters. Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger has said he does not envision Clarett returning to play for the school.
The NFL has promised to schedule a supplemental draft to allow Clarett, Williams and other affected players to enter the league if the appeals court upholds Scheindlin's ruling. Williams's agent, Michael Azzarelli, declined to say what Williams would do if the appeals court overrules Scheindlin's decision, an outcome that likely would keep Williams and Clarett out of the NFL for another year.
"Until we get that ruling, there's nothing we can do," Azzarelli said. "If they affirm the lower court ruling, the deal is over with. . . . I don't want to say at this point what we'd do because that only invites speculation."
Azzarelli previously said that legal action against the NFL would be likely if Williams is kept out of the league by court decisions in the Clarett case. He said that Williams's NFL eligibility should be considered separately from Clarett's because Williams entered the draft only after the league set a new deadline for previously ineligible players in the aftermath of Scheindlin's ruling. NFL officials have said they will keep Williams out of the league along with Clarett if they're legally able to do so because they warned Williams before he entered the draft that they would attempt to overturn Scheindlin's decision and would rule Williams ineligible if they were able to reverse the decision.
Williams filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York before the draft seeking an injunction to be included but withdrew it just before the draft.