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Legal Experts Debate NFL's Age Requirement at Law Symposium.

Contact: Michael Larkin
212-636-7175
mlarkin@fordham.edu


A federal court's ruling that the NFL's age requirement violates antitrust laws received a cool review at the Fordham Sports Law Forum's 8th annual symposium, with most panelists labeling the ruling a failure.

"The idea that any minimum age requirement is unfair is absolutely wrong," said Gary Roberts, director of sports law at Tulane Law School. Roberts called the ruling one of "the most abominable decisions" he'd ever heard, saying it relied on outdated and irrelevant statutes and went against antitrust principles. "All areas of employment have minimum age requirements. The prevailing question in the NFL is what they should be."

The league's age requirement, which states that a player be three years removed from high school in order to play, was challenged by 20-year-old Maurice Clarett earlier this year. Clarett, who hopes to turn pro, led Ohio State to a national championship in 2002 but was barred from the 2003 season after being accused of accepting gifts and lying to NCAA investigators. Clarett's attorney argued that the age requirement violates antitrust laws, and a U.S. district judge agreed. The ruling has been appealed, and a decision is expected prior to the April 24 NFL draft.

David Cornwell, an attorney for sports agents who represent players and coaches in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, was stunned when he heard the decision, calling it "legally flawed" and "unprofessional."

"I think it is fair to conclude that certain young men lack the maturity and physique to excel in the NFL," said Cornwell.

The NFL contends that its age requirement is a longstanding agreement between the league and the players' union that, while not explicitly detailed, is written into its collective bargaining agreement and therefore exempt from antitrust regulations. Several of the panelists agreed that the insertion of a more clearly stated rule into the current labor agreement would help defeat future legal challenges.

"When the NFL and the players association agree on a rule, it is very unlikely a judge will agree with a third party contesting such a rule," said Cornwell.

The judge's decision in the case did find some support from panelist David Feher, a leading sports lawyer who has been a principal negotiator in several NFL collective bargaining agreements. He said the league's age requirement was bound by antitrust legislation because it harms competition by excluding an entire group of potential employees.

"In large part, the judge got it right," said Feher. "The ruling follows relevant case law in this particular situation."

The purpose of the symposium, held in McNally Amphitheater on March 26, was to explore contemporary issues in sports law and how the legal community is responding. Other panels discussed the trademark and publicity rights of athletes, and the ethical and legal responsibilities of the sports media. The Fordham University Sports Law Forum and the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section of the New York State Bar Association sponsored the daylong event.A federal court's ruling that the NFL's age requirement violates antitrust laws received a cool review at the Fordham Sports Law Forum's 8th annual symposium, with most panelists labeling the ruling a failure.

"The idea that any minimum age requirement is unfair is absolutely wrong," said Gary Roberts, director of sports law at Tulane Law School. Roberts called the ruling one of "the most abominable decisions" he'd ever heard, saying it relied on outdated and irrelevant statutes and went against antitrust principles. "All areas of employment have minimum age requirements. The prevailing question in the NFL is what they should be."

The league's age requirement, which states that a player be three years removed from high school in order to play, was challenged by 20-year-old Maurice Clarett earlier this year. Clarett, who hopes to turn pro, led Ohio State to a national championship in 2002 but was barred from the 2003 season after being accused of accepting gifts and lying to NCAA investigators. Clarett's attorney argued that the age requirement violates antitrust laws, and a U.S. district judge agreed. The ruling has been appealed, and a decision is expected prior to the April 24 NFL draft.

David Cornwell, an attorney for sports agents who represent players and coaches in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, was stunned when he heard the decision, calling it "legally flawed" and "unprofessional."

"I think it is fair to conclude that certain young men lack the maturity and physique to excel in the NFL," said Cornwell.

The NFL contends that its age requirement is a longstanding agreement between the league and the players' union that, while not explicitly detailed, is written into its collective bargaining agreement and therefore exempt from antitrust regulations. Several of the panelists agreed that the insertion of a more clearly stated rule into the current labor agreement would help defeat future legal challenges.

"When the NFL and the players association agree on a rule, it is very unlikely a judge will agree with a third party contesting such a rule," said Cornwell.

The judge's decision in the case did find some support from panelist David Feher, a leading sports lawyer who has been a principal negotiator in several NFL collective bargaining agreements. He said the league's age requirement was bound by antitrust legislation because it harms competition by excluding an entire group of potential employees.

"In large part, the judge got it right," said Feher. "The ruling follows relevant case law in this particular situation."

The purpose of the symposium, held in McNally Amphitheater on March 26, was to explore contemporary issues in sports law and how the legal community is responding. Other panels discussed the trademark and publicity rights of athletes, and the ethical and legal responsibilities of the sports media. The Fordham University Sports Law Forum and the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section of the New York State Bar Association sponsored the daylong event.


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