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Larry Fitzgerald to Challenge NFL Eligibility Rules

NY Times Link

Pitt Player May Contest N.F.L. Eligibility Rule

Published: November 14, 2003

he father of Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald, one of the top college football players in the country, is exploring the possibility of his son's early entry into the National Football League draft in April and says he believes his son is physically ready to play at the professional level.

In a telephone interview Thursday from Minneapolis, Larry Fitzgerald Sr. said that if his son wants to turn professional after this, his sophomore, season, the family would be prepared to apply for an exemption to the N.F.L. rule that says that players are not eligible for the draft until three years after they graduate from high school.

Fitzgerald graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy in May 2002, after attending a fifth year of high school because he needed to improve his grades.

"The way I've looked at it is, I don't worry about somebody else's rules; rules are made to be broken or amended," Fitzgerald Sr. said. "They usually are put in place as reasons to protect various interests, but I don't know if it's in the best interest of the athlete who comes out of high school who might be Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant in football cleats. With athletes and their ability to work out and train, we're seeing that they can get it done."

The 20-year-old Fitzgerald is considered along with Oklahoma quarterback Jason White to be in contention for the Heisman Trophy, which will be awarded on Dec. 13. Fitzgerald, who leads the nation in receiving yards per game (142.4), total yards receiving (1,282), touchdown catches (17) and scoring (11.3), has said he has not decided whether he will attempt to leave Pittsburgh after the season. In an interview last month, Fitzgerald said he was enjoying university life and focusing on the football season.

The 16th-ranked Panthers are 7-2 over all and 4-0 in the Big East Conference going into their game tomorrow against West Virginia. They can win the conference title outright by winning their final three games against the Mountaineers, Temple and Miami.

Fitzgerald's father, who is the host of a sports program on KMOJ-FM and the sports editor of The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, said last night: "As far as Larry is concerned, he's in school and is there to get his education. Larry hasn't told me that he's not thinking about staying where he's at because that's not something we talk about. We talk about playing West Virginia and what he's trying to do within the framework of the team, winning a Big East championship.

"As a journalist, I've been covering the N.F.L. for 25 years. I know that if the rules change, it might change how some athletes look at themselves and allow them to achieve the goals they set to play at the next level."

Asked if his son, who is 6 feet 3 inches, 225 pounds, could compete in the N.F.L., Fitzgerald Sr. said, "He's shown me some signs that he's ready to do that."

League officials declined to comment on Fitzgerald specifically, because the receiver had not petitioned the league to enter the 2004 draft, but a spokesman said Tuesday that the league stood by its eligibility rule unless there were extenuating circumstances to rule otherwise.

Since 1993, when the rule was implemented, the N.F.L. has accepted only players who were three years removed from high school (though two years before the 1993 agreement was signed, Eric Swann, a 300-pound defensive lineman who had been out of high school in Lillington, N.C., for only two years, was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the sixth pick in the first round of the 1991 draft).

The suspended Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, a sophomore, filed suit against the N.F.L. on Sept. 23, asking a federal district court in Manhattan to overturn the league rule on underclassmen and declare him eligible for the 2004 draft on April 24 or force the league to hold a special supplemental draft sooner. The suit says that the league's rule violates federal antitrust law.

Fitzgerald Sr. believes his son's situation is unrelated to Clarett's because Fitzgerald spent additional time in high school. "To me, he's played three years beyond high school — that's how I look at it," Fitzgerald Sr. said.

If Fitzgerald applies to the N.F.L., his application will have to be in the league office by Jan. 15. The league's player personnel department would review the application, and all other undergraduate petitions, and render a decision on Jan. 19.

For now, Fitzgerald Sr. said he would continue to gather information about the N.F.L. But he said his son would ultimately decide whether to apply for the draft or to stay in school.

"Whatever happens, we're prepared to deal with it because we believe in preparation," Fitzgerald Sr. said. "I told Larry that the most important thing is to be prepared for what is out there for him."
Thanks for the post, I hadn't heard anything.

I agree, I think if Fitzgerald challenges the NFL lets him in, no question. His high school class graduated 3 years ago. He spent a year at Fork Union and two playing college. As I see it, there would really be no need for the challege as he seems to fit the rule already. I hadn't heard about a 5th year in high school, I didn't even know that was possible. I'd be quite surprised if Fitzgerald doesn't look into it and even more so if the NFL tries to hold him back.
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If I was Fitzgerald I would cash in also. He is having a fantastic season up to this point. For those who remember what happened to Lee Evans a few years back, I'm sure you would understand why Fitz. would opt out. With the extra year (ft union)it should bypass the rule because he technically had graduated high school 3 years ago.
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