Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State star running back, has won the first round of his court battle with the National Football League. A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the NFL rule banning players from the Draft until three years after their graduation from high school is illegal under anti-trust law, and that Clarett, who graduated in 2001, should be allowed to enter the draft. On the face of it, the legal issues here are clear cut. Clearly, excluding a class of players from eligibility for employment due solely to their age is a violation of anti-trust law. In fact, the entire draft is likely a violation of anti-trust law -- players have to play for the team who drafted them, or they cannot play in the league at all. The NFL argues that the Draft has been collectively bargained with the player's union, and that's true, but the union isn't negotiating on the behalf of players who aren't in the league already.
The NFL will fight this -- they've already vowed an appeal. But unless they find a judge who is willing to put emotion before the law, they'll lose. What we see in the NBA is what we'll see in the NFL, with high schoolers entering the draft. Which is as it should be, legally.
Listening to John Madden this morning on KCBS, I found myself agreeing with a point he made (not a common occurrence). He said that the current system assumes that every football player will go to college, and therefore forces guys to go to college even if they have no business doing so. We don't expect great musicians or actors to go to college before they can play or act. The talent and ability is what we measure.
Of course, none of this means that it's actually a good idea that 18-year-olds can play in the NFL. Frankly, 99.999% of them don't have the physical maturity and strength to do so. But the simple fact of being 18 shouldn't prevent them from taking a shot.