Professional sports leagues generally do not have an official relationship with college athletic associations. In some sports, especially baseball and hockey, the best high school players often develop their skills in minor professional leagues rather than colleges. On the other hand, most highly talented football and basketball players traditionally have played in college as amateurs before moving on to play professionally.
Beginning primarily in the 1990s, top high school basketball stars began skipping the college ranks altogether and joining professional teams. With the success and popularity of such individuals as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, each of whom were drafted directly out of high school, more NBA teams began selecting high school players in the NBA draft. Football players, however, have not had this option because the NFL forbids players from entering the NFL draft until a minimum of three years has elapsed since the players have graduated from high school.
In 2004, Maurice Clarett, a standout running back with Ohio State University, challenged the NFL’s three-year rule on the grounds that it violated federal antitrust laws. A federal district court agreed with Clarett, ruling that the NFL could not prevent him from entering the 2004 draft. After the ruling, Mike Williams, a star receiver for the University of Southern California who had been out of high school for less than three years, announced that he would enter the draft and turn professional as well. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with the district court’s opinion in the Clarett case, thus requiring Clarett to wait until 2005 to become eligible for the draft. Because Williams had hired an agent, even though it was prior to the Second Circuit’s opinion, he was also ineligible to return to play college football. As a result of the Clarett case, the vast majority of football players who eventually turn professional must still first play at the college level.