TIME Sports

The ‘Death Penalty’ and How the College Sports Conversation Has Changed

Mustangs Texas A&M Football
Bill Jansch—AP Photo Southern Methodist University tailback Erick Dickerson is all smiles on Nov. 2, 1982, in Texas Stadium.

On Feb. 25, 1987, the Southern Methodist University football team was suspended for an entire season. Nearly two decades later, the program has yet to recover

“It’s like what happened after we dropped the [atom] bomb in World War II. The results were so catastrophic that now we’ll do anything to avoid dropping another one.”

That’s how John Lombardi, former president of the University of Florida, described the so-called “death penalty” levied upon Southern Methodist University in 1987 after the NCAA determined that the school had been paying several of its football players.

Until the punishment came down—on this day, Feb. 25, in 1987—SMU had seemed like the opposite of a cautionary tale. The tiny Dallas university, with just 6,000 students, had finished its 1982 season undefeated, ranking No. 2 in the nation and winning the Cotton Bowl, and added a second Southwest Conference championship to its résumé two years later. The SMU of the early 1980s stood toe-to-toe with conference powers Texas, Texas A&M and Arkansas—and proved itself their equal.

Trouble was, SMU needed help standing with those giants. There aren’t many ways to build a dominant football program on the fly, but if you’re going to try, you need a coach who can convince a bunch of teenagers that they’re better off coming to your unheralded program than they are heading down the road to Austin or College Station or hopping a plane to Los Angeles or South Bend. That’s no easy task, even for a recruiter as gifted as Ron Meyer, who became SMU’s head coach in 1976. Sometimes promises of playing time or TV exposure aren’t enough—especially when your competitors are offering the same things, only more and better. Though the Mustangs weren’t caught till a decade after Meyer arrived in Dallas, there’s every reason to suspect SMU and its boosters had been bending the rules for years.

When the other cleat dropped, it dropped hard. The death penalty—part of the “repeat violators” rule in official NCAA parlance—wiped out SMU’s entire 1987 season and forced the Mustangs to cancel their 1988 campaign as well. So, when Lombardi compared the punishment to the nuclear option, in 2002, the analogy seemed like an apt one. For years, scorched earth was all that remained of the SMU football program, and of the idea of paying players.

Now, however, the conversation has changed.

Dallas itself played a major role in the rapid rise and ferocious fall of the Mustangs. By the 1970s, the northern Texas city was a growing metropolis, a hub for businessmen who had recently acquired their fortunes thanks to oil and real estate. Virtually to a man, each had a college football team he supported, and with that support came an intense sense of pride, not to mention competition. Combine that environment with the enormous success of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys during the 1970s as they assumed the title of “America’s team,” and it’s easy to see how so much pressure was placed on SMU.

With Ron Meyer’s arrival at the university, the goal became to dovetail the success of the Cowboys with the Mustangs’ performance—and he fit right in with the image that Dallas had begun to embody. He was brash, he was charming, he was dapper; the comparisons with Dallas’ J.R. Ewing came all too easily. And like Ewing, Meyer could be ruthless, pursuing recruits throughout eastern Texas with near-mythic fervor.

And the best myths have a dragon to slay. For Meyer, that dragon was Eric Dickerson. Dickerson was one of the nation’s top prospects—a high school running back so gifted he could have chosen any school in the country to play for in 1979. By all accounts, SMU wasn’t even in the running. They’d come a long way toward respectability since Meyer had arrived, but still weren’t on a level with Oklahoma or USC or Notre Dame. Plus, Dickerson had already committed to Texas A&M (and famously received a Pontiac Trans-Am that SMU supporters had dubbed the ‘Trans A&M’ right around the same time). But then, suddenly, miraculously, Dickerson had a change of heart. He decommitted from A&M and picked SMU shortly thereafter.

To this day, that decision remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma. There’s a section of ESPN 30 for 30’s excellent documentary about the SMU scandal, The Pony Exce$$—a riff on the SMU backfield, Dickerson and classmate Craig James, which was dubbed ‘The Pony Express’—about Dickerson’s recruiting process. No one involved, from Meyer to the boosters to Dickerson himself, would say how he really ended up at SMU. But none of them were able to contain the smirks that crept across their faces when they talked about the coup. There’s a reason that a popular sports joke in the early ’80s was that Dickerson took a pay-cut when he graduated and went to the NFL.

Dickerson changed everything for the Mustangs. With him powering SMU’s vaunted offense, the team became a force to be reckoned with in the Southwest Conference. Greater success, however, brought with it greater scrutiny. SMU was in a difficult position because Dallas had such a vibrant and competitive sports media scene (led by the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald) at the time—one increasingly focused on investigative journalism in the wake of Watergate. The school’s status as a relative neophyte in the world of big-time college football and lack of rapport with the NCAA also did them no favors. There’s little question that other programs in the Southwest Conference were engaged in recruiting practices that bent the rules when it was possible, but none had quite as many eyes on them as the Mustangs.

Bobby Collins took over in 1982 and led SMU to its undefeated season, after Meyer left to be head coach of the hapless New England Patriots, but the Mustangs would never again reach those dizzying heights. Despite a growing recruiting reach, Collins failed to lure top-caliber prospects to Dallas, even with the help of the program’s increasingly notorious group of boosters. Instead, SMU became better known for its damning misfires, the first of which was Sean Stopperich, a prep star from Pittsburgh. Stopperich was paid $5,000 to commit and moved his family to Texas, but SMU had failed to realize that Stopperich’s career as a useful football player was already over. The offensive lineman had blown out his knee in high school, spent little time on the field for the Mustangs and left the university after just one year. Upon his departure from SMU, Stopperich became the first key witness for the NCAA in its pursuit of SMU.

The first round of penalties came down in 1985, banning SMU from bowl games for two seasons and stripping the program of 45 scholarships over a two-year period. At the time, those were considered some of the harshest sanctions in NCAA history. In response, Bill Clements, chairman of the board of governors for SMU, hung a group of the school’s boosters—dubbed the “Naughty Nine” by the media—out to dry, blaming them for the program’s infractions and the university’s sullied reputations.

Shortly thereafter, the NCAA convened a special meeting to discuss new, harsher rules for cheating, the most severe of which was the death penalty. (Despite Texas’ reputation as a pro-death penalty state for felons, its universities were some of the new rules’ staunchest opponents.) Still, due to the sanction’s power, few believed it would ever be used.

If SMU had cut off its payments to players immediately, it might not have been. Instead, the school and its boosters implemented a “phase-out” plan, which meant they would continue paying the dozen or so athletes to whom they had promised money until their graduation. One of those students-athletes, David Stanley, came forward after being kicked off the team and gave a televised interview outlining the improper benefits he had received from SMU. His words alone may not have been enough to damn the university, but an appearance on Dallas’ ABC affiliate, WFAA, by Coach Collins, athletic director Bob Hitch and recruiting coordinator Henry Lee Parker sealed the program’s fate.

Their interview with WFAA’s sports director Dale Hansen is a mesmerizing watch. Hansen sets a beautiful trap for Parker involving a letter that the recruiting director had initialed, and the recruiting coordinator walks right into it, all but proving that payments to players came directly from the recruiting office. The fact that Parker, Collins and Hitch looked uncomfortably guilty the entire time didn’t help their case.

The NCAA continued gathering evidence, and on Feb. 25, 1987—a gray, drizzly day in Dallas—it announced it would be giving SMU the death penalty. The man who made the announcement, the NCAA Director of Enforcement David Berst, fainted moments after handing down the sentence, in full view of the assembled media. SMU football, for all intents and purposes, was dead. The team managed just one winning season from 1989 to 2008, in no small part because the rest of the university community had decided it wanted nothing to do with a program that had brought so much infamy to the school.

The initial reaction to the penalty—both in Dallas and throughout the country—was one of shock. The Mustangs had gone from undefeated to non-existent in just five years. Few, however, could deny that if the NCAA were going to have a death penalty, then SMU was certainly deserving of it. But the fallout from the penalty was worse than anticipated; perhaps not coincidentally, in the decades since 1987, the penalty has never once been used against a Division I school.

Over the last two decades, the conversation that surrounded SMU’s fall from grace has changed even more. These days, those in and around the world of college sports don’t talk much about what the penalties for paying players should be; instead, many are wondering whether there should be any penalty at all for paying college athletes. The arguments in favor of paying college athletes are manifold, especially considering they often generate millions on behalf of their universities. Few, however, would argue that players should be paid in secret (or while still in high school). Any sort of pecuniary compensation that student-athletes receive would, as in pro sports, require some sort of regulation.

Despite the recent groundswell of support, the NCAA appears reluctant to change its rules. At some point, the governing body of college sports may not have a choice, especially if wants to avoid further legal trouble.

Ron Meyer, the SMU coach who nabbed Eric Dickerson more than 25 years ago, would famously walk into high schools throughout Texas and pin his business card to the biggest bulletin board he could find. Stuck behind it would be a $100 bill. That sort of shenanigan may not be the future of college sports, but we may be getting closer to the day when money isn’t a four-letter word for student-athletes.

Read TIME’s 2013 cover story about the ongoing debate over paying college athletes, here in the TIME Vault: It’s Time to Pay College Athletes

TIME Football

Recruiting Site Rivals Starts Monitoring Its First Sixth-Grade Prospects

The recruiting website Rivals.com has begun actively monitoring its first two sixth grade college football prospects ever, it announced on Friday.

The site added two Class of 2021 prospects to its database: Running back Tyson Thornton and quarterback Daron Bryden. Thornton is a 5’11” RB from Massachusetts, while Bryden is listed as a 5’2″ pro-style quarterback from Connecticut.

Rivals.com said the two were “so impressive” at the recent NextGen Boston camp for sixth, seventh and eighth graders that they “were moved up to compete against the eighth grade prospects.”

From Rivals.com:

Thornton is a 5-foot-11, 167-pound running back with great explosiveness and surprisingly good body control for a kid his size and age. Bryden, a small quarterback with a big arm is incredibly composed and very polished — and he can make every throw. And with a father standing nearly 6-foot-7, he may soon have the body to match his arm.

The site does not currently have any Class of 2020 players in its database. There are 15 eighth graders from the Class of 2019.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Sports

Snoop Dogg’s Son Will Play Football With P. Diddy’s Son at UCLA

So long, East Coast-West Coast beef

Two of college football’s hottest prospects will share the field next fall—and their superstar rapper fathers will be cheering from the stands.

On Wednesday, Cordell Broadus—the son of Calvin Broadus, known as rapper Snoop Dogg—committed to UCLA on National Signing Day, where he will join Justin Combs, the eldest son of music mogul Sean Combs, known as P. Diddy.

Broadus, a senior at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, reportedly turned down offers from Arizona State, Baylor University and University of Southern California.

Snoop, the proud dad that he is, quickly took to Instagram to congratulate his son for being the first in the Broadus family to attend college.

The elder Broadus also addressed his past allegiance to USC, posting a picture of himself wearing UCLA gloves next to a cropped, older shot of himself donning a Trojans jersey. “That was then, this is now,” he wrote.

That was then this is now !!

A photo posted by snoopdogg (@snoopdogg) on

 

TIME College football

Familiar Names Finish Atop Team-Recruiting Rankings

Here's the outcome

On a day when the new faces of college football made their school choices official, some familiar names finished atop the team recruiting standings.

Here’s a look at some of the notable events on a day that revealed the drama doesn’t necessarily end after a recruit makes a nationally televised announcement.

DUEL AT THE TOP: Which school fared the best? It depends on which recruiting service you follow. Southern California topped the Rivals and Scout team recruiting rankings as of 6 p.m., while Alabama led the ESPN and 247Sports standings. USC’s rise is noteworthy because this marked the first year it could sign a full class since coming off probation. “It’s a Pete Carroll type of class,” said Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals. “Now they’ve just got to put it together on the field.” It came as no surprise that these two schools led the way, as evidenced by Rivals’ annual rankings. Alabama topped the Rivals rankings from 2008-09 and from 2011-14, while Southern California finished first from 2004-06 and in 2010. The only school other than USC or Alabama to top the Rivals rankings since 2004 is Florida in 2007.

BIG DAY IN LA: USC wasn’t the only Los Angeles-area school with reason to celebrate. UCLA soared up the team standings Wednesday by getting late commitments from some top prospects, including tight end Chris Clark, running back Soso Jamabo, offensive lineman Josh Wariboko, safety Nathan Meadors and wide receiver Cordell Broadus (the son of rapper Snoop Dogg). In the process, UCLA showed its ability to recruit nationally. Clark is from Connecticut, Wariboko from Oklahoma and Jamabo from Texas. “They had some guys that a lot of people predicted might stay closer to home,” Farrell said.

KEEPING UP THE SUSPENSE: In nationally televised announcements Wednesday morning, defensive end Byron Cowart selected Auburn and linebacker Roquan Smith declared he was going to UCLA. But that didn’t stop the drama surrounding the recruitments of these two heralded prospects. Auburn wasn’t sure it had Cowart — rated by Rivals as the nation’s No. 1 recruit — until his letter of intent arrived nearly seven hours after his announcement. UCLA still hadn’t received Smith’s paperwork by 6 p.m. Wednesday, which at least raised the possibility the Georgia prospect might be reconsidering.

GATORS RISE FROM DEPTHS: Buried below most Power 5 programs in the team recruiting standings for the last few weeks, Florida closed with a flourish under new coach Jim McElwain. The Gators’ flurry of late commitments was headlined by consensus five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey and defensive end CeCe Jefferson. Ivey is rated as the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite, which takes into account all the major recruiting services. Florida’s late surge helped the Gators rise to a Top 25 team ranking in most services. It still isn’t a great class by Florida’s lofty standards, but it’s a whole lot better than what some Gator fans had feared.

CREATIVE ANNOUNCEMENTS: The recruits found plenty of interesting ways to make their decisions without resorting to the standard practice of choosing from a group of hats. Iman Marshall, rated as the nation’s No. 1 cornerback by the 247Sports Composite, disclosed his choice with the online release of an elaborate video that ended with him putting on a USC hat as he walked toward the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown spoke in French and German as well as English at the press conference in which he announced he was signing with Notre Dame. Jamabo put his own spin on the “hat game” when he pulled out a pair of caps to indicate what he said were “his top two schools,” but both hats were from UCLA.

TIME College football

Jameis Winston’s Accuser Discusses Sexual Assault Allegations in Sundance Documentary

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State
Jeff Gross—Getty Images Quarterback Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles reacts after losing 59-20 to the Oregon Ducks at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in California.

Her first public remarks since the incident

The woman who accused former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexual assault in December 2012 discusses her allegations in The Hunting Ground, a documentary that premiered on Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.

The accuser’s appearance in the documentary, which examines sexual assault cases on college campuses, marks her first public comments since the alleged rape. The film is directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (The Invisible War) and will air on CNN later this year. It will also be released theatrically by Radius.

Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012. No charges were filed, but in November 2013, the state’s attorney announced it was opening an investigation into the woman’s accusation. The investigation was completed a month later without any charges being filed.

Winston also faced a Student Code of Conduct case at Florida State in December to determine if he violated student conduct codes. He was cleared by an arbitrator after a two-day hearing in which he read a five-page statement denying the allegations. The statement was the first time Winston publicly presented his side of the story.

Earlier this month, the accuser filed a federal lawsuit against Florida State university trustees alleging that FSU did not properly investigate her allegation and intentionally did not follow its own Title IX policies, therefore violating her Title IX rights. The university responded by calling the allegations “meritless” in a statement.

The lawsuit cited a Fox Sports report published in October that alleged the FSU administration and Tallahassee police took steps to “hide and then hinder” the investigation.

Winston announced earlier this month that he will not return to Florida State next season in order to enter the NFL draft.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME College football

NCAA to Restore Joe Paterno’s Vacated Penn State Football Wins

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno acknowledges the crowd before an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin in State College, Pa. on Nov. 5, 2005.
Carolyn Kaster—AP Penn State football coach Joe Paterno acknowledges the crowd before an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin in State College, Pa. on Nov. 5, 2005.

Following the sex abuse scandal, Penn State was forced to vacate 112 victories from 1998 through 2011

The NCAA will restore all of Joe Paterno’s vacated wins at Penn State, the organization announced on Friday. ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. first reported the news.

The restoration is part of a proposed settlement in Pa. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s lawsuit against the NCAA.

The settlement, which is subject to board approval from Penn State and the NCAA, will replace the July 2012 consent decree between the school and the NCAA, which sanctioned Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The school was forced to vacate 112 victories from 1998 through 2011, all but one of which came under Paterno, as part of the sanctions following the release of the Freeh Report in 2012. The NCAA penalized the school for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, in which the longtime Penn State assistant football coach was convicted on 45 counts of sex abuse earlier that year.​

The punishment had dropped Paterno’s career win total from 409 — the most in Division I college football history — to 298. Paterno died in January 2012 at the age of 85.

The NCAA also gave Penn State a four-year postseason ban, restricted the team to 65 scholarships per year through 2017 and fined the team $60 million, among other sanctions. Under the new settlement, the university has agreed to commit a total of $60 million to activities and programs for the prevention of child sexual abuse and the treatment of victims of child sexual abuse.

Penn State and the NCAA will also “enter into a new Athletics Integrity Agreement that (with concurrence of the Big Ten) includes best practices with which the university is committed to comply” as part of the settlement.

In early September, the NCAA Executive Committee restored Penn State’s postseason eligibility and its full allotment of scholarships.

Sandusky is currently serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence after he was convicted in 2012.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME College football

Cardale Jones’ Teammates Joke About His Decision to Stay at Ohio State

National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State
Sarah Glenn—Getty Images Quarterback Cardale Jones #12 of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks to the media after defeating the Oregon Ducks in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. The Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Oregon Ducks 42 to 20.

The Ohio State players gave their hero quarterback lots of grief

Cardale Jones became an improbable hero on Monday when the third-string quarterback led Ohio State to a national championship over Oregon. Though Jones went from mostly unknown to NFL contender in a few short months, he surprised many Thursday by opting not to enter the NFL draft and spend another year in Ohio.

But Jones’ teammates wouldn’t let him get away with his announcement without poking some fun at the new star. The redshirt sophomore scheduled a news conference at his Cleveland high school at 4 p.m. to explain why he was staying put. Before, during and after the conference, his teammates gleefully tweeted about Jones’ miniature version of LeBron’s “The Decision.” Jones’ roommate and teammate Tyvis Powell kicked off the Twitter frenzy:

Then came the inevitable LeBron comparisons:

As Jones walked up to the podium to make his announcement at 4:15 p.m., Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” began playing in the gymnasium.

During the conference, Jones said he plans to study financial planning and pursue that career when he’s done playing football, prompting this two-part tweet from his roommate:

With teammates like these, it’s no wonder Jones didn’t want to leave college early.

TIME College football

Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota Will Enter NFL Draft

National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State
Ronald Martinez—Getty Images Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks looks on during the national anthem before the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.

Mariota won this season's Heisman Trophy, after throwing 38 touchdowns and two interceptions in the regular season

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota announced Wednesday that he is entering the NFL draft.

In his latest mock draft, SI.com’s Chris Burke projects Mariota as the No. 1 pick.

“After meeting with my family I have decided to forego my final year of eligibility and apply for the 2015 NFL Draft,” Mariota said in a statement. “My four years at the University of Oregon have been an awesome experience. I cannot thank Coach Kelly, Coach Helfrich, Coach Frost, the rest of the Oregon coaches and the support staff enough for molding me as a person, player and student-athlete.”

Mariota won this season’s Heisman Trophy, after throwing 38 touchdowns and two interceptions in the regular season. In the College Football Playoff, Mariota threw four touchdowns and two interceptions in two games. He led Oregon to the national championship game, where the Ducks fell to Ohio State.

Mariota was 11th in the nation this season with 296.9 passing yards per game and second nationally with 42 touchdown passes. In his three-year collegiate career, Mariota threw 105 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars hold the top three picks in the draft.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME College football

Let College Football Playoff Star Ezekiel Elliott Go Pro

College Football Playoff National Championship - Media Day
Ronald Martinez—Getty Images Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks with media during Media Day for the College Football Playoff National Championship at Dallas Convention Center on January 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.

He raised his stock to an all time high against Oregon. But the rules don't let him cash in on NFL riches

Odds are, the college career of star Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott will never get better. Elliott just turned in one of the all-time great performances in title game history, in any sport, college or pro: against Oregon in Monday night’s inaugural College Football Playoff national championship, a 42-20 Buckeyes victory, Elliott ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged an absurd 6.8 yards per carry, and ran for 14 first downs. Elliott’s stat line over his last three games reads like a video game tally: 696 yards, eight touchdowns. In the national semifinals, against Alabama, the 6’0″, 225-pound sophomore ran for 230 yards. He was the first 100-yard rusher Alabama had allowed all season.

College football, as an industry, has never had it better. The College Football Playoff is a windfall for the major conferences: ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years to broadcast the event. This season, each of the big-five conferences — the ACC, the Big 12, the Big 10, the Pac-12 and the SEC — will receive around $50 million each, almost double what they took home under the old BCS system. The Ohio State-Oregon national title game drew a 18.2 rating and averaged 33.4 million viewers, making it the highest-rated and most-watched event in cable television history. In fact, two semi-final games on New Years Day, plus the title game, account for the three most-watched cable programs ever. Thanks to the hype and momentum of the playoff, the national championship game’s ratings rose 26% compared to last year’s BCS title game between Florida State and Auburn. Total viewership spiked 31%.

Times are nice. But Elliott, the offensive MVP of the title game, gets hit with a double whammy. First, none of this money from the college football playoff flows into the pocket of the best player in the college football playoff. Second, if Elliott wanted to cash in while his stock is at that all-time high — by turning pro — he can’t.

MORE Watch College Football Personalities Read Mean Tweets About Themselves

Since Elliott is a sophomore, he’s ineligible for the NFL draft; only players three years removed from high school can be drafted (Elliott’s teammate, former third-string quarterback turned Buckeye State idol Cardale Jones, is a redshirt sophomore, having sat out his first year on campus, so Jones could go pro if he wants to). Basketball players can leave after their freshman year, so if Elliott played hoops, he could start making plans. But since he plays football, he has no choice but to return to campus, and risk injury in a much more violent sport.

“He has to go through another year in a very tough conference, as the national champion, so teams will be even more hyped up to go against him,” says Alan Milstein, an attorney who represented former Ohio St. running back Maurice Clarett’s ultimately unsuccessful legal attempt to overturn the NFL rule. “Hopefully, he’ll suffer no serious injury. But the reality is, his career could be over at any moment. The NFL isn’t taking the risk. Ohio State isn’t taking the risk. He’s taking all the risk.”

The risk is real. For example, after a huge freshman season in 2010, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, a first-round NFL prospect, suffered season season-ending knee injuries in both his sophomore and junior years. He retired this past November, without having appeared in an NFL game. Elliott might sincerely want to return to school. He can take another year of classes, and chase a repeat championship in front of adoring crowds, on an adoring campus. A possible Heisman trophy win is tempting. But it’s blatantly unfair for Elliott, or any other player in his position, to have no option to go to the NFL. (A request to speak to Elliott, through an Ohio State spokesperson, was not returned).

MORE See the 10 Best Photos From the Ohio State vs. Oregon Championship Game

Back in 2004, Milstein argued that the three-year restriction was illegal. He still feels that way.

“The only reason a team wouldn’t draft Elliott is because they’ve all said we won’t draft him if you won’t draft him,” says Milstein. “That’s the essence of an anti-trust conspiracy.”

A federal district court agreed with him, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York, overturned that judgment, ruling that since the draft rule is a product of collective bargaining, it’s shielded from anti-trust scrutiny under federal labor laws. “That’s what unions do every day — protect people in the union from those not in the union,” appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor said during the arguments. “Why is this case different?”

Sotomayor wrote the opinion. “She killed me, absolutely killed me,” Milstein remembers. So much so, Milstein says, that when Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2009, Republicans called him up to see if he would speak out against her. Milstein, a Barack Obama supporter, refused.

The Supreme Court declined to hear Milstein’s appeal in the Clarett case. Milstein, however, sees a legal opening in another appeals court jurisdiction, most notably the Sixth Circuit (which covers Ohio) or the Eighth Circuit, located in St. Louis. Both these jurisdictions have adopted the “Mackey test” — named after former Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey, who challenged the NFL in another case — which holds that labor restraints are only exempt from anti-trust scrutiny if they primarily affect the parties subject to collective bargaining, concern a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, i.e. (wages, hours, conditions of employment), and are subject to “bona fide arm’s-length bargaining.”

Since the draft rule is part of the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, it meets this third prong of Mackey. But Milstein argues (and the federal district court agreed) that since college players are prospective employees, and thus not “parties subject to collective bargaining,” — and that the three-year rule doesn’t concern wages, hours, or conditions of employment — it fails the first two prongs. It thus isn’t subject to anti-trust exemption.

Minus a legal challenge, Elliott has another option: sit out next year to limit injury risk, but stay in shape and apply for the 2016 draft. Neither of those choices, really, are all that attractive. So Elliott will almost surely return to Ohio State for another season. Fingers crossed for the MVP.

Read next: Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota Will Enter NFL Draft

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME College football

Ohio Furniture Chain Loses $1.5 Million in Ohio State Game-Related Promotion

Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images Quarterback Cardale Jones #12 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after defeating the Oregon Ducks 42 to 20 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Ashley Furniture promised to write off expensive purchases if the Buckeyes beat the Ducks

Did you bet on the Ohio State-Oregon game? Did you lose? Cheer up: We wager your loss wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Ashley Furniture’s.

The Ohio chain made a perhaps-ill-advised promise to write off purchases of $1,999 or more from Dec. 17-30 if the Buckeyes beat Alabama and then went on to win the national championship by at least seven points.

Admittedly, it was a long shot: Alabama was the No. 1 seed, and even fewer people predicted the Buckeyes overrunning Oregon 42-20 on Monday.

The promotion was in place at stores in Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Florence, Kentucky. Over 500 people made purchases that totaled $1.5 million, according to parent company Morris Home Furnishings’ vice president of marketing, Rob Klaben.

“We did work with a third-party company that underwrote the promotion. So we’re excited to see a win,” Klaben told ABC News.

But he added – in the first great understatement of 2015 – “It’s not inexpensive to have this kind of promotion.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

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