The appeals panel in its opinion Thursday clarified that there are two competing interests in determining what, if any, discipline is appropriate for the four NFL players previously suspended for their involvement in the Saints “bounty” program.
Under the CBA, any sort of undisclosed compensation scheme is subject to punishment and under the exclusive jurisdiction of the System Arbitrator. Penalties here are limited to disgorgement and imposing a fine on offending players of up to $500,000. On the other hand, again under the CBA, Commissioner Goodell is entitled to discipline players for conduct “detrimental” to the league but not for “unsportsmanlike” conduct committed on the field.
In the second scenario, Goodell retains exclusive jurisdiction in a system that allows him to be both judge and jury something the panel noted in its opinion. ”This unusual procedure requires the Commissioner … to assume the mantle of arbitrator in order to review his own decision to issue ‘conduct detrimental’ discipline to a player or players. On July 3 201, the Commissioner, unsurprisingly, issued his decision denying the appeals.”
The NFLPA declined to comment on the panel’s opinion Thursday evening.
On September 7, in accordance with the CBA, a three person panel reviewed Goodell’s decision and then overturned the suspensions of Will Smith (4-games), Johnathan Vilma (entire season), Anthony Hargrove (8-games), and Scott Fujita (4-games). Essentially the panel said that Goodell was punishing the players for their involvement in a pay-to-play scheme which falls under the jurisdiction of the System Arbitrator and therefore overturned the suspensions. It directed the Commissioner to refine the parameters of the suspensions and to clarify why discipline was being imposed.
Since their suspensions were overturned, Smith, Vilma, Hargrove and Fujita have each met with Goodell. The Commissioner has yet to issue his decision on what, if any, player discipline he will impose. So the ball remains in Goodell’s hands – for the moment anyway. His challenge will be to tie the alleged actions closer to the “intent to injure” activities rather than the pay aspect.
The full opinion of the panel is set forth in full below.