Despite a pending grievance questioning his authority to discipline four players for involvement in the Saints’ alleged bounty system and an expected appeal of a separate grievance that raises a similar point, Commissioner Roger Goodell will conduct hearings on the appeals of the quartet of suspensions.
Steve Wyche of NFL Network reports that the hearings will proceed on June 18 as to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (who was suspended a full season), Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove (eight games), and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three games).
The hearing date has been picked even though arbitrator Shyam Das has yet to rule on the questions of whether the new labor deal blocks any discipline against players for conduct happening before August 2011, and whether the appeals should be heard by Ted Cottrell and Art Shell, who review penalties imposed for on-field misconduct.
A separate grievance arguing that the penalties fall within the jurisdiction of System Arbitrator Richard Burbank, who handles alleged violations of the salary cap, will be appealed by the NFLPA. Burbank ruled earlier this week that he has no jurisdiction over the suspensions.
The rules applicable to the hearings before Goodell aren’t known. Will evidence of guilt be provided to the players so that they can prepare to challenge the league’s case with arguments, documents, witnesses, or other tactics? Or will the league simply rely on summaries or characterizations of evidence? Will witnesses supporting the league’s claims testify? How much time will be allotted to the process?
Depending on whether and to what extent the players believe a fair process will be utilized, don’t be shocked if one or more of the players (most likely, Vilma) refuse to proceed. Then again, submitting to an unfair process could make it easier to attack the final decision in court, after the fact.