Ten days ago, the NFL indefinitely suspended running back Ray Rice. Last Tuesday, Rice appealed the suspension.
Six days later, Commissioner Roger Goodell still hasn’t appointed a hearing officer, and no progress has been made toward establishing a date for the appeal.
That could soon become a problem for the league. Per multiple sources, the following language from the labor deal applies to the resolution of Rice’s appeal: “Appeal hearings under Section 1(a) will be scheduled to commence within ten (10) days following receipt of the notice of appeal, except that hearings on suspensions issued during the playing season (defined for this Section as the first preseason game through the Super Bowl) will be scheduled for the second Tuesday following the receipt of the notice of appeal, with the intent that the appeal shall be heard no fewer than eight (8) days and no more than thirteen (13) days following the suspension, absent mutual agreement of the parties or a finding by the hearing officer of extenuating circumstances. If unavailability of counsel is the basis for a continuance, a new hearing shall be scheduled on or before the Tuesday following the original hearing date, without exception.”
In English, this means that the hearing ideally will be held between Tuesday and Thursday of this week, with the hearing held no later than next Tuesday, September 30 — unless the hearing officer decides that the circumstances prevent it, or the NFL and NFLPA agree to delay it.
The NFLPA accidentally cited the offseason rule in the announcement of the Rice appeal, and it’s possible the NFL will claim that this operated as a waiver of the stricter in-season timetable. That would be a flimsy argument, however; the rules are plainly set forth in the labor deal, and the first order of business in any situation where a party must take action by a certain time should be to figure out the last day on which the action can be taken.
The NFL may argue that Goodell’s decision to hand the baton to someone else creates “extenuating circusmtances” that justify a delay, but the league office told PFT last Wednesday that Goodell “never intended” to handle the appeal. So why has he waited 10 days and counting since suspension was imposed to appoint someone to handle it?
There’s a chance the NFLPA won’t make an issue of this. Rice literally (not actually literally, unless there’s a glow we don’t know about) has become radioactive to potential suitors. Whether the hearing happens this week or next week or next month or next year, it won’t change the fact that no one will be rolling out the red carpet for him any time soon.
Still, at a time when the league and the various teams embroiled in controversy have talked openly and repeatedly about “getting it right” despite so many things having gone badly wrong, it would be nice to see that something can be gotten right, especially when that something entails the fairly simple application of a clearly-worded scheduling rule that the NFL has used many times in the past.