A suspension that could last half the season, imposed before resolution of pending criminal charges against Colts owner Jim Irsay, could cause some to conclude that, in this case, the NFL did indeed hold an owner to a higher standard. Players don’t get suspended for first-offense DUI, and players get a two-game fine for a first-offense DUI, not a suspension.
Still, a suspension represents only one of three different prongs to be considered. The NFL also needs to give specific attention to the financial ramifications of the penalty, and the requirement (if any) of future treatment and testing of Irsay.
As to the dollars and cents, owners usually don’t get paychecks from themselves. Instead, they receive large chunks of cash collected by the league office and distributed to the 32 franchises. Is that what Irsay should forfeit for each week of his suspension? The number would be staggering when considered in isolation, but nevertheless may be the only fair way to ensure that Irsay is treated the way a player would be treated.
The league apparently intends to gloss over the possible crafting of a financial penalty that would be comparable to a player losing a large chunk of his annual revenue by fining Irsay, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, $1 million. (It’s unclear whether a fine of that magnitude can be imposed. The maximum available fine is believed to be $500,000; it’s possible that the league will fine Irsay separately for each of the two misdemeanor counts Irsay faces.) While $1 million is, you know, $1 million, Irsay is worth well over $1 billion — and he receives tens of millions every year in shared revenue from the NFL.
Even thornier than determining the right financial consequence could be establishing a treatment and testing plan that holds Irsay ostensibly to a higher standard than players. For players, the substance-abuse policy provides extensive treatment opportunities but also imposes discipline for players who ultimately fail to respond to treatment. Ultimately, the player is banished from the game.
Will the NFL put Irsay on a similar track? Regardless of how it all unfolds, will Irsay find himself subject to an avoid-or-else mandate that, if he fails enough times, will result in Irsay being banished from the sport for at least a full year?
If Irsay doesn’t find himself in the same situation as a player who falls under the substance-abuse program, if will be impossible for the NFL to credibly claim that owners are held to a higher standard. Indeed, anything other than testing and treatment and the threat of significant further discipline for Irsay will mean that the owner has been held to a lower standard.